The Conservation of the Glorious 1st June Flag, 1794

The flag has just returned to the National Maritime Museum following extensive conservation treatment on outside contract through a very generous grant made available to us. The flag was recently acquired by us on behalf of the nation and the grant enabled the conservation of the flag to proceed soon after.
Glorious 1st of June flag.JPG
The union flag is a very rare example of the pre-1801 pattern which was made before the saltire of St. Patrick (the red diagonal cross) was added when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed in 1801. It was the command flag of Richard, Earl Howe (1726-1799) as Admiral of the Fleet; it was flown on his flagship Queen Charlotte at the Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794.
It is very irregular in design and is made from a total of 31 different pieces of loosely-woven wool bunting all stitched together by hand using linen thread to form the pattern of the flag. It has a linen hoist with a rope running through it which was used to fly the flag.
The flag has lots of holes throughout, many with fraying edges; the damage is likely to have been caused by insect attack and through wear and tear. Some holes have been patched with other fabrics where people have tried to repair it in the past.
After careful documentation and photography the flag was very lightly surface cleaned with low powered vacuum suction. Following testing to ensure the dyes were fast and that the flag would benefit from the treatment it was decided to wet clean it. This is a huge undertaking with an object this size, measuring in at 4.5m x 5.81m!
A wash-bath was made up using polythene and 3" square beams which would accommodate the flag when folded in half lengthways, over a roller. Two PVC drainpipe rollers were provided to roll the flag during washing. Special detergents are used in a very shallow bath of softened water, followed by very thorough rinsing in softened water with a final rinse in de-ionised water to ensure there is no detergent or hard water salts left on the flag.
After washing the flag was laid out, face down onto a bed of soft-board covered with plastic sheeting, it was pinned along all the seams aligning the weaves and the design a section at a time starting from the centre out and then allowed to dry.
Lengths of a very fine nylon bobbin net were dyed to match each of the three colours of the flag, it was then applied to each section while it was still laid out flat after
drying, aligning the weave of the wool bunting to the grain of the net and stitched into place.
rolled flag.jpg
The flag was rolled onto a large roller to enable the flag to be worked on a frame. All the weak areas and holes in the wool bunting were stitched down onto the net support using a laid and couched stitch.
When all the stitching was complete the flag was placed face-up and the upper layer of net was applied in sections to match the bunting. More lines of stitching were evenly spaced in a vertical and horizontal grid through all the layers of net and wool bunting so that the flag is fully supported. All the seams and edges were neatly finished.
At the top and lower hoist edge, where the bunting had pulled away from the hoist edge, added support was introduced in the form of patches of dyed cotton muslin applied to the reverse of the bunting and stitched into position.
We hope to display the flag at some time in the future in which case Velcro would be stitched along the top edge allowing the flag to hang evenly from a wooden batten fixed to a wall.
We would like to thank the funders as well as the conservators, Annabel Wylie and Poppy Singer for all their hard work in undertaking the conservation of this very large and complex project and for making such a good job of it! The flag looks wonderful and can now be seen in its true colours and will be preserved for many future generations to enjoy.