While in Bristol I discovered one of the city’s textiles treasures. When visiting the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery I discovered four ‘tapestries’ depicting the history of Bristol in 27 scenes.
My photos are very dodgy because the Bristol tapestries are behind glass. Hopefully, you can get a sense of the scope and feel of the project, as the panels are 22 metres (about 24 yards) in length, and illustrate nearly 1000 years of Bristol’s history in 27 scenes.
These ‘tapestries’ like the famous Bayeux ‘tapestry’ are not actually woven textiles but embroidered ones. The four panels are made up of embroidery stitches, appliqué and techniques such as screen printing.
Mrs Jean Tanner and Mrs Marjorie Bleasedale came up with the idea in the late 1960s. It took 90 local people working until 1976 to realise the community arts project.
Two key things delighted me about these ‘tapestries’. First, I really enjoyed recognising the places I had visited. Even as a tourist I could recognise the local land marks.
My second delight was that the people who worked on the Bristol tapestries embroidered their names on the last panel. I loved seeing the signatures, as often textiles are unsigned and people do not know who made them.
I have been trawling the internet to find out more about the Bristol tapestries but there is little online with the exception of an entry on the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery website where they have some additional images of the installation process. The Bristol tapestries are an interesting project and when at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, I made inquiries at the shop. I asked about any book or leaflet that might be available about the Bristol tapestries but was not in luck – nothing has been written. I understand the market for a book about this work is very small but I do wish there was more information about them online.
The Bristol tapestries is a fascinating insight into the city, its story and community arts. If you ever visit Bristol I hope you manage to see it.
Have you seen my book?
My book The Visual Guide to Crazy Quilting Design: Simple Stitches, Stunning Results shares practical methods about how to design and make a crazy quilt. I teach you how to balance colour, texture and pattern, in order direct the viewers eye around a crazy quilted project. I show you how to build decorative seam treatments in interesting and creative ways using a handful of stitches. My book is profusely illustrated as my aim is to be both practical and inspiring.
My mum, signature J.O. Rigler, was one of the stitchers of the tapestry.
Much of the work was carried out at Mrs Marjorie Bleasdale’s home in Bishop Road. I believe Mrs Molly James, widow of Bristol businessman and philanthropist John James (remember his electrical stores anyone? ) was also involved.
It was originally exhibited in a marquee at the Bristol 600 exhibition (celebration of Bristol’s 600th anniversary of being a City and County) on Clifton Downs in 1973. A storm at the time left the tapestry damaged and I seem to rember a panel went missing.
Hi Alice thanks for filling in the story a little more! I found the Bristol Tapestries really interesting.
We had a talk about it yesterday and I was surprised there was no official paperwork. But did take picture of a small sheet of paper with a few picture of the tapestry on. We were told the same of them working in there houses to make tapestry and the Queen came to see it at the 600th anniversary. If I find more info will be in touch.
Thanks Dotty – I also asked about the Bristol Samplers on display at the National Trust building not far from the museum (I have forgotten the name ) but they had no info for them either!
My son lives in Bristol but I have not had the chance to visit the museum. Will certainly be putting it on the list of places I want to go to!
I was unaware of the Bristol Tapestries but am glad to hear of them. They appear to be different to any other embroidered tapestries that are ‘out there’. Yes, it would be great if the Museum had a leaflet or mini-book about them; or, there was information on-line. The 80s were not yesterday and it is easy to lose the personal encounter of those who were involved in their creation.
PS. The Country Wife in Newberry is not currently available for viewing as it is undergoing restoration. You can see it ‘up close’ on my blog; Stitching Idyllic or search via Ann Bernard.
Fascinating workmanship! Thanks for sharing.
Enjoyed reading. You added another place to put on my wish list to visit when I go to England.
Thank you so much for this, Sharon, it was very interesting – I am embarrassed to say I live not far from Bristol and have never visited the museum. I will definitely look up the tapestries, and they seem to have lots of exhibitions there on various textiles, so thanks for the tip! Best wishes, Gaynor
Gaynor the museum is free and they are on the ground floor near the lift
Didn’t know about these. When were they stitched?
Hi Lesley they were stitched int he 80s I think
I’ve worked with Bristol museum quite a lot, had exhibitions with them…do you want me to see if I can find out anything ? Vic
Vic if you have time it would be interesting to know more – its unfortunate that they are not more well known
I think there would be a market for such a book, you know – I don’t imagine you were the only one to come away longing to know more!
I had totally forgotten about the tapestries! Shame on me! Sadly I think they are very undervalued. I wonder if the Bristol Embroiderers Guild would have any more information?Thanks for a great post about them Sharon!
Hi Sharon, you may be also interested in ‘The Wife’ at the Museum of Needlework in Newbury, Berkshire. This is a very large wall hanging stitched for The Festival of Britain. It depicts the roles of ‘wives’.
Thanks Jan – I have made a note of it for our next trip to the UK
I’m embarrassed to say that I have never heard of the Bristol tapestries. I didn’t realise that you were visiting the UK on your journey this summer. I hope you had a good time. Did you go to see the American patchwork’s in Bath?
We have just bought a small motor home, so a Bristol city break will be a place to visit this winter.
Jacqui I did not visit the American museum but I did go to the Fashion museum – I will write that up next week