By Amy MacLaren, BSA's Director of Development & Communications*


The British Science Association (BSA), was founded in the early 1830s as the British Association for the Advancement of Science.  The first meeting, held in York on 26 September 1831, was thereafter followed by a series of annual meetings – a tradition that continued, broken only in some of the war years, for over 150 years.  More than two decades ago, the annual meeting evolved into the British Science Festival.

For the first hundred years of the Association’s existence, a special banner - in silk, cotton and hessian - was commissioned to mark the occasion of the annual meeting.  The design of each banner features the personal insignia of the president that year (or the host city for that year – and in some cases both), the name of the president, the date, and the place the annual meeting was held.  In some cases, the banner also features a motto.

Unravelling the BSA's historical links to the textile industry

2015 was the year of Back to the Future, and the development team took this as our inspiration to look back to the past as we began an exploration of the BSA’s heritage.  In particular, we recalled these silk banners from the archive and commissioned an inspection and report from a specialist conservator at the People’s History Museum in Manchester

We have discovered that some of our collection is in urgent need of stabilisation, while other items are near to loan or display-ready.  Indeed, one particularly valuable and interesting banner is on loan at the V&A, where it is currently available at the Clothworkers' Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion at Blythe House.

An important collection

The earliest banners in UK national collections date from the 1820s. Our collection, the first of which was commissioned for the annual meeting in 1832, effectively charts 100 years of banner-making history in the UK.  We intend to embark on a project to further explore the significance of our collection - not only as a record of the history of the British Science Association and its annual meetings, but moreover its place in the nation’s history of banner making. 

The future

In the New Year, the BSA team will be exploring solutions for the stabilisation and storage of our banners. 

We would be interested to hear from anyone with an interest in this particular branch of the UK’s textile heritage, and – especially – from anyone who is interested in helping us explore our archival record to find out more the purchase, commissioning and manufacture of these banners from the early part of the Association’s history.

Looking further ahead, we will be scoping out possible outreach and/or heritage access projects, so are also keen to hear from potential partners in those areas.

(* and with apologies for the appallingly tenuous Back to the Future link...)