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Lundy Island, England

Last modified: 2020-10-03 by rob raeside
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The history of Lundy was extensively researched and documented by Tony and Myrtle Langham, starting in the 1950s. Following Tony Langham's death, Myrtle Ternstrom, as she now is, has continued researching and publishing. The information which I am presenting here is derived almost entirely from their work, and I am particularly grateful to Myrtle Ternstrom for giving me a copy of Tony Langham's article on 'The Flags and Flagpoles of Lundy' (1989 - published in the Lundy Field Society Newsletter No. 20, Jan. 1990) and giving permission for the information it contains to be sent to FOTW. The information here is, strictly speaking, from a secondary source (because Myrtle does not now know exactly where Tony obtained his facts), but the Langhams' research has always been very thorough and there is at least some independent confirmation of what is presented here.


Lundy is a small island 11 miles (18km) off the coast of North Devon in the south-west of England. It is only 3 miles (5 km) long and not much more than half a mile (1 km) wide, but it has a long and varied history, fascinating archaeology, interesting geology and topography, more architecture than you would expect, and some unique wildlife.

It has been said that the legal status of Lundy was for a long period ill-defined. An impression persists that Lundy is somehow 'separate', fuelled by reports referring to islanders passing through customs on visiting the mainland, and a newspaper article which mentioned that Lundy was outside the former three-mile limit of territorial waters. This is typical of the (romantic) belief that Lundy is some sort of Utopia or Shangri La where normal laws do not apply. The 'customs' statement has never been true, and (although I would defer here to the lawyers) the 'territorial waters' argument seems to be misconceived - if Lundy is sovereign, then it has its own territorial waters; if it is not, then the waters surrounding it are part of U.K. territorial waters. If any island more than three miles from the mainland was ipso facto sovereign then a lot of political maps would need to be redrawn.

I believe a fairer statement would be that, with some small qualifications, for as long as it has been meaningful to say this, Lundy has been a detached part of the county of Devon. It has never had any degree of autonomy or separate administrative status over and above that given by English Common Law to land-owners to control and defend their land. However, that has not stopped successive owners from regarding it as a separate 'kingdom' over which they held sway. In Victorian times, the owner was a Church of England priest, aptly named Hudson Grosett Heaven, thereby giving the Bishop of Exeter the opportunity to observe, after a rough crossing to visit the island, that he had passed through Purgatory and had now arrived at the Kingdom of Heaven. From the vexillological point of view, the key period is the ownership of the Harman family from 1925 to 1969.

The Heaven Period

William Hudson Heaven purchased Lundy in 1834. His son, the Rev. Hudson Grosett Heaven, inherited the island in 1883 and owned it until 1916. From 1916 to 1917 Lundy belonged to Rev. Heaven's nephew, Walter Hudson Heaven. The only flag history from the Heaven period is to do with signal flags, which I deal with below (though chronologically it predates the rest of this essay).

In 1917 Lundy was bought by Augustus Langham Christie. Christie sold Lundy in 1925 to Martin Coles Harman, which is where the really interesting vexillological history starts.

The Harman Period

Martin Coles Harman bought Lundy in 1925, and his son, Albion P. Harman, inherited it in 1954. Martin Coles Harman was a 'character' who firmly believed that Lundy was 'a self-governing dominion of the British Empire recognising King George as its head' [quote from court case referred to below]. He printed Lundy stamps and issued Lundy coins with his own head on them. This led to a court case in 1931 which Harman lost. In the same spirit, he also designed and flew Lundy flags.

The first flag

[Lundy] image by André Coutanche

Tony Langham has identified three flags designed and used by Harman over the years. The notes I have are a photocopy (i.e. black and white) with the colours identified in a pencil annotation. I therefore can't be certain of precise shades. I quote from Tony Langham's notes [my annotations in square brackets]:

'Mr Harman had firm views on the status of Lundy in relation to the United Kingdom and about 1932 had a special Lundy flag made which consisted of a white background with a blue border and a large capital 'L' in red carried centrally. This flag was flown on special island occasions, such as visits by Martin Harman to his island, and on September 11th each year when the island, nearing the end of the holiday season was 'en fete' to celebrate Mrs. Gade's birthday.' [Rene Gade was the wife of Felix Gade, Harman's Agent on Lundy who served for many decades] 'On Royal Occasions the island flag would be flown together with the Union Flag. Gales took their toll of this flag when flown, and damp storage allowed moths and rot to hasten its demise!'

The Puffin Flag

[Lundy] image by Pete Loeser, 18 September 2020

'Its replacement was the 'Puffin Flag' which was a white flag with an outer blue and inner red border with a standing puffin bird placed centrally.' [The puffin is strongly associated with Lundy, though numbers breeding there now are pitifully small. The island's name comes from the Norse meaning 'Puffin Island'. I attach the flag as it is shown in Tony Langham's notes, with the puffin drawn in outline. I do not know whether it was coloured 'proper' or any other way.]

'For some reason an Icelandic flag was flown after the Puffin flag had disintegrated. Martin Harman's elder son John, who was later to gain a posthumous Victoria Cross, was a "keen flag flyer" and was possibly given this flag by a passing ship and decided to fly it as a gesture of the island's independence. It was certainly flown on occasion after the war ended in 1945 and was still lying in the loft above the Bar in 1968.

The Third Flag

[Lundy] image by André Coutanche

'However, meanwhile in 1954 a postwar design was produced consisting of a large 'L' on a blue background. This was flown on special days and on days of Trinity House visits - possibly to remind visitors that Trinity House had control merely over the lighthouses and their immediate surroundings, and the rest of the island was quite different.'

[end of quotes from Langham]

Trinity House is the Lighthouse Authority for England & Wales. Lundy had and still has two working lighthouses, one at each end of the island.

Tony Langham's sketches of the flags are all the same size and ratio, and I have followed this in the images here, but I don't believe we can draw any conclusions from this. Myrtle Ternstrom was recently given a photograph which she kindly lent me to copy. It shows the postwar flag flying from Lundy's main flagpole. The ratio in the photo seems to be more like 1:2. The photo is believed to come from the late 1950s or 1960s but we do not have the exact date.

This post-war flag may be a little later than indicated in Tony Langham's notes. Following the death of the Queen Mother in 2002, a local newspaper had reprinted a report of her visit to Lundy in 1958 and this was on display on the Oldenburg's information board in April 2002. The report, in the North Devon Journal-Herald, said that when she landed on Sunday 11 May 1958 from the Royal Yacht Britannia, "the new blue and white flag was raised for the first time".

After the Harmans: the Landmark Trust

After the death of Albion P. Harman, Lundy was put up for sale by the daughters and daughter-in-law of Martin Coles Harman. A most generous donation from Mr Jack Hayward meant that the National Trust could purchase the island. The National Trust is a charitable body in England & Wales and Northern Ireland (there is a similar body in Scotland) which owns buildings and land and preserves them for future generations.

The Landmark Trust is an analogous organisation which concentrates on interesting buildings which are not necessarily grand or even very old but which are 'landmarks' in their environment. Buildings are restored and rented out as 'holiday cottages' which thus provides the income to maintain the buildings and acquire new properties. The National Trust agreed with the Landmark Trust that Landmark would run Lundy on their behalf. Landmark has set up a subsidiary company, the Lundy Island Company, to run the island and the shipping service.

The economy of Lundy today consists of a working farm and 23 properties of various sizes rented out by the week. There is also (depending on the weather!) a thriving trade in day-trips to the island run by the Lundy supply vessel, M.S. Oldenburg, from either Bideford or Ilfracombe, the two harbours on the north Devon coast from which Lundy is served. People visit for many reasons, but a major one is the wildlife, and the waters surrounding Lundy were designated the first Marine Nature Reserve in the U.K. On land, apart from the farm animals, there are wild herds of Soay sheep, sika deer, goats and ponies (now recognised as a distinct breed). The sea-bird life is significant, though the puffin which gave Lundy its name is now greatly reduced in numbers. There is a plant unique to Lundy, the Lundy Cabbage (a member of the cabbage family but not looking anything like the cabbage in your kitchen), which itself has a unique beetle living on it. This fauna and flora is managed by a Warden.

Vexillologically speaking, the modern period under the Landmark Trust is less interesting. There are now two flagpoles on the island. The main one overlooks the landing bay at a place called 'The Ugly' (this is the flagpole in the photo of the postwar blue-and-white Lundy flag mentioned above). The second flagpole is on the tower of the church (I will avoid the interesting saga of the church; it is not now regularly used). Although the church and the land immediately around it are owned by the Church of England and not by the National Trust, the Church is managed on a day-to-day basis by the Landmark Trust staff (it contains a small exhibition on various aspects of Lundy and is used for slide shows about the wildlife by the Warden). Both flagpoles now fly the English flag (St George's Cross).

Other flags can appear. From time to time a priest visits the island and takes some services in the church. A few years ago, this was the Rev. Donald Peyton-Jones and he flew the flag of the Missions to Seamen from the church tower when he was 'in residence'. The two lighthouses are owned by Trinity House (so there are three small enclaves on Lundy which are not National Trust property) and the Trinity House flag may be flown. As well as the photograph of the postwar flag above, Myrtle Ternstrom was given another black-and-white photograph, of unknown date but probably also late 1950s/early 1960s, which showed the Royal Navy White Ensign flying from the Ugly. It is not known why this flag was being flown.

The 'Marisco Tavern', the hub of island life, has hanging in the bar several flags with maritime associations: the White Ensign, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Sea Cadet Corps and Trinity House (ensign and jack).

Signal Flags used on Lundy

Although the use of unique Lundy flags started with Martin Coles Harman, flags were used during the ownership of the Heaven family. In those days, there were flagpoles (which no longer exist) at the small building officially named the Admiralty Lookout but always called Tibbetts; at the Castle (then a ruinous building above the landing bay); and on a chimney at the Old Hotel.

To quote again from Tony Langham's paper [my annotations in square brackets]:

'The flagpole at Tibbetts was used from 1909 until 1927 for signalling using the International Code flags, the pigeon-holes for which can still be seen in the building's dayroom.' [I haven't been inside Tibbetts and I don't know whether this statement, written in 1989, is still true]

'During the Heaven's ownership the flagpole that was attached to the central chimneystack of the Old Hotel would hoist a plain black flag on those days when the island mailboat was expected. This was a signal to the islanders to complete their correspondence in time for posting but why a black flag was chosen is not clear unless it was felt not to detract from the International Code flags being flown at the Castle.

'This Castle flagpole was manned by Lloyds signallers to communicate with passing ships. In those days before radio, messages were carried between ship and shore by flag, and between Lundy and the mainland by undersea cable.'

André Coutanche, 3-5 June 2001

M.S. Oldenburg flags

[M.S. Oldenburg: puffin] image by André Coutanche

There are two modern flags associated with Lundy which are flown on the M.S. Oldenburg. At the stern, she flies the undefaced Red Ensign, as you would expect, but she also flies in the rigging a 'Lundy' flag and a flag bearing her name. The former uses the puffin that is symbolic of Lundy. I believe this should be regarded not as a genuine flag of Lundy (it is never flown on the island) but as a shipping house flag (if an organisation with one ship can be called a shipping house). This flag was introduced in about June 2000 when the funnel of the Oldenburg was repainted. It had previously been red with the puffin in a circle and is now a more 'classic' buff colour. To retain the puffin motif, the flag was made. These images are based on photographs I took on the Oldenburg of new flags which were about to replace the old, worn-out versions. I am very grateful to the Information Officer of the Oldenburg for his help.

[M.S. Oldenburg: name] image by André Coutanche

The 'name' flag at first sight looks as though it is in two different shades of blue, with a darker blue at top and bottom where the lettering is and a lighter shade of blue in between. This is an artefact, caused by the lettering being on pieces of cloth which are sewn onto the flag so that the writing reads correctly on both sides. The top and bottom are therefore thicker, and, seen against the sky, the middle section looks lighter.

André Coutanche, 4 June, 28 August 2001, 21 April 2002

Proposals - not adopted, but proposed in the literature

[Lundy proposal] image by André Coutanche

Tony Langham ends his paper with a suggestion for a future Lundy flag which he describes as 'a compromise between loyalty and individuality'.

[Lundy proposal] image by André Coutanche

I have also proposed in the Lundy Field Society Newsletter a new flag for Lundy. Following a review of the Harman period, and an outline of flag design principles, I suggested a design based on a Scandinavian Cross in English colours. This reflects the fact that it was the Norsemen who gave Lundy its name ('Puffin Island') and - slightly tongue in cheek - that an off-centre cross is appropriate for a rather off-centre piece of England. I added in the canton a representation of the puffin's beak, which fortuitously has a built-in fimbriation.

The silence which greeted my article was deafening, and I don't think Tony Langham got any response either.

André Coutanche, 5 June 2001