The Athlone Banner


Not every artifact is appropriate to every situation, whatever the heart may desire. Princess Alice, the first Chancellor of the University College of the West Indies and its full-fledged iteration, The University of the West Indies, had a special love for the University Chapel at the university’s founding Mona Campus in Jamaica. After her husband, Alexander Cambridge, the 1st Earl of Athlone, died in 1957, she brought his garter banner to the University Chapel, where in hung on the wall of the nave for decades.

However the unmediated exposure to the tropical air made the silk so fragile, that a fall while being demounted for assessment and treatment made it impossible to conserve, and the fragments, arranged in their original order and held in a special net, have become part of a teaching collection in the UK.

This slideshow of images shares the information that we were able to garner:

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Many thanks to Nell Hoare who added the following useful information on the conservation of banners and flags:

“Flags and banners are often made of silk. Silk is very fragile and particularly vulnerable to damage as a result of exposure to light and also damage caused by a flag being handled and flown. Treatment of flags and banners will often include the following:
– Surface cleaning to remove particulate soiling using special low powered conservation vacuums

-Wet cleaning is sometimes used – this depends on how fragile the flag is, to what extent it would benefit from wet cleaning and whether there is any evidence of the history of the object that would be removed if it was wet cleaned.

“Folds and creases can result in damage to the textile as it can tear or crack along the crease line. So if a banner or flag is not wet cleaned then it will often need humidification- gentle introduction of moisture under very controlled conditions that will ease out the creases and so reduce the chances of future damage.

“The paint on painted banners (such as British trades union banners) may be flaking and unstable, in this case it will require consolidation using special conservation grade consolidants such as isinglass.

“The edges of painted areas, where the stiff painted silk meets the flexible unpainted silk, are liable to crack and tear. Stitched support is impossible on very fragile silk as it would do more damage to the historic object, so in these instances areas are support using conservation grade adhesives. This treatment is complicated in the case of banners and they are double sided so the conservation treatment must not obscure the design. In this case the area is sandwiched between layers of net coated with a conservation grade adhesive which is re-activated by heat or solvents. In undecorated areas it is possible to use a piece of silk support fabric that has specially conservation dyed to match the original (see image xx).

“In some cases, such as with the Earl of Athlone banner, the original object is so fragile and fragmentary that it is not possible to conserve it in order for it to be displayed so a replica is made and the original object is carefully stabilised for long term storage.”

Information is power!


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