‘The Ipswich Charter Hangings’ – Celebrating the Past

The Suffolk county town of Ipswich was granted a Royal Charter by King John in the year 1200. Back at the end of the last century to mark and celebrate this 800 year anniversary a discussion at the Ipswich Arts Association suggested some kind of tapestry in the tradition of the Bayeux Tapestry might be created.

Left Panel One – The Vikings sponsored by Ipswich Borough Council. Right close-up details.

The project was a community endeavour under the direction of Isabel Clover, a lecturer and tutor at Suffolk College at the time. She is known nationally for her ecclesiastical designs and embroidery and it was she who researched and designed the eight panels that make up the finished Ipswich Charter Hangings.

Left Panel Two – The Charter Hanging sponsored by Ipswich Decorative & Fine Arts Society (NADFAS). Centre and right close-up details.

This commemorative work was an extensive collaborative project that took three years to complete and involved embroiderers, local historians, sponsors and finally a craftsman to make the presentation frames.

Left Panel Three – The Medieval Town sponsored by The Ipswich Society. Centre and right close-up details.

The team of volunteer embroiderers (at the time past and present City & Guild students at Suffolk College) worked at creating the eight panels that each represented 100 years of Ipswich history.

Left Panel Four – The Tudor Period sponsored by Ensors Chartered Accountants. Right close-up details of Christchurch Mansion now and then.

It is over 20 years since the Charter Hangings were commissioned and created and during the intervening time they have been displayed not only in Suffolk, but also in Arras, France (twinned with Ipswich) and Ipswich, Massachusetts, USA.

The people who, along with Isabel Clover, created the Ipswich Charter Hangings.

Now they are back in Ipswich on display at St Peter’s by the Waterfront and just before the Covid pandemic closed public sites, I went to take a look at the eight panels.

Left Panel Five – The Stuarts funded by the people of Ipswich, who gave donations during the 2000 IAA Lecture Series. Right close-up details of the Ancient House now and then.

At this point I must just apologise for the quality of the whole panel photographs. When I visited the full sequence of the eight panels they were lined up in a single row opposite the south-facing church windows and each panel was individually spotlit.

Left Panel Six – The Georgians sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of Ipswich. Right close-up of the race course that closed in 1902 and Gainsborough’s Tom Pear Tree.

Unfortunately, as the hangings were behind glass for their conservation, this arrangement and lighting resulted in photographs with unwanted reflections and additional points of bright light reflecting off the protective glass.

Left Panel Seven – The Victorian Period sponsored by the Ipswich Port Authority. Right close-ups of the County Courts and the Town Hall now and then.

Of course protecting these textile hangings behind glass is important, but the introduction of a hard although transparent layer over the textiles and stitching also alters the visual experience and you can see less of the surface quality of the fabrics and embroidery.

Left Panel Eight – The Twentieth Century sponsored by the Suffolk College. Right close-up of the award-winning Willis Building designed by Norman Foster now and then.

And, just to make capturing the quality of the work doubly awkward there was also a table, chairs and a grand piano directly in front of the display restricting any direct front-facing shots and entirely eliminating any chance of a photograph showing the entire work in sequence.

For those interested there’s further information in this newspaper article and below is a short sequence of close-up photographs showing stitching, fabrics and a variety of braided, woven and gimp trims.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

19 thoughts on “‘The Ipswich Charter Hangings’ – Celebrating the Past”

  1. What an absolutely wonderful post, such good pictures of the detail even if the lighting wasn’t helpful and you couldn’t get a picture of the whole sequence. I would so love to see the panels for myself. You have really whetted my appetite.

    1. Thank you. It was strange preparing the photographs as my visit was back in January 2020 and so much has and hasn’t happened in the intervening 16 months and although I’ve booked to visit my local museum next Tuesday, St Peter’s by the Waterfront isn’t reopening yet.

      1. Oh let’s hope with fingers crossed that the vaccine programme is successful and something like normal life can resume. I don’t think my father is going to be making trips to London anymore as his legs have deteriorated after being stuck indoors all those weeks during the first lockdown. Still at least he didn’t get Covid and is now fully vaccinated. Hope all your friends and relatives are okay and vaccinated now too.

    1. They are impressive, although with much art, particularly textiles, photographs don’t really do them justice. Still in these times of restricted travel at least with online museums, online art galleries and folk in the blogging world we do have a few interesting things to peruse.

      1. Yes, you are right about some artworks don’t translate well to being photgraphed – I think collage is another medium that can be flattened out by the camera, like fabric. But, you are also right, if we did not have these images, we’d be ignorant of so much artwork that the internet brings to us. I especially like it when someone like you who has seen the works describes and illuminates them for me. Thank you.

    1. Yes, I think they and the amount of work in them were more interesting that I thought they’d be. I don’t think I will be taking direct inspiration from them, but the way of visually telling the story, especially of one place, is intriguing and an idea to definitely to be filed for the future.

  2. I think the photographs are fine, but how funny to place obstacles such as a piano in the way of the viewing area. Another thing that struck me is grouping the history of an area under which royal house was in charge at the time. The work is truly exquisite and an enduring testament for the generations to come. Imagine standing there and seeing your ancestor’s name on the acknowledgement board. How proud would you feel? Especially if you’d inherited the same artistic gift.

    1. Oh yes, to have your contribution acknowledged publicly has been a step in the right direction for artisans. Categorising English history under the royal houses is a traditional and somewhat old-fashioned manner of classification. Twenty years ago it was the first seminar in my Art History Master’s thrashing out how we order and categorise our histories, but for the everyday folk of Suffolk Tudor, Victorian etc is a familiar and comforting system. No new fangled ideas here thank you very much.

      1. Our Australian history is not long enough. I wonder how we would do it? Penal colony, land grab, aboriginal massacre, colonisation, federation, white Australia policy, multiculturalism, political chaos.

      2. Oh my you do have a warts and all view. This last couple of months I have been watching the entirety of ‘Rake’ on Netflix – at least you have a culture than can scrutinise itself and create blistering satire.

      3. I guess because my manuscript is set in a real historical time I am scrutinising the past more than the average. I’m glad you like Rake – and do you realise it’s loosely based on a real-life character? Although the actor Richard Roxborough – who is so fabulous, strenuously denies that. Even if it’s not true, the real lawyer in question bears great similarity.
        Another series you might enjoy is Jack Irish starring Guy Pearce, and there is a little half-hour comedy called Fisk I’m currently watching. Australians are pretty good at taking the mickey out of themselves.

      4. Oh thanks for the recommendations. We don’t get much Aussie comedy, or even drama, on terrestrial TV here, but Netflix has provided access to plenty. I can see why ‘Rake’ was not picked up by the BBC, but I would have thought Channel 4 might have taken a punt.

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