Back to the 1960s

23rd July, 2020

Some of the RSN’s largest projects began in the 1960s and this article features two of them, the Hastings Embroidery and the Manchester Airport frieze.

The Hastings Embroidery was the idea of Group Captain Ralph Bagshaw Ward to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the last time the British Isles were successfully invaded by a foreign force, but instead of focusing just on the town’s history, it took a wider view of British History. It comprises 27 panels each of which featured two or three scenes which told of key events over the 900 year period. Overall more than 80 events were featured. While many of the scenes selected were famous events, one of the challenges was what should be commemorated for 1966 itself –alas, the Football World Cup occurred too late to be considered.

Seventeen stitchers from the RSN worked on it at our premises at Princes Gate, London. The whole piece was made in 1965-66 and majored on Appliqué with additional stitching for the details.

The Hastings Embroidery had been languishing in storage for many years except for two panels in Hastings Town Hall. Then last year, people developing a new community arts venue, in the adjacent town of Rye, gained permission to rehang the whole piece and commissioned additional new work alongside it. They interviewed Elizabeth Elvin who had worked on the original project and it was open to the public for six weekends in summer/autumn 2019.

The Manchester Airport Frieze was actually commissioned by Forte Hotels for the Bar at the Excelsior Hotel of what was then known as the Ringway Airport, Manchester. The panel was to be one piece, 48 feet long by 3 feet wide (14.63m x 90cm) and to hang behind the bar. It was to feature the history of aviation from Birdman to Concorde. The bar at the Excelsior was decorated to the height of fashion at the time. The press note on the back of one of the launch photographs announces ‘The elegant and unusual Astral Bar has a polished copper top, padded leather arm rest and cow-hide covered bar stools. Above the bar can be seen the unique and colourful embroidered and needlework frieze which was designed and executed by the Royal School of Needlework.”

It was also worked by the RSN in 1965 but fared rather less well than the Hastings panels. A note on the back of the architect’s original drawing of the bar notes the piece was ‘Damaged by Drinks as it was not protected by glass which we had advised’. In fact ‘advised’ is double underlined. More recently it was found by someone in a skip and they rescued it. However, it is not in a good state now, damaged not just by the drink but more invasively by the quantity of cigarette smoke that it has absorbed over the decades. As such we cannot accept it back into the Collection because of its size but also because of its condition.

Image 1: The Manchester Airport Frieze and bar – ready for customers

Image 2: The finished Frieze embroidery laid out at Princes’ Gate with all those who worked on it

Image 3:  The official opening of the Frieze embroidery by Mrs Bernard Langton, Mayoress, pictured with her husband Bernard Langton CBE Mayor of Manchester 1965-66

Gallery Image 4, 5 and 6 : Close ups from The Hastings Embroidery