Chapel at Westminster

The Palace of Westminster and never having to say 'NO'

With history of nearly 50 years as a flag man, it is interesting to look back at some of the more interesting projects I have been asked to undertake over the years. 

Robin Ashburner, President elect of Red Dragon Flagmakers and flagmaker / vexillologist for 50 years remembers.

Chapel at Westminster

You only get asked to do the seriously difficult if you have built up a reputation for successfully achieving what is required, when more than likely the customer was unlikely to know how to go forward and needed of advice from the start.

One such project was in the great hall in the Palace of Westminster.  What was wanted was to supply and fit 52 Commonwealth flags all 5x3ft to hang along the great hall - this was for the celebration of the the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Commonwealth.

There are few buildings more ancient than the Great Hall.  Up in the rafters one is faced with dust that may well have been there since the day when Charles I was tried and condemned in the space below.

There is no question of even sticking a drawing pin into the sacred wood work - everything must be fixed by splicing and binding, a real test for who ever is doing the rigging.

The agreed plan was to stitch all 52 flags together, end to end, showing the flags in the order in which each country had joined the Commonwealth.  Once stitched together there was then a strip 3ft wide and 250ft long that was to hand at about 20ft up from ground level along the length of the hall.

To overcome the problem of the flags folding in on itself, each flag had to have a thin rod of doweling stitched into the cloth between each flag.  So far so good but then cane the hard part, how to keep the flags at a constant level down the stretch of the centre of the building.

The next stage was to use a scissor hoist to get me up into the rafters each side of the building, fixing on each side (without damaging the woodwork) one end of a flexible stainless steel rigging wire.  Once tensioned, these wires were erected approx every 20ft along the length of the building which in turn supported the 250 length of five foot flags.

The problem with challenges of any description is that they are usually a one off.  All I had to go on for this project was to draw from my past experience with little or no room for error.

We had then a policy (just as we do now) of not agreeing to any project that we feel would not work.  It is worth remembering that most often the customer has commissioned an architect to draw up a scheme and the architect in question will have had no experience of flags or of erecting them in situ.  

The motto for any work is 'take care, make a considered judgement, make sure the customer understands what is needed and never say no'.  A happy customer is a customer who recommends us to some one else and these referrals and reputation are the cornerstone of every successful business.

Jo Ashburner-Farr

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