1066 and all that - the sequel to the Bayeux Tapestry is being stitched in Norfolk
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
A stunning 1,000-years-later sequel to the Bayeux Tapestry, beginning with the building of Norwich Castle, is taking shape in Norfolk
Battle lines bristle with spears, packed boats dance across the water, knights ride by on prancing horses - all picked out in vibrant colours beneath Latin quotes and surrounded by a border of strutting farmyard and mythical animals.
It looks like the world-famous Bayeux tapestry. But in the very first frame there is a picture of Norwich Castle.
This is the story beyond Bayeux, being created in Norfolk by around 40 volunteers in the style of its famous predecessor. In 18 metres of astonishing needlework it takes the story of the Norman conquest into East Anglia, after William's 1066 victory over slaughtered arrow-in-the-eye King Harold.
Fran Sales had never tried embroidery when she volunteered to be part of the team making the Norwich Friends Tapestry. Now her panel is the first, and the first to be finished, in a huge cartoon-strip like series, which will stretch 18 metres around three sides of the lavish King's Bedchamber when Norwich Castle Keep reopens next year.
The tapestry, funded by a £30,000 gift from the Friends of Norwich Museums, begins with William the Conqueror and his architect discussing plans for the new Norwich Castle. It goes on to chart the life of East Anglian hero Hereward the Wake, who leads a rebellion against the Norman invaders. Then the final panels recount the last serious resistance to the conquest, with the 'revolt of the earls' which included Emma, wife of the Earl of East Anglia, defending Norwich Castle against the king's army.
Like the original tapestry this is technically an embroidery, and is so faithful to its famous predecessor that the volunteers had to learn a stitch which has probably not been used for centuries.
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For Fran all the stitches were new and she turned out to have a real aptitude for embroidery. She took charge of the first of the 13 panels and has put in more than 750 hours work on 'her' panel over the last two years, with another 100 hours from colleagues. But first they had to learn the "Bayeux" stitch and then practise on small pieces of material until they were ready to tackle the actual tapestry. These will not go to waste. Wall hangings, banners, cushions, and decorations for the beds and thrones are being created by the volunteer embroiderers. Visitors will also be able to handle some of the samples to get a better idea of how they were created.
The idea for the modern masterpiece being created on linen in the colour palette used on the original Bayeux tapestry came from senior curator of archaeology Tim Pestell. The volunteer stitchers meet at the Castle twice a month but do most of the embroidering in their own homes.
Marian Roberts, a retired nurse from Thorpe St Andrew, said: "I'm a Norwich person and this means a lot to me. I have been coming to the Castle since I was a child and I wanted to be part of it."
Fran, of Mulbarton, had joined Norfolk's Costume and Textile Association when she retired from a job with Royal Mail. "It just interested me," she said. "I love history and wanted to get involved." She started teaching herself embroidery by watching YouTube videos and even discovered that her mother had worked as an apprentice upholsterer with the mother of one of her fellow stitchers.
As the first panel was unveiled to fellow volunteers she said: "I think it has such an impact. I was really pleased to get this panel because I have got Edith, Hereward's mother, and Turfida, his wife, rather than battles and blood." Chris Sanham, chairman of The Friends of Norwich Museums, said: "It's an amazing piece of work. It's really fantastic to be able to commission a piece of art for the 21st century which is going to be here for generations to come."
A STITCH IN TIME
The Bayeux stitch is the 'colouring in' after a shape has been outlined in stem stitch. It involves a first stage of simple long 'laid' stitches, very close together, with each stitch anchored by tiny 'couch' stitches over the top, and then enhanced with a three-dimensional 'picot' stitch.
The original Bayeux Tapestry is believed to have been made in Canterbury around 1070. It belonged to Bayeux Cathedral, in Normandy, until the French Revolution in 1792 and has been on display in its own museum in Bayeux since 1945. In 2022 it could return, on loan, to England, for the first time in almost 1,000 years.
The Norwich Friends Tapestry is being funded by a £30,000 gift from the Friends of Norwich Museums. The group will celebrate its centenary in 2021, as Norwich Castle keep reopens and the tapestry goes on show for the first time.
The Friends, with more than 1,000 members, supports the work of the Castle, Strangers Hall and the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell and is Britain's oldest friends of a museum organisation.