'We’re all getting on a bit': Peterborough embroiderers working on Cathedral tapestry need younger volunteers

Work on the five-metre long embroidery of the Cathedral’s 13th-Century Nave ceiling started in 2018 - but was put on hold during the pandemic

By Adam Barker
Thursday, 7th April 2022, 5:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th April 2022, 5:52 pm
A team of dedicated women are hoping more volunteers will help them to finish a five metre long needle-point embroidery of Peterborough Cathedral’s nave ceiling.
A team of dedicated women are hoping more volunteers will help them to finish a five metre long needle-point embroidery of Peterborough Cathedral’s nave ceiling.

A team of dedicated women are hoping more volunteers will help them to finish a five metre long needle-point embroidery of Peterborough Cathedral’s Nave ceiling.The volunteers started the embroidery of the Cathedral’s painted wooden Nave ceiling - which is the only Nave ceiling of its kind in Britain - in May 2018.

The Nave ceiling was erected and painted in the 13th century, and is one of the most spectacular parts of the cathedral, and has huge historical importance. The design includes hundreds of intricate diamond shapes, each with images inside and patterns around the outside.

But the volunteers' progress replicating the Nave through a giant tapestry was halted when the Cathedral closed during lockdown - and they now need new volunteers to help their efforts.

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The unfinished tapestry will be over one metre wide and over five metres long,

Elaine Harburn, former chair of the Peterborough branch of the Embroiderers Guild - which permanently closed all of its branches during lockdown - leads the team of 12 volunteers - who commit three half days a week to the embroidery.

Ms Harburn said: “It was sad not to do it for such a long time but since we have been back we’ve got on well and we’re speeding up all the time.

“We’re now trying to get new people interested in our project.

“The way we look at it is we lost that time during Covid - but if you think about the time that the stonemasons would've lost because of the Black Death it’s a similar situation,” she said.

The embroidery was first commissioned for an unknown woman in Peterborough in 1986.

It features depictions of kings and saints and was gifted to the Cathedral for its 900th anniversary after being left untouched for years.

The embroidery was sent to Wisbech Museum after it was first commissioned by the Royal School of Needlework in 1986.

It was then passed to the Peterborough Embroiderers Guild where a woman took on the embroidery herself before gifting it to the Cathedral - having not made a start.

After four years of hardwork, the team is now looking to recruit more volunteers to take over the needlework so their legacy continues.

“When they started building it they knew that they were not going to see the end of it,” Mrs Harburn added.

“We've started this - we may not see the end of it - but it’s something to pass on to other people.

The tapestry is over one metre wide and over five metres long - and there’s still a long way to go until completion.

Mrs Harburn said. “I don’t see how one person could have possibly done it because it would take over your life if you did it on your own.

“Obviously there is a limit to the number of people who can work round the frame at any one time, but to have more people who could slot in for sessions would be really good.

“It would also be lovely to have some young people involved because we’re all getting on a bit and starting to creak.”

If you are interested in joining the team of volunteers you can register your interest at Peterborough Cathedral.