Fly the flag
May 16, 2017

Union Flag

Did you know that it’s an insult to the Crown to fly the Union Jack ‘the wrong way up’?  It’s also a sign of distress.  But how do you know which way is the right way up?  Well it’s all down to symmetry.

The Union Jack was devised in 1606 to represent the union of England and Scotland, following the coronation of James I of England – who was already James VI of Scotland – in 1603. The flag of England was a red cross on a white background (known as St. George’s Cross), and the Scottish flag was a white X-shape (or saltire) on a blue background (St. Andrew’s Cross). The Welsh dragon does not appear on the Union Jack because at the time Wales was a principality rather than a separate kingdom.  The ‘merged’ flag was almost identical to the modern Union Jack, except that it lacked the thin red X-shape inside the white saltire. This came in 1801, after the Act of Union 1800 merged the kingdoms of Ireland and Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The St. Patrick’s cross of Ireland, a red saltire on a white background, was added to the Union Jack to produce the flag that exists today, although in fact the lines that make up the saltire don’t meet one another to make a proper X-shape – thus the lack of symmetry.

The Union Jack is often used in fashion and by bands on their album covers.  The most famous use of the Union Jack was back in the 1990s when Geri Halliwell of The Spice Girls sported a dress made from a patriotic tea towel for the BRIT awards! It became an iconic symbol of Cool Britannia.

The Union Jack continues to be a popular design for everything from mugs to umbrellas to bags.  We particularly love the range by Emma Bridgewater which includes this mug (below).

Union Jack mug designed by Emma Bridgewater

You can find out more about the Union Jack in our Touch to See book for teenagers ABC UK. This blog was inspired by our book for teenagers, ABC UK, which is a fun, alphabetic, look at the culture of our diverse nation.  Borrow it from our library.


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