Britain's Bayeux Tapestry
This full-size copy of the Bayeux Tapestry came to Reading in 1895. It was bought for the town by Arthur Hill, a former Mayor of Reading and was one of the first exhibits in the new Art Gallery of the Museum, which opened in 1897.
The replica was the idea of Elizabeth Wardle, an accomplished embroideress and the wife of Staffordshire silk-dyer Thomas Wardle. After viewing a set of hand-coloured photographs of the eleventh century original, Elizabeth decided to make a full size replica ‘so that England should have a copy of its own’. Thomas produced woollen yarns dyed to match the originals and in 1885 thirty-five ladies of the Leek Embroidery Society began work on the ‘tapestry’ (in fact an embroidery). Work was completed in about a year. The replica was exhibited across Britain, and travelled abroad to the USA and Germany, before finding its final home in Reading.
The Wardles made great efforts to ensure that their copy was as authentic as possible by using the right dyes, wools and stitches. However, there are some uniquely Victorian additions to the copy. In the borders of the original there are several naked men but in the copy their modesty has been protected! The ladies of Leek were not responsible for these prudish alterations; they had simply copied the details from the hand-coloured photographs that had been ‘cleaned up’ by the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert).