Conservation of Four Coronation Banners from Westminster Abbey
Four banners, used at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, were returned to Westminster Abbey last week, after undergoing conservation treatment. They will arrive in time for the 60th anniversary, this year, of the Queen’s Coronation.
The conservation has been funded by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Art Conservation Project.
Three of the banners were made to decorate the Royal Galleries within the Abbey, with the banners depicting the Royal Arms, the coat of arms of the Duke of Edinburgh and the coat of arms of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. They were made by Toye & Co. and measure about 150cm by 98cm.
Two of the banners in position. Westminster Abbey, 1953.
They are made from a ribbed, cream coloured silk with raised appliquéd fabrics and hand embroidery worked in a cotton perle thread. A smaller banner depicts the Royal Cipher, which was made by Hobsons Uniforms and measures about 80cm by 68cm. It was made to decorate the Regalia table in the Annex to the Abbey and is embroidered in metal and silk threads.
Detail from the Royal Arms banner
This detail shows the crown on the Royal Cipher banner
At some time after the Coronation all four banners were framed and they arrived at the Studio in their glazed, oak frames.
Banner in its oak frame
I had been asked to open up the frames and assess the condition. Unfortunately, it was discovered that adhesive tape had been used to stick down the flap of fabric that originally would have hung down over the balcony.
After the back board was removed
Adhesive tape and fabric are a terrible combination. The tape had deteriorated and had left yellow adhesive residues and staining. All of the banners were the same. However the good news was that the embroidery was in excellent condition and had retained its bright colours.
I carried out tests to investigate removing the adhesive tape. I found that acetone and white spirit were effective in removing the tape, sticky residues and some of the staining. This was applied on a vacuum suction table which we use to avoid ring marking developing. A face mask and extraction were used to stop inhalation of the fumes. The deep yellow staining was reduced but not all the discolouration can be removed. The fortunate part is that the staining is on the turn back of the banners so that when viewed from the front the staining cannot be seen.
Originally, all four banners had fringing attached along the lower edges. The Abbey wanted it to be re-instated but they no longer had any of this fringe and no records could be found to allow us to trace the original makers. The best image available was the one below of the Royal Cipher and I used this to give approximate measurements by matching the size of the fringe against elements in the design on the banner. I assumed it would have been gold coloured but did not know what thread it would have been made in.
I contacted various passementerie makers to ask if was possible to recreate it.
Royal cipher banner from a photograph in 1953
Then there was a breakthrough. I had an unexpected and exciting phone call from Trimmings by Design Ltd. based in Derby saying they had recognised the fringe straightaway and that they were the company that had made it in 1953. They had a sample of it in their archives, had the pattern to recreate it and would be happy to produce it once again. The photograph below shows the original samples kept in their archives. This was wonderful news. New fringing was commissioned and also a length of cord braid which is just seen on the top of the Royal Cipher banner, as shown in the black and white photo above.
The new fringe
The Royal Cipher banner after conservation
The fringe was made, as originally, in gold coloured rayon. It was attached with running stitches matching the weave along the top and lower edges and was turned to the reverse at the edges where it was encased in cotton fabric and sewn.
It is not known exactly how the banners were originally hung but pole sleeves were created to enable battens to be inserted allowing the banners to be rehung. The banners were also lined in cream coloured, heavyweight cotton.
The banners will go on display in Westminster Abbey and then they will travel to Buckingham Palace to be exhibited as part of their Coronation exhibition from 27th July to 29th September, so do go along and have a look.
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother banner
Royal Arms banner