Norfolk's own Bayeux-style tapestry
PUBLISHED: 15:52 30 January 2020
Almost 1,000 years after the Bayeux Tapestry was created, a sequel is taking shape
This is the story beyond Bayeux, after William conquered. An astonishing new Norwich tapestry, created by volunteers in the style of its famous predecessor, picks up the story after William the Conqueror's 1066 victory over slaughtered arrow-in-the-eye King Harold.
The vibrant figures and colours, the cartoon-strip storytelling, the age-old Saxons v Normans conflict acted out with knights on prancing horses, battle-lines bristling with spears, flimsy boats dancing across the Channel, sturdy castles, and soldiers feasting, travelling, fighting and falling, all set within a border of strutting farmyard and mythical animals, could at first glance be the world-famous Bayeux tapestry. But in the very first frame there is a picture of Norwich Castle.
Fran Sales had never tried embroidery when she volunteered to be part of the team creating this, 1,000-years-on, 18 metres long, sequel to the world-famous Bayeux Tapestry.
Now her panel of embroidery is the first in a huge cartoon-strip like series, which will stretch around three sides of the lavish reconstructed Norman king's bedchamber when Norwich Castle Keep reopens next year.
The Norman-style needlework begins with William the Conqueror and his architect discussing plans for a new castle - in Norwich. The story continues with the arrival back in England of East Anglian hero Hereward the Wake, who goes on to lead a rebellion against the Norman invaders. Then the last panels recount the final serious resistance to the conquest, with the 'revolt of the earls' including Emma, wife of the Earl of East Anglia, defending Norwich Castle against the king's army.
Just like the original tapestry, this is actually an embroidery, and it is so faithful to its source material that the 40-plus volunteer stitchers have had to learn a technique which has probably not been used for centuries.
For Fran, all the stitches were new. She turned out to have a real aptitude and took charge of the first of the 13 panels. First, all the stitchers had to learn the Bayeux Stitch and practise on small pieces of material until they were ready to tackle the actual tapestry. Fran has put 750 hours' work into her panel, with another 100 hours from colleagues. But all the sample pieces are not going to waste. Wall hangings, banners, cushions, and decorations for the beds and thrones are also being created by the volunteer embroiderers and visitors will be able to handle some of the samples to get a better idea of how they were created.
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 held by tiny 'couch' stitches over the top, and then a three dimensional anchored '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.
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Norwich Friends Tapestry
The concept of the Norwich Friends Tapestry, telling a linked story in the style and colour palette of the Bayeux Tapestry, came from senior curator of archaeology Tim Pestell.
The project has been funded with a £30,000 gift from the Friends of Norwich Museums which will be celebrating its centenary in 2021, as the restored castle keep reopens and the tapestry goes on show for the first time.
Chairman Chris Sanham said "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."
The Friends of Norwich Museums has more than 1,000 member and supports the work of the castle, Strangers Hall and the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell. Founded in 1921 it is the oldest friends of a museum group in the country.