The Bayeux Tapestry

In 1885 Sir Philip Cunliffe-Owen from South Kensington Museum showed Thomas and Elizabeth Wardle a set of hand coloured cartoons of the Bayeux Tapestry. The tapestry is embroidery and was embroidered using coloured wools on bleached linen. It fascinated and interested Elizabeth so much that she decided that ‘England should have a copy of its own’. After the Wardle’s had visited France to study the original tapestry Thomas Wardle began the work of dying worsted wool to match the faded shades in the tapestry. Vegetable dyes were used, at the Churnet Works, and in all 100lbs of worsted wool was dyed using madder, woad, walnut roots and weld. Cartoons of the tapestry were borrowed from South Kensington and traced by Lizzie Allen.

The 35 women who stitched the tapestry were mostly wives and daughters of silk manufacturers, solicitors and doctors. However, some of Elizabeth Wardle’s embroidery pupils and employees from the Leek Embroidery Society also worked on the tapestry. Each woman’s contribution varied in length and each embroidered their signatures on the panel that they had worked. Additionally two women pressed the panels before they were joined and another stitched the individual panels together.

The 230 foot long embroidery was finished by June 1886 and displayed in the Nicholson Institute where the public paid 1/- per head to see it. It was then exhibited in many parts of the country before going to America, Europe and South Africa.

To Elizabeth Wardle’s disappointment this important work was sold to Reading in 1895 and is now on display in Reading Museum.