Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Prestonpans Tapestry

Today I went with a friend to see the Prestonpans Tapestry. This isn't actually a tapestry, but an embroidery inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry - which is also actually embroidered. As Scottish people know, the Battle of Prestonpans happened in 1745 and was a victory for the Jacobite cause - the attempt by the descendants of the deposed James VII and II to regain the throne of Britain. James, who was a Stuart king, was supported by many Scots, particularly Highlanders, and his grandson Bonnie Prince Charlie was the centre of this part of the campaign. Defeat later came in the Battle of Culloden but the tapestry doesn't extend to that. The final panel shows the Highlanders marching down towards England, full of hope.

The tapestry came about as the idea of one local man, who later recruited an artist to design all 104 panels - 104 metres of drawings. These designs were then drawn on to linen and embroidered by 200 women and two men - mainly in Scotland but in some cases overseas. The idea was to celebrate the Jacobites but also to create tourist interest and local pride in the Prestonpans and East Lothian areas. This is of particular interest to my friend and me because in 1973 we started our teaching careers in Prestonpans. In those days, many of the pupils went on to jobs in the coal mines or in fishing. However, the mines closed years ago and fishing is greatly reduced in this area. (We used to find that some of the pupils didn't see the point in spelling and punctuation because their career plans were "gaun doon the pits" (going down the mines) or "off tae the fishing". We did somewhat see their point.)

The tapestry is touring the country and abroad, but today it was in Loretto, a very posh school just outside the city boundary, in this rather lovely building (where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at one point).

The room has a painted ceiling, which is traditional in 18th century Scottish houses.

The panels illustrate the progress of the campaign in chronological order. The top one above is the first, depicting 9th January 1744.

Look, Anna! Men in kilts! The embroidery is amazing - who would have thought that you could embroider tartan?

I particularly like these ships passing the Bass Rock.

Here is BPC at Duddingston, near where Daughter 1 and SIL 1 live. The Sheep Heid pub is still there, as is the house where BPC had a council of war.

This is Colonel Gardiner (an Englishman fighting for the other side - George II) dying under a tree. You can see a few other Englishmen in a poor state in the middle distance. The tree looks good, though.

The conquered Sir John Cope's carriage is pulled past Duddingston by sturdy Highlanders.

Highlanders in training for the next battle. More men in kilts.

It's all well worth seeing, should you find that it comes near you. I believe it's going to Paisley next and then Prestonpans and then Inverness and then Kingussie (all places in Scotland) - and then "somewhere in France" said the lady who sold me a book about the tapestry. I've just checked the website and it turns out that the "somewhere" is Bayeux. You might think this would be memorable.

After that, Derby (in England). Eventually they hope to raise enough money to give it a permanent home in Prestonpans.

On the way home, I popped in for a fix of the grandchildren. Grandson picked up his elephant (or to be strictly accurate, Granddaughter's elephant, but currently what's hers is his. Might is right).

Me: Can you say "elephant"?
Grandson [obligingly] : Hello, Phant.


  1. That was a marvellous history lesson, thank you.

    Just yesterday i told a young fellow student that the Bayeux Tapestry is actually an embroidery and she looked aghast, as if i'd told her the sky is green.

  2. Amazing stitchery.

    I didn't know your name was "Phant." Hello Phant. Just showing solidarity with Grandson. I too can be obliging---but it doesn't stretch to a blog post at the minute....By and by, if I dream up some inspiration. But don't hold your breath!

  3. That's not coming our way then.
    What a wonderful way for kids to learn some history. I too like the ships passing Bass Rock. I like the kilts too. Or as we used to call them when we were kids Kilty, kilty Cold ...S.( who told us that? )
    If you get a chance to see the Quakers' Tapestry - that too is very good ( and embroidery needlework ) ( At Kendal - but I think it travels too )
    Thanks Phant.( just love hearing his utterances! )

  4. Amazing tapestry and thanks to you and google I now know much more about it. Never heard of it before.
    I saw the Millennium Tapestries at Greenwich last year and wish I could view the Prestopans Tapestry, I dont suppose it will ever come 'Down Under' Would be wonderful to be chosen to do some of the stitching.

  5. Fascinating. It is wonderful how handicrafts persist and flourish even today. I used to do some embroidery (doilies) when I was still a schoolgirl, but have no idea to what extent people still embroider today.

    And does there lurk within the Scottish breast a lingering passion for the Stuart cause, or is it all lost and gone forever?

    I am reading Jeremy Paxman's book The English and he is most interesting on the Scots.

  6. I'd never heard of the Prestonpans Tapestry either. Thanks for all the photos and descriptions - well done! I wonder if enough Aussies got together and petitioned the people in charge of this, would they bring it to Australia?

  7. Wow -- that looks like an amazing tapestry and undertaking. So many embroiderers and panels. I'd love to see it (especially the men in kilts, thank you. I thought it interesting that the first men in kilts were all brightly colored and the second lot were more subdued. Representing their states of hope? Or perhaps just choice of the embroiderer?) I was hoping it would be coming to the states.

    Sounds like cute grandson has a firm grasp on pronunciation -- too cute!

  8. Anonymous8:10 pm

    So stunning, thank you for sharing.

    Now I want to paint my ceilings. Too.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.