Ipswich Icons: Charter Wall Hangings are marvels fit for 21st Century

The Charter Hangings  Ipswich to Ipswich

The Charter Hangings Ipswich to Ipswich

Each generation will produce works of art, some destined for the bin, while a small but select few will last for substantial periods of time, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

Isabel Clover with the Ipswich Charter hangings

Isabel Clover with the Ipswich Charter hangings

Such works include buildings, paintings and sculpture and Ipswich has a wealth of examples, many of which have been included in these columns.

Today we feature an outstanding example that includes artefacts from across the centuries. I refer to the Ipswich Charter Wall Hangings, researched and designed by Isabel Clover. The panels were embroidered by City and Guilds students from Suffolk College at the turn of the Millennium. Each of the eight panels is a graphic representation of Ipswich in the centuries since the town was granted its charter in 1200AD.

Embroidery is the embellishment of fabric with needlework; the panels demonstrate a wealth of techniques and applied materials to represent architectural styles, different forms of transport and Ipswich’s treasures.

The panels were born out of an idea by Ferial Rogers of the Ipswich Arts Association who, when discussing ways to mark the Millennium, suggested some kind of tapestry. Such needle-works have long been used to mark important occasions and historical events, most notable among them no doubt the Bayeux Tapestry.

A simple idea that, with Isabel’s experience in ecclesiastical designs and embroidery, became a major project. On a technicality, I am repeatedly reminded by my wife that neither the Bayeux nor the Charter Hangings are tapestries. Tapestries or hangings, they are a very suitable and fitting way to mark the occasion.

The initial idea of a panel for each century was revised so that the first panel could represent Ipswich in the period pre-dating the Charter (ie before 1200AD). There was a not insubstantial cost to creating the panels (despite the volunteer labour) and the Ipswich Arts Association set about fundraising. Sponsorship was secured from some of the owners and occupiers of the buildings featured and valuable contributions were made by members of the public. The panels took three years of research, design and craftsmanship to complete with the final results received to great acclaim.

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The feature that links all eight is the river which runs through the bottom third of each panel, created in silk velvet, dyed with silk dyes and stitched with silk thread. It was accepted that over a long period of time the panels would fade but then so do the buildings featured, just as the river changes colour with the tide.

Using volunteers to create the panels was both a challenge and the source of much inspiration. The diversity of talent was bound to lead to different standards of workmanship but Isabel, who had the final word, frequently suggested pieces were reworked. The result is that the finished panels are of professional quality with unity and harmony. It is often suggested that to create a great painting you do not cut the canvas into jigsaw pieces and ask different individuals to each fashion their small section but this is exactly what happened here.

Isabel selected the person whose creative ability and known skills suited the piece to be crafted. The gold work was particularly difficult but was masterfully completed by Isabel’s church embroidery students, their collective years of experience reflected in the finished pieces. It was essential that throughout the creative process the students worked together to ensure the overall result was as required, the pieces fitted together and the finished panel created an impression of the period it was designed to represent. The result is a marvel fit for the 21st Century. The Charter Wall Hangings are on display in St Peter’s Church and can be seen every Wednesday between 10am and 3.30pm.

If you’ve seen the panels previously take another look, there is always something new to find. If you’ve never seen them then you really are missing out on one of Ipswich’s true icons.

The Ipswich Society provides the local organisation for Heritage Open Days which is held in early September. Members of the public can see inside interesting local buildings which are not normally open. A restored Ipswich Transport bus is often available for free rides between attractions.

To join the Society, just send either £15 for family membership or £10 (individual) to the Membership Secretary, 11 Dalton Road, Ipswich, IP1 2HT with your name and address.

The subscription qualifies for Gift Aid (which enhances your subscription by 25% at no cost to yourself). If you are a UK taxpayer, please write ‘Gift Aid’ on your joining letter.

Address envelopes to: Chairman, John Norman, 6 Tolworth Road, Ipswich, IP4 5AU.

More information available from their website

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