May Speaker Report – The Stamford Bridge Tapestry

A fascinating presentation in three parts:

First a bit of the historical background supporting the claims to the English throne after the death of Edward the Confessor. This explains the tensions in 1066 and the three ensuing battles, Fulford, Stamford Bridge and Hastings.

This tapestry (embroidered, not woven, modelled on the Bayeux Tapestry) depicts the stages of the Stamford Bridge Battle in which the Saxon crowned Harold Godwinson defeats the Viking Harald Hardrada, supported by Harold’s disgruntled brother Tostig. It was a massacre, the fields seen 50 years later described by a monk as white with bone.

I was fascinated to hear of the ‘ Berserkers’ an elite group of Viking fighters, tall, wearing bear skins, hyped up on magic mushrooms, fighting in a frenzied trance. One such is depicted being speared from underneath Stamford Bridge which he was defending.

guild 2Secondly we have the story of making the tapestry. It was the brainchild of Tom Wyles co founder of The Battle of Stamford Bridge Heritage Society, Viking enthusiast and re enactor, designed by Chris Rock a graphic designer and stitched by 25 embroiderers under the direction of Shirley Smith., professional textile artist. There are 12 panels making a length of 15m, 60cm deep. The tapestry is sewn on linen (costing £100 per metre!) and backed with calico on which the design is drawn. Eight colours of wool are used similar to those used in the Bayeux Tapestry with the style and stitch the same. We were able to handle samples showing the way the details are outlined in one colour and then filled in with another, using 3 layers of stitching, making the Bayeux stitch.

So far the project has cost £6000 and more money is needed to purchase the cases in which it will be displayed. Cards, jigsaws, T shirts, embroidery kits are all on sale to raise funds. Hopefully by the 950th anniversary in September the tapestry will be in it’s permanent home in the Old Station Club Heritage Centre at Stamford Bridge.

guild 2Thirdly a display of many of the panels was set up in the Gin Race room for us to examine.

It was so interesting to see the work up close and have some of the quirky features pointed out – a soldier calls for help on his mobile phone, and another is wearing glasses. A dog is depicted in every panel, looking dejected with an arrow in his paw on the penultimate panel and with it bandaged in the last.

Each panel has a strip at the top with script explaining the action and at the bottom another strip showing scenes of everyday life. Panel 11 is of particular interest showing a loom, spinning wheel and woman holding a distaff. (Just a thought, were spinning wheels in use at that time in England? I can’t find a definitive answer to that). Each embroiderer has their own symbol along with their name in runes, embroidered in the lower strip of each panel they’ve worked on. What a project to have been involved with and how proud all involved must be! It’s such a wonderful piece.

The website, has more information and pictures of each panel.

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