York’s own tapestry goes to Bayeux in art swap

Visitors watching a section from the Bayeux tapestry. French officials are considering loaning the historic 70-meter-long Bayeux Tapestry to Britain for the first time.
Visitors watching a section from the Bayeux tapestry. French officials are considering loaning the historic 70-meter-long Bayeux Tapestry to Britain for the first time.
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IT is a Yorkshire entente cordiale that perfectly compliments President Macron’s offer to loan the 950 year-old Bayeux Tapestry to Britain.

As the horse trading began at Prime Ministerial level on when and where the artwork will be seen, plans were already afoot to take the Fulford Tapestry, a 20ft embroidery created a decade ago in the Bayeux style, to mark the skirmish in York that preceded the Battle of Hastings, to the public of France.

Mary Ann Dearlove, one of the team of embroiders putting the finishing touches to tapestry depicting the Battle of Fulford in 1066.

Mary Ann Dearlove, one of the team of embroiders putting the finishing touches to tapestry depicting the Battle of Fulford in 1066.

The Fulford work, which is not on view in England, will be loaned to venues in Bayeux and the Normandy town of Saint-Valery-en-Caux this spring, in a deal agreed before the announcement that the original 1066 tapestry would leave its home in France for the first time.

Theresa May called the plan “very significant”, and said it was important that “the maximum number of people” would be able to see the work.

The British Museum said it would be “honoured and delighted” to host the tapestry in the UK. But before it could wheel out a display cabinet, an MP suggested that Battle Abbey, built on the East Sussex field where King Harold was defeated by William the Conqueror, would be a more appropriate location. And the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, nominated her Hastings and Rye constituency for the privilege. Mrs May will discuss the loan of the tapestry to Britain when she meets President Macron today.

It could take five years before the work reaches British shores, and a presidential spokesman said it could not happen before 2020 because of the need for restoration work to prevent damage in transit.

An embroiderer working on the figure of King Harold  in the Battle of Fulford tapestry at the Merchant Adventurers Hall in York.

An embroiderer working on the figure of King Harold in the Battle of Fulford tapestry at the Merchant Adventurers Hall in York.

The tapestry is currently on display in a darkened room in the Bayeux Museum, and the news that the French government had agreed to let it out of the country was greeted with surprise and delight in one quarter of Yorkshire whose links with Hastings were overlooked by the English women believed to have stitched the 230ft work.

Chas Jones, a historian whose work inspired Yorkshire’s answer to the Tapestry, said he was “extraordinarily excited” by the French president’s announcement.

Mr Jones, who campaigned unsuccessfully to prevent the building of 600 homes on the presumed site of the Fulford battle near York, had already negotiated a deal to take the tapestry that commemorates it on tour to Normandy in March.

The lottery-funded Fulford artwork took seven years to complete, and tells the story of the Norse invasion from the landing at Scarborough to the arrival of Harald Hardrada in York after triumphing over the English forces at Fulford.

Embroiderers working on the Battle of Fulford tapestry at the    Merchant Adventurers Hall in York l to r... Mary Ann Dearlove, Diane Pavey,  Sheila Armstrong and Dorrie Worrall.

Embroiderers working on the Battle of Fulford tapestry at the Merchant Adventurers Hall in York l to r... Mary Ann Dearlove, Diane Pavey, Sheila Armstrong and Dorrie Worrall.

The Battle of Fulford placed the English forces under immense pressure and the losses suffered in Yorkshire were to have a dramatic effect on resistance at Hastings.

The Yorkshire prelude to Hastings is completely absent from the Bayeux tapestry – an early instance, Mr Jones said, of “news in the north not being newsworthy in the south”.

Dr Levi Roach, a medieval historian at Exeter University, said: “As Britain seeks to renegotiate its relationship with France, there could scarcely be a better symbol of the close yet fraught ties that have bound the two nations together.

He said the tapestry was probably made in England for William the Conqueror’s half-brother, Odo of Bayeux, and added: “The Bayeux Tapestry – or more accurately embroidery – depicts events from a Norman perspective, but with real sympathy for the fate of the English.”

Sheila Armstrong one of the embroiderers working on the Battle of Fulford tapestry at the Merchant Adventurers Hall in York.

Sheila Armstrong one of the embroiderers working on the Battle of Fulford tapestry at the Merchant Adventurers Hall in York.

Pictured at the Merchant Adventurer's Hall, Mary Ann Dearlove, one of the team of embroiders putting the finishing touches to tapestry depicting the Battle of Fulford in 1066.

Pictured at the Merchant Adventurer's Hall, Mary Ann Dearlove, one of the team of embroiders putting the finishing touches to tapestry depicting the Battle of Fulford in 1066.