Flying the Flag

Out of Sight at St Mary’s, Nantwich
The aim of this series of articles is to give parishioners insights into aspects of the Church that go on behind the scenes. In this article, we are looking at flying the flag – yes, I know this does happen in plain sight and is therefore rather at odds with the title, but, hey, lockdown fever and all that!

Flying the Flag
At one time, the flagpole at St Mary’s church was retractable and would be lowered into the tower when a flag was not being flown. When a flag was to be flown, the flagpole would be winched up through a hole (probably covered with a leather flap) in the tower roof. The flag may have been attached as the pole emerged from the tower to save having to put it up in the normal manner, but I’m not sure. The mechanism has long gone at Nantwich – only holes in the wall inside the tower show where the brackets used to be located. An appreciation of how it must have looked can however be seen at Acton, where the same system was also deployed and where their now dilapidated winch and flagpole remain in the belfry. Incidentally, the flagpoles would have been much longer than the fixed ones we have today and would have required to be sourced from quite a big tree.

Our current flagpole is made from fibreglass and is hollow. In the middle part of the last century, it contained an aerial that was used by the local emergency services.

Unfortunately, our current flagpole is a bit close to the adjacent pinnacle and not tall enough to prevent a standard “three yard” flag fouling on the top of the pinnacle in certain wind conditions. A standard flag is made with its length being twice that of its width and is qualified by its length when referring to a particular size – a standard “three yard” flag therefore measures 9’ x 4’6” (millennials should ask their sequestered parents what these symbols mean).

The flags we fly are made in the ratio 5 x 3 (rather than 2 x 1) and measure 8’4” x 5’. Flags in a 5 x 3 ratio are used on ships as the shorter length for a given width means less thrashing in the strong winds that can occur at sea for a similar sized 2 x 1 flag. As such, our flags have a diagonal length which is 4” shorter than a standard “three yard” flag and this is sufficient to avoid the flag fouling on the nearby pinnacle. Our flags also have a fraying strip on the edge farthest from the pole to reduce the damage to the main flag material occasioned by wind; even so, flags only have a flying life of about 3 to 4 months before they start to deteriorate!

We have three flags: a Diocesan Flag (pictured above); a St. George’s Flag; and a Union Flag. The Diocesan Flag is a St. George’s Flag with the Diocesan arm (or Bishop’s Crest) in the top corner that would fly nearest to the mast (see attached image). Normally we use our “standard” St. George’s flag, reserving the Diocesan Flag for more special occasions such as when the Bishop is visiting. Our Union flag is a more recent addition and we use it to mark national occasions such as the forthcoming 75th anniversary of VE Day. Incidentally, according to the Church of England website we should only fly the Diocesan Flag!

NB: Our Diocesan Flag is made using an applique technique to add the bishop’s crest and would cost £400 to replace. For comparison, the standard St. George’s flag and the Union Flag would cost £85 and £140 respectively (both being made from separate coloured pieces of material). Another reason for reserving the Diocesan Flag for more special occasions.

Sometimes people ask why we don’t fly the flag all the time. Well, the cost of replacement is one reason, but we would perhaps lose the effect of marking a specific occasion if there was always a flag flying.

NB: The next time you will likely see a flag at Nantwich will be on Easter Morning (part of my allowed daily exercise will include an ascent of the tower) and I will probably leave it flying until Ascension Day to mark the Easter period.

Stefan Zientek
Tower Captain
1 April 2020