Last week, we took a brief tour of Maldon in Essex, but I failed to mention the specific reason for my visit which was to see ‘The Maldon Embroidery’ on permanent display at the Maeldune Heritage Centre.
The Maldon Embroidery was initially called ‘The Millennium Embroidery’ as it was commissioned to celebrate 1,000 years of Maldon’s history.
It was unveiled over 30 years ago in 1991 to mark the millennial anniversary of the Battle Of Maldon in 991. The whole work is 42 feet long and 26 inches wide and is formed of seven panels. It was designed by the famous photographer, artist and textile designer, Humphrey Spender (1910-2005) who lived locally in the village of Ulting four miles from Maldon.
This textile work falls within the tradition of a ‘Bayeux tapestry’, and like the Bayeux original it isn’t actually a tapestry (woven), but is embroidered (hand stitched).
Furthermore, Humphrey Spender felt the term tapestry was associated with something “faded and dun-coloured”. And, as we can see this intricately detailed, colourfully vivid work is anything but faded.
The content of the embroidery is partly chronological and partly thematic. The significant Battle of 991 is near the left end and we then walk along its length and across time with depictions of noteworthy local events and well-known landmarks.
Unsurprisingly, as the embroidery was made to mark 1,000 years since the Battle of Maldon, warfare is one of themes. The war panel flows from left to right in a transition from ancient to modern warfare.
When we reach the end we have travelled through time to 1991. The final panel shows vignettes of Maldon’s twentieth-century highlights such as the 1980s construction of new roads and roundabouts around the town.
Working together with Humphrey Spender, Mrs Lee Cash and Andrew Fawcett, a further 85 embroiderers took three years to create this work of art.
May I just at this point apologise for the multiple reflections in the photographs and the lack of pictures of full panels. It is a physically long piece of work and naturally it is protected behind glass, but sadly opposite large windows. I am not sure if the glass is of a special quality, but the display room is brightly lit with damaging daylight.
Discussing his love of bright colours, Humphrey Spender, who lived in a Richard Rogers steel and glass residence for over three decades, once commented on the fading of domestic textiles in his home saying they’d faded substantially in just 15 years. Well, the Maldon Embroidery is already 30 years old and so far it is still very colourful, let’s hope it stays that way.
17 thoughts on “In Need of Some Colour – Part II, The Maldon Embroidery”
What an interesting port. I loved the bright colours of the embroidery and all the photographs you managed to take of it. I wish very much I could go there myself.
Yes, I have to say that the visual impact of the embroidery is something that is better to see in real life. Maldon is not an easy place to visit without a car. There are buses, but, I don’t know about you, I find (anywhere out of London) travelling on local buses in unfamiliar places rather stressful. I think Dr Beeching has a lot to answer for and with hindsight chopping off huge swathes of the railway network was a retrograde step in the light of the climate crisis.
I totally agree with both your views.
Sorry ‘post’ not port!
Ahh 😁 actually I read it as post anyway.
That’s good to know.
I’d like to think that this kind of project involved and engaged many many people with a wide variety of skills – a real task to energise an entire community and beyond. It looks marvellous!
Yes I think in some of the photographs I’ve seen it reminded me of those traditional sewing circles. And, like most of those, the Maldon embroidery makers were all women bar two. It needs a celebrity chap to take up embroidery and do what Tom Daley’s done for ‘knitting guys’, but somehow I don’t think it will replace football, rugby or golf as a male group pastime.
Wow, I’d love to see this. Thank you for the post.
Yes, I thought the colours, the movement, the energy of all of it would appeal to you. Isn’t the Internet marvellous when we can share beauties like this across the ocean.
Yes. I had no idea such a thing existed. I really like this kind of localized referential art, done to mark a certain time and illustrate a view of history from that time (I mean the anniversary). And you are right, those colors! I wondered also about UV glass or other light protection – most places are very particular these days about fiber work especially.
Yes, I was astonished with all the daylight. Actually, I was surprised that it wasn’t in a no daylight room with controlled, specialist electric lighting. Perhaps that’s all too expensive for an ordinary little town in the provinces here in the UK. I don’t think in general that the British value fibre art as much you folk across the Pond, well not if it’s not already at least over 100 years old.
It seems a shame. That is the kind of item that will be meaningful to the future.
That is an absolute gem. And the idea of a 1000 years of documented history quite mind-boggling.
Yes, agree, it is quite a special piece of work, but it’s chances of surviving nearly a thousand years like the Bayeux Tapestry must be near to zero!