The Hastings Embroidery was produced in 1966 to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. It is having a rare appearance from storage, being exhibited at Bridgepoint in Rye. Battleaxe has been twice to see it – once with the WI, and once with Philosopher. It is fabulous, and would be a real tourist draw for Hastings. It needs to be on permanent display!
What’s the history?
The Embroidery was commissioned by war-hero Ralph Ward and made by 22 stitchers from the Royal School of Needlework.
Intended to be a modern-day equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry, the embroidery is massive, consisting of 27 panels, each 9 ft × 3 ft, and shows 81 events in British history during the 900 years from 1066 to 1966. It is made using an applique technique, with the addition of jewels, keys and other objects including a real winkle. Tweed came from Scotland, fabrics from the V & A and feathers from London Zoo.
Initially the Embroidery was displayed in the Old Town Hall, but then in the Triodome on Hastings Pier.
However, for many years it has been in storage in London, except for two panels on display in Hastings Town Hall. Battleaxe marvelled at those when she looked round the Town Hall a while ago – see this post. It is clearly being kept carefully and well – but storing it in a proper conservation warehouse can’t be cheap… The embroidery belongs to Hastings Borough Council, who have offered it to anyone who can find it a suitable home. ‘Suitable’ being the catch here – to display and conserve it properly would be both technically challenging and very expensive. It needs space, a climate-controlled environment, proper lighting etc.
The current display
The Bridgepoint development in Rye, founded and funded by Sarah and David Kowitz, includes a large former warehouse building which they intend to turn into an arts centre – this is where the Embroidery is currently on display, open to the public for a limited number of weekends until October. As Sarah is a member of our WI, she kindly arranged for us to have a private visit earlier this month. The embroidery is wonderful – bright, vibrant, beautifully worked and incredibly interesting. Much better than I expected. These photos don’t do it justice.
. Battleaxe enjoyed it so much she suggested to Philosopher that we might go to see it again, so we did. You can find the details of the final two open weekends in September and October here.
The embriodery has been described as a national treasure, and indeed it is, but a treasure that is totally wasted. Presumably, it will return to storage in October, and never be seen again in my lifetime. Over the years there have been abortive campaigns to get it re-displayed, and much public outrage. See this article. Basically, Hastings Borough Council has done nothing about it for over 50 years, continues to maintain it can do nothing, and has now offered it to anyone who could display it. Well, congratulations to Sarah Kowitz for driving the initiative to get it out of store and on display again, albeit for a limited period.
So, to get the embroidery on permanent view to the public, firstly, we need a building to house it, and secondly, a pile of money. The Old Town Hall, where it was first displayed, is now empty and belongs to HBC… but could it be made suitable? I don’t know… HBC owns all sorts of other empty buildings round the town – unoccupied office blocks… what about the former Brighton University building? I know, of course, that the Council has no money and would lose sale price/rental income from one of its own buildings – but the embroidery would be a massive tourist draw. People were flooding in to Rye today. It would be a great educational resource as well. Grant Funding? Undoubetedly. The Council would need imagination and a Great Leap Forward to tackle the issue…. Once it was in place, it would generate revenue, and much of the day-to-day work to keep the exhibition going could be done by volunteers.
Maybe this needs a local campaign. The WI could potentially lead on it – Amber Rudd and Sarah K are both members of our WI….. Battleaxe feels a project coming on…
Who’s up for helping?