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Board of Trade (Britain)

Last modified: 2019-09-15 by rob raeside
Keywords: board of trade |
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[Board of Trade flag] image by Graham Bartram
Source: Graham Bartram, British Flags and Emblems, Tuckwell Press, 2004.

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Description of the flag

The badge was original introduced, possibly in about 1850 on a Red Ensign, for the Board of Trade. It displays a sailing ship flying an ensign.
David Prothero, 24 September 2004

The ensign was discontinued in 1949 but re-instated 1954.
David Prothero, 30 June 2004

We still have a Board of Trade (it's part of the Department of Trade and Industry) so that ensign should still be current.
Graham Bartram, 29 June 2004

The Board of Trade flag since 2016

Since 2016 the Board of Trade has been part of the UK Department for International Trade, and the venerable Board of Trade flag is very much back in use.

The Board of Trade was formally reconstituted in October 2017 as a vehicle for the development of free trade opportunities against the background of the UK’s exit from the European Union. The Secretary of State for International Trade also holds the title of President of the Board of Trade.

The flag has been used at a variety of events hosted by the Board of Trade – see, for example,

In an interview with BBC online ( the then Secretary of State, Dr Liam Fox, MP, mentioned an interesting use of the Board of Trade flag:

“(Dr. Fox) shows me his collection of international trade diplomacy memorabilia: a Stars and Stripes from the US Congress, digitally printed steel from an UK exporter of high-tech metals to India, various sets of cufflinks and his own centuries-old insignia - the flag of the president of the Board of Trade.
“Under a very old convention, the Navy are obliged to fly his flag when he is on board one of their vessels, he tells me, and they did in New York last autumn.”
Stuart A Notholt, 9 August 2019

Old Jack

[Board of Trade old jack] by Martin Grieve, 5 April 2008

On page 68 of Das Grosse Flaggenbuch (1992 re-print) appears an illustration of a square blue jack which is defaced with a sailing vessel adjacent to the Ensign of the Board of Trade. The dimensions for the badge are given as exactly one quarter of the Jack's width. I have used the modern-day Union canton where the breadth of the St. George's cross is much thicker than the one illustrated in the source.

There appears to be some confusion as to whether Public Office Jacks were defaced with the badge of the Department, or left plain. David Prothero's research into the matter yielded the following:
In 1939 both Flaggenbuch and 'Flags of the World' by V. Wheeler-Holohan used the Board of Trade jack as an example of Public Service jacks. 'Flaggenbuch' showed it with the Board of Trade badge in the fly, while Wheeler-Holohan wrote that it was plain. "The Board of Trade also flies as its distinguishing badge in the fly of the Blue Ensign a circular device showing a sailing vessel at sea, flying the jack for vessels in the employ of public offices at the Jack-staff, and the Blue Ensign at the stern. This Jack for vessels in the employ of Public Offices is a square Blue Ensign with the Union taking up the first quarter exactly." An illustration of the flag shows a plain square blue jack.

The relevant entry in King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions of the time was:
"Ensigns of Public Offices.- Ships and vessels employed in the service of any public office shall carry a blue ensign, and a small blue flag with a Union described in a canton at the upper corner thereof next to the staff, as a jack, but in the centre of the fly of such ensign and jack, that is, in the centre of that part between the Union and the end of the flag, shall be inserted the badge of the office to which they belong."

Clearly 'Flags of the World' was wrong, but the mistake was repeated in successive editions by H. Gresham Carr and E.M.C. Barraclough until the 1971 edition, when reference to the Board of Trade was removed following its reorganisation as the Department of Trade and Industry.

In practice very few departments use a jack. "... public service departments are authorised to use a square version of their Blue Ensign as a Jack. Currently only the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service, Marine Society and Northern Lighthouse Board vessels are believed to do this.  HM Army Vessels wore the Union Flag as their jack, as did HM Air Force Vessels when they existed. The British Antarctic Survey and the Sea Cadet Corps use the merchant jack (also known as the pilot jack)."
'Colours of the Fleet' by Malcolm Farrow.

The Department of Trade and Industry has now become the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and is thought not to have a flag.
Martin Grieve, 5 April 2008