Alongside the records that we hold in our archive, we also have an impressive collection of textile banners, some which have recently been returned from specialist conservation and which are stored within a temperature controlled environment.
If you wanted a banner today, you could easily purchase one by finding a printing website and uploading your artwork. It would take you maybe half an hour and then you would only need to wait for it to be delivered. The banners in our collection by contrast, represent weeks or even months of detailed labour intensive work. They were painstakingly handcrafted by members of the organisation, or even by artists and embroiderers. The banners tell us the messages and images which were most important to White Ribboners in the past, which of the messages were thought vital enough to spend so much time, effort and money on.
In general there are three main categories in our collection: banners advertising the organisation itself; banners used for rewards and meant for display; and banners representing key messages or slogans. (Some banners fit into more than one category!)
A selection of our banners
BWTA 1876 Banner
This is possibly the oldest banner in our collection as the BWTA was pre 1893. It features blue embroidered text on what appears to be gold silk. The full text reads:
British Women’s Temperance Association
We bind ourselves that others may be set free
President Mrs M Bright Lucas
One of the oldest BWTA banners in our collection
What do we learn from this banner?
- The text chosen for the banner tells us that this message was important to the BWTA – important enough to have embroidered onto gold silk!
- The banner is attached to a pole which means it can be displayed and transported easily. In combination with the cost and effort involved in producing such a banner, this suggests that it was meant for display and to represent the BWTA publically
- The slogan chosen – “We bind ourselves that others may be set free” – is typical of the Victorian era temperance movement, emphasising self-denial for the good of others – those tempted to drink, those harmed by the drinking of others and society at large. This contrasts with some later temperance messages which made alcohol into a universal evil and any drinking into a moral failing – a message that was perhaps harder to sell to the general public!
- The name of the president tells us that the banner was produced between 1878 and 1890, when Margaret Bright Lucas was in office
A BWTA Youth Department banner
BWTA Youth Banner
This banner also dates from the earlier days of the organisation. It features a woman dressed in white, holding a banner reading “For God & home & every land”, surrounded by a border of white flowers. This is one of the more intricate banners in our collection. It is embroidered and appliqued – there is gold embroidery throughout the design, which you can only see close up! We actually have two banners of this design; the other is not in such good condition..
This is a banner for the youth department of the BWTA. Although it is easy to miss at first glance, there is a “Y” integrated into the border above the head of the figure. The “Ys” were members aged 14 to 21 or so; they had their own groups and leadership and were somewhat independent of the main (senior) BWTA groups.
Around the Y, you can see a white ribbon bow. The white ribbon was the symbol of the women’s temperance movement. It was adopted to differentiate the women’s movement from the general temperance movement, which was represented by the blue ribbon. Women in the BWTA (and related organisations) would pin a small white ribbon bow to their clothing to show their allegiance to temperance. The white ribbon became the symbol of both the British and the international women’s temperance movement and is the origin of the name of White Ribbon Association.
What do we learn from this banner?
- At first glance, this banner seems to be about the same age as the Margaret Bright Lucas banner above. The organisation was only called the BWTA until 1893; after that it became the National BWTA and the Women’s Total Abstinence Union. However, even though the name changed in 1893, minute books tell us that members of the organisation were still using “BWTA” to refer to it right through to the 1950s!
- The slogan on the banner – “For God & home & every land” – also implies that the banner dates later than 1893. This was the motto of the international women’s temperance organisation the WWCTU which the NBWTA was affiliated to, but this happened after the name change!
- A woman dressed in white is a common feature of artwork of the women’s temperance movement. We have other banners in the archives featuring white-robed women, as well as pledge cards and other artwork. The white robes are often associated with purity. The temperance movement also explicitly linked water with purity. Both temperance and water were therefore in opposition to drink and drunkenness, which was often visually portrayed as dark immoral.
- The two banners appear to have had two different uses. One was used as a reward banner for Y branches that had seen the biggest increase in membership in a year. It therefore travelled around the country every year, and over time became worn. The other banner is in much better condition and would appear to have done less travelling!
Large Painted Goddess and Child
Detail from a painted banner, showing a white-robed, angelic woman (representing temperance) saving a young girl from the public house, shown as decrepit and immoral. Notably the girl is being pulled from the place of drink towards a pure water fountain.
Detail from a painted banner
Crusader and Demon
Crusader and Demon Banner
This banner does not have as many identifying details, it features only an image with no names or text. It is therefore harder to put a date on it, but most of the banners in our collection date from the late C19th or early C20th and stylistically, it matches with these banners.
The banner appears to show a crusader fighting a demon or dragon. The image is a combination of embroidery and applique – some of the embroidery work is extremely detailed! Interestingly, the crusader may possibly be a woman but this is unclear: the shape of the body and face suggest it may be, as does the shield she carries, which features the white ribbon of the women’s temperance movement.
The demon the crusader is fighting (or dominating) probably represents drink, although it’s not obvious by looking! The trope of drink as a demon or as a dragon savaging the country is quite common in BWTA (and associated organisations) publications and seems likely to be represented here. Parallels were also often drawn with the legend of George and the Dragon.
Preserving the banners for the future
We have received invaluable specialist advice from textile conservator Michelle Harper, about how to keep the banners in the best condition possible to ensure their long-term survival. Michelle has worked on some of our more dilapidated banners to prevent them from degrading any further and they have now been returned to us looking much better! They are now stored appropriately either rolled or flat within a humidity and temperature controlled environment. The banners in our collection are part of the story of the association and it is important to keep them protected so they can survive for as long as possible. Some of the banners are 130 years old – hopefully in another century they will still be going strong, telling the story of the women’s temperance movement and representing the women who worked for it.
We have produced a catalogue of all the banners in our collection, which can be requested by contacting us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org