13.00 - 14.00
Cost: Free

A Copy of the Copy: Leek's Replica of the Bayeux Tapestry

A Copy of the Copy: Leek's Replica of the Bayeux Tapestry

Lecture by Dr Brenda King, Chair of the Textile Society.


This year, 2016, is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. The greatest surviving record of the event is a work of embroidery on an impressive scale. Known conventionally as the Bayeux Tapestry, it is one of the most amazing artefacts from the Middle Ages and one of the most famous embroideries in the world. Many researchers have attempted to unearth its origins without success so it continues to challenge and intrigue. Even today it easy to appreciate the ways in which it could exert a powerful impact on anyone interested in history, narrative, stitch and bold public projects. Ultimately numerous copies of the original were made in various media. In 1816, the 750th anniversary of the Battle, the Society of Antiquaries of London commissioned Charles Stothard, its historical draughtsman, to produce a series of drawings of the entire ‘Tapestry’, which were engraved by James Basire. Stothard returned to Normandy where he hand-coloured the engravings to match the original. Although the engravings were detailed they did not capture the texture of the stitching, so wax impressions of the surface were taken, cast in plaster and painted accordingly. A further set of engravings by the Society of Antiquaries produced between 1819 and 1822 did replicate stitch details.  Knowledge of the embroidery was clearly important. The coloured engravings and plaster cast are now in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries.

William Morris, who was interested in the political implications of the subject, owned a portfolio of Stothard engravings and, with Burne-Jones, viewed the original in France. Morris was closely involved with three members of the Wardle family of Leek and learnt his dyeing skills from Thomas Wardle, fellow of both the Society of Chemists and the Geological Society, and discussed embroidery with his wife Elizabeth Wardle, when he stayed at the Wardle’s home. In 1886 Elizabeth, founder of the Leek Embroidery Society, produced a facsimile of the Bayeux Tapestry. It was an ambitious undertaking which attracted world-wide acclaim. Despite much conjecture there is little evidence to answer the obvious question; why did she do this? There may have been several reasons and using object-centred research this talk explores them all. 

Dr Brenda King is a design historian and Chair of the Textile Society. She is a curator and author of Silk and Empire, MUP, 2005; Dye, Print, Stich: Textiles by Thomas and Elizabeth Wardle, 2009 (available from the author) and forthcoming is her global history of the Leek Embroidery Society, 2016.


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