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20th anniversary of the Maldon Embroidery
9:20am Sunday 2nd October 2011 in Stephen Nunn
I still have fond memories of my first journey across the Channel to visit the ancient lands of the Normans and to see their Bayeux Tapestry.
As a child, I had read about it and seen pictures of it, but actually seeing it for real was something else, and created an impression that has stayed with me ever since.
But we don’t need to travel to Normandy to experience such stunning historical craftsmanship. Since 1991, we have had our own answer to the Bayeux Tapestry right here on our own doorstep – the Maldon Embroidery.
Housed in the aptly-named Maeldune Centre, on the ground floor of the equally fascinating St Peter’s Church and Plume Library building, on the brow of Market Hill, the embroidery tells the story of the events of 991, the year Maldon finally fell to the marauding Vikings.
On August 10 and 11 of that year, 93 ships under the command of Olaf Trygvasson (who later became King of Norway) sailed up Panta’s Stream (our River Blackwater) and engaged in battle with an army of men led by their aging Lord, Earldorman Brythnoth.
The outcome was a bloody defeat for the Englishmen and the first payment of Danegeld, £10,000 of extortion money, partly funded with a mountain of silver coinage from the Maldon mint.
On the surface, it might sound like an affair we would be better off trying to forget, a humiliating rout that nearly put an end to our town on the hill.
However, it gave rise to one of the most important pieces of Dark Age literature – the poem The Battle of Maldon. Not only that, it shines as a beacon to what we still think of as “Englishness” – standing up for what is right and defending our homelands against all the odds.
One thousand years on, the Maldon Millennium was marked by a number of events, but a lasting survival of that anniversary is the embroidery.
Designed by the internationally famous Humphrey Spender, it was born at the hands of 80 local embroiderers.
The result was, and is, quite spectacular – a living, vibrant, colourful depiction in seven full panels, totalling 42ft in length.
The style is as unique as its older sister in Bayeux. The difference with the Maldon version, however, is that it not only covers a history that pre-dates 1066 by a century, it then follows a timeline of Maldon’s story that extends 1,000 years up to 1991, encompassing everything from churches, the railway, industrial heritage and the river.
It’s one of those pieces of art that, the more you look at it, the more you see. I am particularly proud of the inclusion of a small image of the German Heinkel bomber that crashed in Maypole Road on August 24, 1940 – an incident I researched and wrote about just prior to the millennium.
If you haven’t already been to see the Maldon Embroidery, then you really must. I guarantee you will find it a truly unforgettable experience, a colourful journey into our local heritage.