Last modified: 2002-12-28 by rob raeside
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Vicar wrote to the Admiralty that the White Ensign was flown from a staff on the tower of the church on the orders of the Admiralty, His Majesty's Dockyard supplying the flag. "Staff went by the board." Would Admiralty arrange to replace the staff so that the flag might fly the following Sunday?
Research at the Admiralty found that a brazier on top of the tower used to indicate the centre of the fairway of River Medway, and that permission for a White Ensign, to be supplied by the Commodore of RN Barracks Chatham, was granted when the light was discontinued. In May 1915 the Hydrographer reported that the staff was no longer used for navigation but was "essential to the conduct of surveying operations." The staff was replaced and a flag, type not specified, was supplied on loan from Chatham. Ownership of the flag staff was transferred to the church in 1920 and in 1946 a White Ensign from a Chatham manned ship was laid-up in the church, in lieu of permission to fly a White Ensign from the tower. [ADM 1/8416/82, ADM 1/16854 and ADM 1/20868]
See also St Dunstan and All Saints Church in Stepney.
26 May 1772. We the Churchwardens of the Parish of St Martins(sic) in the Fields beg to inform you that flag used and hoisted from Parish Church upon King's Birthday and on all other publick occasions being quite worn out and rendered unfit for further service, and it being the constant custom of Their Lords of the Admiralty to provide the Parish with such flag being the King's Parish. We therefore take the liberty to request the favour that Their Lordships will be pleased to order a new flag for the above purpose of such dimensions as shall be judged fit and necessary in granting of which they will much oblige the Parish and in particular Senders. Your most obedient and humble servants, etc.. [ADM 1/5117/16]
This was probably a White Ensign, as in 1922, when the church requested a replacement flag, W.G.Perrin, the Admiralty Librarian, referred to a later order of 1790 to supply the church with such a flag. Again it seems strange that it was a White Ensign, that did not become the Royal Navy's exclusive flag until 1864, and not a Red Ensign, the Navy's senior ensign at the time. Perhaps, in this case, the White, with its overall St George's cross was considered more suitable as a church flag ? [ADM 1/8619/6B]
Another request for a replacement White Ensign in 1949 included the information that it was flown when flags were flown on public buildings, and on such ecclesiastical festivals as decided by Rector; a custom that dated from 1726. Admiralty papers recorded the White Ensign that had been supplied in 1922, and another of seven and half feet by fifteen feet, that had been supplied in 1934, with a note that "the original gift of 1922" should not be a precedent. This was interpreted to mean that it should not be replaced. Although it was a rich church that could afford the cost, it was felt that the expense to the Admiralty was worth while. Cost covered by 1947 decision allowing up to Fifteen Pounds for gifts of flags. [ADM 1/21313]
This was the birthplace of Horatio Nelson. The church flies an 18th century type White Ensign.
On 14th June 1944 the Vicar of Burnham Thorpe, Rev.Henry Hibberd, wrote to the Admiralty requesting permission to fly the White Ensign on his church in memory of Nelson. This was during World War Two, and he explained that there were many visitors to the church from Allied Forces stationed in Britain. The request was supported by two, probably retired, Admirals, but the Admiralty replied that although they had no authority to refuse the request they would not give it their approval, as it would set a precedent for many other churches that had connections with naval heroes. In October the vicar wrote again asking if the flag flown by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile could be authorised. This was probably in the hope that the Admiralty would be prepared to sanction an obsolete ensign. In January 1945 this also was refused. Hibberd tried again in February writing that he was not asking for permission, but for an indication that the Admiralty did not object. The reply, the final letter in the file, was a letter from the Admiralty dated 22nd February 1945;
"You are at liberty to present a petition on this matter in the correct quarter, but regret still not in a position to support application." [ADM 1/16854]
David Prothero, 17 January 2002
St Dunstan and All Saints Church in Stepney was built in 952 AD by the Bishop of London St Dunstan, when the old wooden church that previously occupied the site was knocked down. At the time, it was dedicated to All Saints only, but St Dunstan was added in 1029 after he had been canonised. The present church dates from 1400, but the chancel dates from 200 years earlier, and the font is about 1000 years old. It is one of the churches in the nursery ryhme "Oranges and Lemons" - anyhow it has a "red ensign" flying on its tower. The river Thames used to go up that way - Stepney Green - and it has close associations with the river and shipping. It may explain the distinction with the Limehouse one. There was red ensign flying from it when I saw it a couple of weeks ago and the information was on the board outside the church.
John Prosser, 10 September 2002