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Flags on Windmills
Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: windmills |
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image contributed by Gareth Hughes, 28 April 2008
original image cropped and resized
[Editorial Note: the following was received as a question on protocol, however
the nature of the information is of significance in a local practice.]
I am chairman of the Mills Section of the Society for the Protection of
Ancient Buildings, the national organisation dedicated to the research,
recording and repair of historic wind- and water-mills.
Our newsletter recently contained a letter from one of our members in
Kent, concerning the display of the English flag from the sails of a
windmill during the football World Cup last year. A local resident, and
member of the Flag Institute, had claimed that this was disrespectful
both to the flag and to the mill (as a venerable historic building).
I understand that the sails of the mill were stopped in the
St. Andrew's cross position,
and St. George's flags on short staffs displayed (I
think vertically) from the two uppermost sails.
Examination of old photographs in my collection suggests that, despite
the complaints of the local resident in Kent, such displays were not
uncommon in the past. The methods of display vary:
- A flag on a short staff attached to the uppermost sail when
stopped in an upright cross position (on a photograph of 1912 of
Thornton Mill near Blackpool during a village fete. The Union Flag is
- A flag on a longer staff fixed to, and above, the rear of the
cap of the mill (several photographs from c1900 of various mills)
- Flags on each of two uppermost sails stopped in the St Andrew's
cross position (with the exception of the Kentish example mentioned
above, I know of this only from the Netherlands, where it forms part of
a more elaborate scheme of decoration traditionally used on days of
- A flag attached to the upper part of the striking chain (the
control for the sail shutters), which hangs down below the rear of the
cap (on a photograph of Maud Foster Mill, Boston, Lincolnshire about
1935, where the flag appears to be that of the Netherlands); the SPAB's
orange/red banner is shown flying in approximately this position on the
- Strings of bunting stretched from tip-to-tip of all sails. This
seems to be recently widespread and is frequently present when sails are
- A flag at the tip of each sail, again when the sails are turning
(5) and (6) seem to be of relatively modern use, and (to me) are the
least appropriate, being rather in the nature of a fairground novelty
when the sails are turning. (3) seems to be of modern use in the UK but
traditional in the Netherlands. (4) clearly has some basis in historic
tradition, while (1) and (2) are both quite well-attested by
photographic evidence from the turn of the century onwards, and in my
view look more appropriate that other forms of display.
I am also aware of examples (from at least 1897) of the Union Flag being
painted onto the blades of windmill fantails, together with more general
"red, white and blue" colour schemes applied to sails. These seem to
relate to Queen Victoria's jubilees.
Gareth Hughes, 28 April 2008
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