The Yorkshire company making iconic Yorkshire Rose flags for Yorkshire Day

The Yorkshire flag with its symbolic flower will be flying across the county on Monday as we mark Yorkshire Day. Catherine Scott meets the man who says more people are buying flags and looks at its history. Main pictures by Tony Johnson.

Dawn Banks presses a massive Yorkshire rose flag read for Yorkshire Day at Flying Colours in Knaresborough
Dawn Banks presses a massive Yorkshire rose flag read for Yorkshire Day at Flying Colours in Knaresborough

Nothing symbolises Yorkshire Day quite like the unfurling of the Yorkshire flag with its historic white rose on a bright blue background. And this year more Yorkshire flags than ever before will be flying above homes and on flagpoles across the county, according to Andy Ormrod owner of Flying Colours in Knaresborough. “Thirty years ago people weren’t that interested in regional flags, and not even really in the Union flag and we maybe did two or three Yorkshire flags a year. Then about 20 years ago people started wanting the Union flag and in the last five or ten years it has all changed, especially when it comes to the Yorkshire flag which is the most popular of the county flags followed by Cornwall,” says Andy.

“We are definitely seeing more people wanting county flags in the last few years – Oxfordshire, Northumberland and Lincolnshire are popular too.

“It feels like increasingly people are identifying more with where they come from and live and also when it comes to sport. It isn’t political, it is just a sense of belonging. People are proud of where they come from and a flag is one way of showing that clearly.”

Andy Ormrod owner of Flying Colours waves one of his Yorkshire flags over Knaresborough

And it isn’t just the Yorkshire flag that is proving popular. Each of the Ridings has its own flag – all including the Yorkshire rose – but in slightly different designs and backgrounds.

“These Yorkshire Ridings flags are really quite strong,” says Andy. “The East Riding has a red cross with the Yorkshire rose on top of a sunflower. North Riding is a green flag with a blue and yellow cross. The East Riding is the Yorkshire rose on a blue and green background which is the next most popular Yorkshire flag after the county flag,”

Flying Colours produces more than 10,000 flags in three different qualities. “We do printed flags which are quick and easy to produce. Then we have the traditional appliqué flags which involve a lot more work, particularly when it comes to the Yorkshire flag as every component has to be made separately and stitched together by our skilled team here at Flying Colours. We also have 15 different sizes. A six foot appliqué flag will take four to five hours to make and will cost around £100.”

The third process involves printing the entire Yorkshire rose on a separate piece of fabric – all sourced in the UK - sticking it onto the blue fabric and then stitching the details on both sides of the flag.

Flying Colours has seen increased demand for county flags including Yorkshire

“We do find that a lot of people will buy a flag just to fly on Yorkshire Day and so there aren’t that many repeat orders,” says Andy who adds that the Yorkshire Day flag will be flying proudly at his business on Monday. And you don’t need permission to fly your Yorkshire flag whenever you want. In 2012 a rule change was announced, allowing county flags to be flown without planning permission and on St George’s Day, 2013, Eric Pickles, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whose remit covered England, asserted that the nation’s historic and traditional counties still existed, and were now recognised by the Government.

For Andy, business has never been brisker and he now employs 18 people and is looking for bigger premises.

Even the pandemic proved to be busy. “We did close down when Boris told us too and we were really worried, but then we kept getting inquiries from the NHS for flags for things such as the Nightingale Hospitals and so we brought four people back in and put them in different units. Me and my wife were upstairs running the show as we were in the same bubble. Other guys were managing to work from home. And the orders kept coming, especially for Rainbow flags in support of the NHS, and so when restrictions eased and we could bring more people back with social distancing, we did and now we have never been busier which has allowed me to recruit more people.”

Andy started Flying Colours some 30 years ago. As a boy, he had loved skiing and been good enough to be invited to train for Great Britain, but his father thought O-Levels were a better idea.

Mandy Hunter runs up small Yorkshire rose flags as the county prepares to celebrate Yorkshire Day on Monday.

After school he set himself up as a travel agent, picturing all the free skiing. That worked up to a point but he moved on. A spell in financial services followed (“a nightmare, I couldn’t do it”). Wondering how to find work, he took the family dog for a walk.

“I saw a tatty flag flying on top of a garage, and thought, ‘Why’s that tatty?’” he says. “My wife, well she’s my ex-wife now, was a good sewing machinist and I said, ‘Can you make a flag?’ And that was basically the start of it.”

Andy struggled to work out how to make flags and source the patterns and materials. Other flag-makers were cagey, but the Ministry of Defence eventually offered good advice. He now has a Royal Warrant and makes flags for the Royal household as well as the armed forces.

And with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this year, Flying Colours has never been busier.

Another in-demand flag has been the Ukrainian one as people want to show their support to the war-torn country following Russia’s invasion. However, Flying Colours has seen a drop in demand for flags it used to make for super-yachts owned by Russian oligarchs. “We have been working very hard with a British boat maker doing their red ensigns for British-registered boats,” says Andy.

When he started making flags from home in Knaresborough, before moving to the unit that the company now occupies, there were around 30

flag-makers in Britain. Now that figure is closer to ten, “Some just can’t compete with the cheap Chinese imports and now just sell flags, but we are one of the new places that use MOD fabrics and are proud that we are a Yorkshire manufacturer,” says Andy.