Reading’s Bayeux Tapestry
The tapestry hanging in the Bayeux Cathedral was created to commemorate the Battle of Hastings and tells the story of this major event in History. It is generally believed that the Tapestry was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half brother, although there are a number of alternative suggestions about who was responsible for the creation of this piece. There are no doubts however about the origins of a full sized replica hanging in a specially constructed gallery in the Museum in Reading, Berkshire.
The replica was acquired for the town by former Mayor, Arthur Hill in 1895. The brainchild behind the replica was Elizabeth Wardle, who was the wife of a well known Staffordshire silk dyer Thomas Wardle. Elizabeth believed that England should have it’s own copy of the tapestry and together with 35 ladies from the Leek Embroidery Society, embarked on the project.
Both the Wardles wanted to keep the work as close to the original as possible. Thomas dyed the yarns to match colours to the originals. The embroidery (The Bayeux Tapestry is in fact embroidery, as the detail is stitched. If it were an actual tapestry, the detail would be woven.) was created using the detail depicted in hand coloured photographs taken of the original, in the possession of the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The replica is true to the original in most ways, however there are a couple of differences. Depicted in the borders of the original there are a number of naked figures. In the replica these are shown wearing ‘underwear’. This was not the doing of the ladies from Leek though. They had copied the details as they are on the photographs. Someone at the museum had covered their modesty when the photos were coloured, and the ladies had faithfully reproduced what they believed to be the original state of the figures.
There are at various points along the 70 metres length of the tapestry the names of the ladies that worked each of the sections. Together with a credit to those involved at the end of the piece.
It is fitting that this replica should now ‘live’ in Reading. William the Conqueror gave land in Reading to Battle Abbey in Sussex, near to the site of the Battle of Hastings. Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121. As well as gifting land to the Abbey, Henry also arranged for land belonging to Battle Abbey to be transferred to the new Abbey in Reading.