Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Three B’s or Four?

If you asked a young Reading resident about the 3 B’s now, they would probably point you in the direction of a Reading Bar by that name, but in days gone by Reading (my home town) was known as the town of the Three B’s: Biscuit, Bulbs and Beer!
The Biscuits referred to the large industry around Huntley and Palmer: not only the biscuit makers themselves but other companies that were involved in producing the biscuit tins (now collectibles) and printing on them.

Bulbs referred to a company called Sutton Seeds who sold not only seeds but bulbs, and who had huge trial grounds (known locally as the floral mile) nearby.
The third ‘B’ was for Beer: the town had a large brewers ‘Simmonds the Brewery’ right at its heart in what was then the town centre, but now Simmonds are no more: Courage’s, who are in turn part of another huge group, have taken over and have moved to an out of town site.

But surely there is another ‘B’ of interest, particularly to Francophiles?

Well yes, somewhat oddly Reading Museum houses an exact replica of the Bayeux Tapestry!

In the Autumn/Winter 2008 Journal, Didier Gouin and Laverne Conway wrote about a series of plates that depict the Bayeux Tapestry and the tapestries background history. The tapestry involves William the Conqueror (or if you are French, William the bastard) and his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, (the only date virtually guaranteed to be known by every British school child)
In addition to the FCaen plates illustrated in the article there were other series inspired by the tapestry, produced in both Quimper and Desvres.
The Quimper series was marketed under the name ‘Mathilde’ or ‘Kaiser’ (see photos) and was issued circa 1930. I suspect that the pottery was mainly aimed at the tourist market in Normandy. Just like their grander and more decorative relatives these designs show characters from the tapestry (which is actually embroidery rather than needle point)

So how did Reading come by this artifact?

In 1885 a lady called Elizabeth Wardle, the wife of a silk industrialist, visited Bayeux and decided that Britain should have a copy of the tapestry of its own. Elizabeth Wardle was a skilled embroiderer and a member of the Leek (Staffordshire) Embroidery Society.
The ladies of Leek were joined by other skilled needle women from Derbyshire, Macclesfield, Birmingham and London and with the assistance of hand colored drawings of the tapestry lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, the work was completed within a year.
In total thirty five women worked on the embroidery and each woman embroidered her name under her own work.

For ten years the embroidery travelled, and was exhibited at different locations in Great Britain, Germany and America. When the tapestry came to Reading a former mayor, Arthur Hill, offered to buy it, the offer was accepted and Arthur Hill presented it as a gift to the town of Reading.
In 1993 a new gallery within the museum was commissioned, the tapestry was remounted in a tailor made display case and the tapestry can now be viewed in one continuous strip.
There is just one tiny difference: the original tapestry depicts a baby as nature intended, naked – this was just too much for Victorian sensibilities, in Reading’s version the baby is wearing a diaper!!

* Many thanks to Judy Datesman for allowing me to use illustrations from the book ‘HB Quimper Le Livre Des 5000’

1 comment:

  1. I lived in the Reading area for about 6 years and never knew about the replica tapestry, you live & learn, thanks Gay.