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22nd April 2021

A long due conservation treatment on the 147 year-old Truelove flag from the Hull Maritime Museum is now complete.

The 15ft (4.57m) Truelove flag, dating back to 1873 and on display at height for more than 40 years on the main wall within the whaling gallery, was lowered by technicians in January to enable conservation work to take place.

The Truelove Flag Is Carefully Lowered From The Ceiling January 2021
The Truelove Flag Is Carefully Lowered From The Ceiling January 2021

Once laid flat over an expanse of tables, a thorough inspection of the textile and photographic documentation of its condition was completed.

Conservators Examining The Condition Of The Truelove Flag Comparing Against Archive Images From The 1970S
Conservators Examining The Condition Of The Truelove Flag Comparing Against Archive Images From The 1970S

Textile conservator, Kate Stockwell from Leeds, who specialises in delicate fabrics, carried out surface cleaning. Dust was lifted from the surface of the textile by gently brushing with a soft bristle brush in combination with suction from a museum vac. The 5m long Velcro strip which had been attached to the top edge of the flag as part of the previous conservation treatment in 1979, was also removed.

Truelove flag, Surface Cleaning With A Soft Bristle Brush In Combination With Suction From A Museum Vac
Surface Cleaning With A Soft Bristle Brush In Combination With Suction From A Museum Vac
Removal Of A 5M Long Velcro Strip Used Previously To Hang The Flag On The Wall  A Discrete Mounting Method Will Be Used To Display The Flag Once The Museum Re Opens
Removal Of A 5M Long Velcro Strip Used Previously To Hang The Flag On The Wall A Discrete Mounting Method Will Be Used To Display The Flag Once The Museum Re Opens

It soon became apparent that a previous repair with cotton fabric on the upper left corner had to be removed as it has faded over the years and no longer matched to the original.

The removal of the covering revealed that the original textile had suffered significant loss and damage as it would have to carry much of the weight when the flag was originally hung.

The area was reinforced with hand-stitched lines with matching sewing threads that blended with the original blue background. To further consolidate the damaged blue wool, a custom -dyed net covering was applied to the top strip of wool covering the first row of stars.

A Previous Repair With Cotton Fabric Had To Be Removed As It Has Faded Over The Years
A Previous Repair With Cotton Fabric Had To Be Removed As It Has Faded Over The Years
To Further Consolidate The Damaged Blue Wool A Custom Dyed Net
To further consolidate the damaged blue wool, a custom -dyed net covering was applied to the top strip of wool covering the first row of stars

The flag was then turned on the other side to begin work on cleaning the lining. This was carried out using the same technique, brush and vacuum suction. Additional cleaning was carried out using a smoke sponge on the areas discoloured with engrained particulate soiling.

Conservators Cleaning The Back Lining Of The Flag Using Smoke Sponges And Vacuum Suction
Conservators Cleaning The Back Lining Of The Flag Using Smoke Sponges And Vacuum Suction

Stathis Tsolis, Conservation and Engagement Officer with the Hull Maritime project, said: “A closer look showed that the flag was in need of treatment, and thanks to this project and funding from The National Lottery Fund and Hull City Council, means that this historic artefact has been preserved for many years to come.

“The Truelove flag will now be placed into storage and will be re-displayed as part of our exciting plans for the refurbished museum.”

Kate Stockwell, Textile Conservator, said: “40 years on open display, following the original conservation treatment, had taken its toll. It is always interesting and challenging revisiting a previous treatment. The earlier work done in itself forms part of the object's history. In general the treatment has lasted well and with a clean and a few minor changes the Truelove Flag will soon be back on display, this time in a specially commissioned showcase.”

The final stage of treatment was to prepare the flag for transportation and long-term storage, while the refurbishment of the museum takes place. This was done with the flag face down so that when rolled the front face of the flag was on the outside of an 160mm diameter plastic tube. The flag was interleaved with sheets of acid free tissue with a top layer of Tyvek fabric for extra protection.

Conservators Rolling The Flag On A 160Mm Diameter Plastic Tube
Conservators Rolling The Flag On A 160Mm Diameter Plastic Tube

The Truelove flag is now ready for transportation. The remaining objects from the museum’s collection are currently being prepared for packing and transportation. This is a fairly complex task and it is expected to take a number of weeks to complete. Then, work to redevelop the museum can get underway.

The flag will return to the museum and will be prominently displayed within the new gallery and exhibition space.