25 - Editorial - Put The Flags Out

08:58PM BST - Monday, 04 June 2007

Contributed by: Jerry Green

The Queen's Golden Jubilee is being marked with diverse celebrations all over the country. As with her Silver Jubilee in 1977, cities, towns and villages are staging 'official' carnivals and pageants and on a more humble level, local initiatives have led to the organisation of street parties, where youngsters of all ages can enjoy themselves. Games are being played that many older partygoers will have almost forgotten and which are quite unknown to the 'Nintendo generation'. It is said that hopscotch, for example, is enjoying a revival. Contributing in no small measure to the festive spirit - brightening the scene at street parties as well as at more formal Jubilee celebrations - is the bunting!
Draped from lamp standards and upstairs windows, fluttering prettily in the breeze, strings of red, white and blue bunting complement the more overtly patriotic Union Flags - 'Union Jacks' to most of the population - flown from the tops of buildings and, in miniature form, waved enthusiastically by children lining the routes of Jubilee processions.
How did decorative bunting get its name? A possible explanation put forward, after some historical investigation, by one Desmond Holden writing in Derbyshire's Peak Advertiser a few years ago, was that in medieval times flour millers would sift their flour through coarse open-weave cloth called 'bunt'. The name for the material might, posits Mr Holden, have come from one of its alternative uses, for packaging goods in bundles. Hence the process of flour sifting became known as bunting, and the participle was adopted as the name for the cloth once it had been put to its milling use.
Back then, even before the slogan 'waste not, want not' had been coined, and even before the claim by farmers and pork butchers was coined that every part of a pig could be put to productive use, apart from its squeak, little was thrown away. Companies like Biffa and Cleanaway would have had a thin time in those days.
Accordingly, as the flour millers' bunting deteriorated in hard continuous use, losing its vital sifting properties, it was replaced with the old worn material being put to one side for alternative uses. One of those, according to Mr Holden's researches , was to make 'banners, streamers and flags'.
None of the bunting being used to brighten Jubilee celebrations in 2002 is likely to have had an earlier life in a flour mill. But at least the most probable origins of the name embody a suitable touch of history.
Alan Bunting

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The Bunting Society
http://www.buntingsociety.org.uk/society/home/article.php?story=2007060420582011