Unravelling the mystery of the Lord Grey banner

A large banner depicting two female figures in a rural setting is among the most interesting and unique items in the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection. Measuring 2.4 x 1.8 metres, this needlework is made from linen, cotton and wool, in addition to being beautifully embroidered with silk and other threads. On the back of the banner, more embroidery indicates that is was “worked by Agnes Sephton 1907.” According to former archivists, Governor General Albert Henry George Grey, 4th Earl Grey, gave the banner to the Dominion Archives sometime between 1907 and 1911. The banner hung in the office of the Assistant Dominion Archivist until 1953 when it was put into storage. In 1967, it was moved to the National Archives at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, and has been housed at LAC’s Preservation Centre in Gatineau, Quebec since 2000.

The banner donated by Lord Grey.

The banner donated by Lord Grey. Source

During preparations for the latter move, staff learned more about the circumstances surrounding the banner’s creation. It is thought to be one of a series commissioned by Lord Grey in hopes of making a lasting impression upon the minds and hearts of young Canadians. He planned for banners to be hung in schools across the country to reinforce the ties between Great Britain and Canada. According to legend, St. George, the patron saint of England, demonstrated immense courage in slaying a dragon. Lord Grey wanted young men and women to emulate these heroic qualities. St. George can be found on the shield held by Britannia, the female figure dressed in red. She extends a protective arm around young Canada, who is wearing a white dress adorned with doves and pine trees.

Recently, while preparing the banner to be photographed, LAC staff tracked down the identity of the woman who created it. When Canadian sources failed to reveal a possible candidate, archivists found one in British census and marriage records. Agnes Bingley was born in 1868 in London, England, the daughter of James Bingley, a landscape artist. In 1901 she married George Sephton, who was a painter. The couple lived in London and were associated with a group of artists and designers linked to the Arts and Crafts Movement. It is hoped that further research will reveal more clues about Agnes Sephton’s banner and how it came to LAC .

2 thoughts on “Unravelling the mystery of the Lord Grey banner

  1. Pingback: The digitization of the Lord Grey banner | Library and Archives Canada Blog

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