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Cleaning three Royal British Legion standards at St James' Parish Church, Arnside

St James’ Parish Church in Arnside is home to some magnificent historic fixtures and fittings which sit comfortably alongside active community use. The beautiful 1928 ‘Light of the World’ window based on Holman Hunt’s famous painting, is one of very few for which permission was given. The colours of this and the other windows are echoed in the vibrant banners, cushions and kneelers within the nave.

Hog & Fitch spent three days working in the church bathed in the red, gold and blue light of the Royal British Legion window in the contemplative space of the Lady Chapel. We were carrying out a conservation clean on three of the Royal British Legion banners, with the events of 1914 -18 very much on our minds.

The Arnside Royal British Legion Men’s Section was set up in 1922 and the Women’s Section in 1937. Although no one knows the exact date, the general consensus was that the oldest of the banners we cleaned might date from the 1920s or 30s, in the early days of the Men’s Section. The other two banners, one from the Women’s Section and one for the Men’s, were more recent but still very much in need of some Hog & Fitch care and attention.

All three banners had been on open display and attracted a lot of dust. The metal was dull, corroded and dusty and the rich colour of the fringes, tassels, cords, as well as the main surface of the banners, was lost through a combination of light damage and obscuring dust.

The silk banner in particular was extremely fragile. It had been hanging high up in the chapel for so long that no one remembered seeing it close up. This extended period of time suspended in the same position exposed to light, dust and pollution had taken its toll upon the ageing fabric. There were tears and weak areas, particularly where there had been folds and where small areas of fabric had been taking the full weight of the whole standard. This really showed how damaging the action of light and dust can be.

This older standard required an extremely cautious conservation cleaning approach – just enough to lift off the dust, after assiduous condition checking. Of course we had to avoid areas of damage and use a protective filament when cleaning to ensure that we did not lose any of the fragile original silk in the process.

The fading from light damage, alas, is irreversible. Nevertheless, how gratifying it was to see that there were still some of the brighter colours preserved, as they emerged from under their covering layer of dust and webs.

The more modern standards were less fragile but removing some awkwardly embedded dark dust was both challenging and rewarding as the golden yellow of the flag regained its brilliance. We were perpetually reminded of its symbolism – representative of service and those who gave up their lives for their country. With recent commemoration of all of those lost in the battle of Passchendaele very much in our minds, we’ve been thinking a lot about this.

We were fortunate to be able to work during the St James’ Church Open Day and meet more of the congregation and local community. It was a chance for us to talk about preventive conservation – and how damage like that seen on the silk banner can be avoided to preserve historic objects for as long as possible.

The Men’s Section banner is now back in position in the Lady Chapel and the Women's Section banner is temporarily in storage. We advised that the silk one should not remain on open display. After cleaning, we wrapped it to keep it safe for the immediate future while the church and Royal British Legion representatives decide on the best option for its future preservation and display.

We'd like to thank everyone at St James's Church for their warm welcome and hospitality. A trip to Arnside will no longer be complete without a walk up the hill to this lovely building.

Captions for the images are at the bottom of the page.


Main header image: detail of the silk standard after dust removal

Remaining images from top: working on the banners in the Lady Chapel at St James' Parish Church, Arnside (2 images) - with the most recent Royal British Legion banner hanging overhead; dust deposits and cobwebs on the surface of the older and one of the more recent banners (2 images); dust deposits and light and structural damage on the older banner; metal spearheads before cleaning (2 images); cleaning the spearhead with protection in place and to the sound of the church organ; fringe during cleaning, with dust test patch showing dark sooty dust; dust test patch from Men's Section banner; cautious cleaning through a protective filament; examining the tassels on the silk banner before cleaning; tassels from the more modern standard during cleaning; working on the banners in the Lady Chapel and talking about preventive conservation during the St James' Open Day (3 images); the silk banner after dust removal; inspecting the Women's Section standard with Royal British Legion representatives; wrapping the silk banner so it is protected while a decision is taken on its future (2 images); detail of the Royal British Legion window in St James' Lady Chapel, Arnside

All images by Hog & Fitch, with thanks to St James' Parish Church, Arnside