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Thursday, 13 July 2017

Flying the Flags: Sepia Saturday

This week's prompt photograph  is an early one (1909) of a spectators watching an event with flags flying in the background.   I have  a great match for  the crowds,  the bunting, the hats - and even the date  in images from  Auld Earlston - my local heritage group in the Scottish Borders. 

Flags are flying on Earlston High Street in 1908 for a visit by Prime Minister Asquith.  

 Crowds gathering to hear P.M. Asquith.  with an elaborate decoration with flags in the foreground and you can just make out the marquee in the background.

Local newspapers give colourful accounts of the event. "The Jedburgh Advertiser"  described the plans  for the visit.  These included  the erection of a tent, measuring 220 feet by 60 feet  with seating accommodation for about 4000 people - this when the population  of Earlston in the 1911 census was only 1677!   How many political meetings attract that kind of number today?  

It proved to be a notable  occasion,  disrupted by the late arrival of reporters and M.Ps on a delayed Edinburgh train which took three hours totraqvel the 30 miles to Earlston; crowds spilling out of from the crowded hot  marquee, the intervention of a woman suffragette,  and noise from the "shunt, snort and whistles" of a railway engine threatening  to drown out the speakers.  

When Mr Asquith stood to speak, the newspaper reported "He got a warm greeting. Mary of the people rose to their feet and waved hats and handkerchiefs and cheered with great cordiality". 

However he had only said a few words when,  at the remark  "My primary purpose in coming here this afternoon is to...., a woman startled her neighbours by exclaiming 
"Give votes to women!".  The interrupter was a young woman of graceful figure and pleasant features.  Stewards made their way to the fair  suffragette  and quickly bore the woman out,  calm and unresisting but with her sailor hat somewhat awry".  

I love that  piece of  journalism!  The newspaper reporter was clearly very taken with the young woman, and found the incident far more  interesting than Mr Asquith's speech which he described as "Unimpassioned with no striking phrases."  

But what had prompted this political meeting to be held in a Berwickshire village in the rural Scottish Borders?   Mr Asquith had Border connections.  His second wife was socialite Margot  Tennant, daughter of the prominent Tennant family  of the Glen, Innerleithen, whilst his brother-in-law  Mr H. J. Tennant was the local Berwickshire Member of Parliament. .

No general election was looming.  For Mr Asquith had assumed office  only a few months before.    But a turbulent political situation faced him, with issues of House of Lords reform,  home rule for Ireland, industrial strife, an increasingly militant women suffragette movement and worsening international relations with Germany, culminating in the First World War.  

But on a brief Saturday afternoon in October 1908 , Earlston was on the national stage politically.


One of the many World War One embroidered cards sent back by my grandfather  to his family at home.  They ranged from the floral to the sentimental and, as here, to the patriotic.

The Sottish Borders is known for its annual Common Riding events that take place in each town in June/July and are  the focal point of the local calendar.   They involve  both a symbolic riding of the town's boundaries, made in the past to safeguard burgh rights and also a commemoration of local history.  In Hawick where I used to live, the riding celebrates the "callants", young lads of Hawick, who in 1514, raided a body of English troops  and captured their flag - the "Banner Blue".  This skirmish followed the  the ill-fated Battle of Flodden in 1513,  when  King James IV and much of the "Flower of Scotland" were killed. 
Here is the Cornet - the principal figure of Hawick Common Riding, carrying the Banner Blue. With thanks to Lesley Fraser for allowing me to feature her photograph.

Flags attract me!  So when I am on holiday,  I always make a point of trying to capture an image of the country's flag,  

 Looking down from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Statue in Washington  D.C. 

Hotel de Ville in Paris

The Austrian Flag on a boat on  Wolfgangasee, near Salzburg

A wall mural depicting the distinctive blue and white lozenges of the Bavarian flag - a reminder of when Bavaria, ruled by the Wittelsbach family,  was a separate country in  southern Germany.   

 The White Ensigns of the British Navy flying above Admiralty Arch in London

The blue and white bunting out for Earlston Civic Week, with the pipe band leading the fancy dress procession, July 2017  

And how up to date can you get with an image?   This  morning my daughter, on holiday in London,  e-mailed   me a photograph of the city preparing to welcome a state visit by the Spanish King and Queen  - with the  national  flags flying on the Mall leading to Buckingham Palace. 


 Sepia Saturday gives bloggers an opportunity to share 
their family history and memories through photographs.


Click HERE to see what  other bloggers have picked out 
from this week's prompt photograph above  


  1. Well, I'd say that last photo from your daughter is just about as up-to-date as you can get! :) You did a nice job of featuring flags in your post in a variety of interesting & informative ways - as well as ladies and gentlemen in proper hats. And I love to read newspaper columns written 'back in the day' because they were so politely and expressively done as opposed to today's perfunctory observations.

  2. I especially liked the first three with the crowds and hats and numerous flags.

  3. Thank you for a peek into history---interesting.

  4. The suffragette described as so fair and with her sailor hat awry. How brave she was to stand up in crowds and take a stance. It's never easy to effect change. Great matches.

  5. The British have certainly perfected the art of bunting! (something not seen much of in Canada for some reason)

  6. A great spin on the theme. I suspect that flying bunting was borrowed from the displays on sailing ships. In olden days flags were both symbols and signals in battle because of the gunsmoke. Getting the right order was important or someone would get their signals crossed.

  7. Oh this was so interesting, I would have been satisfied with the first story, but then there were many to follow, complete with photos. Thanks for educating and entertaining me!

  8. Thank you all for such kind comments - this was a post which I enjoyed writing and sharing snippets of history with fellow bloggers.

  9. I especially like that second shot with the people oh so casually positioned in the street. And flags in motion are always so very interesting.

  10. Absolutely love the suffragette story and the sepia photos of the strings of flags on that day. I'm partial to the old photographs of street scenes, and these three are just grand.


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