The Greenwich Millennium Embroideries
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'Stitches in Time'- The official book of the Embroideries. On sale from 29 November 2010
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The Story so far...
The Embroideries are the concept of the late Beverley Burford, Curator of the Greenwich Museum at Plumstead, who put the idea forward in February 1998.

A small group of women who had worked together previously on embroidery in the museum were very enthusiastic and local artist, printmaker and embroiderer, Maureen Black, was asked to co-ordinate. There being so much to depict she decided on eight panels The work would be a collage of embroidered pieces mounted on an embroidered background using a wide variety of techniques to achieve the desired effect for each element.

The Rotary Club of Woolwich gave a grant to buy materials which John Lewis of Oxford Street supplied at a discount. The news spread and additional embroiderers joined. The entry test was to embroider a tree so that Maureen could judge ability and experience. Members soon found themselves to be experts, and specialised in buildings, people, animals or ships.

The Woolwich and District Antiquarian Society, some of whose members were part of the embroidery group, provided additional funds and helped with historical research. Great emphasis was to be put on correct historic detail, even down to the trees and flowers being correct for the period. Very little appears on the panels just for decoration. It's all there for a reason. Every detail has thought, research, and logic behind it.

The panels are all linked across the top by the the River Thames because the river is such an important part of the Borough. The sections are separated by blue, because a greater part of the borough boundary is along three rivers, of varying sizes. On each panel one section of blue divider replicates the famous bends in the Thames 'as seen on TV'.

The blue background colour was chosen specially, and the purple background for the Golden Jubilee Embroidery was also based on further research because a different colour was needed. Even all the embroidered borders, especially those separating the sections in the border panels, have a historical significance. Hopefully someone has documented all those little details so that it is not lost to future viewers.

In 1999 the BBC’s ‘Songs of Praise’ came from St Alfege’s Church. The programme featured a group of the embroiderers, the Saxon & Viking panel which depicts St Alfege’s martyrdom, and the Medieval panel which shows Chaucer and his Canterbury Pilgrims. Subsequently, further panels were displayed to great public acclaim in St Alfege’s church, then in the Greenwich Pavilion of the Millennium Dome, as part of the Greenwich Weekend, and in the Alexandra Palace exhibition.

The Tudor panel was exhibited in the nationwide ‘Yours’ magazine competition at Bournemouth and won the 2nd ‘Highly Commended’ prize.

The Town Hall in Woolwich displayed the first seven panels at Christmas 2000, with a blank 20th Century panel for which the public were invited to suggest items for inclusion. From a huge list of ideas the eighth and final (as they then thought!) panel was created in 2001. But then display of the Embroideries had to be severely restricted because of the risk of damage to them, both in transit and on show. They were exhibited for two months in 2004 but were doomed to be held in safe storage at the Greenwich Heritage Centre.

To mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002 some of the embroiderers re-formed to create another embroidery depictimng the many royal visits to the Borough since 1952. It is not a ninth panel, being complementary to the Millennium Embroideries and not a part of them.

In 2007 the embroiderers became concerned that the careful long-term preservation of the Embroideries meant that they could not actually be seen by the public. To be safely displayed, and easily moved in and out of storage, the embroideries need archival frames, which are sealed, atmosphere-controlled, internally illuminated and use special glass to filter the outside light to prevent fading over time. They are only available custom-made from specialist suppliers. And they cost a lot of money.

So in 2007 the Embroiderers set up a group to raise the required funds. Greenwich Council donated the bulk of the money to buy the first two-panel frame - and fundraising began just as the recession struck. But the news spread and an un-named benefactor whose wife had been involved with the original work, made a very substantial donation and the target was met. The Embroideries were put on permanent display at the Greenwich Heritage Centre in December 2009.

But this was still not the end of the story

In 2005 it was announced that London would host the 2012 Olympics and Greenwich will be one of the venues. This resulted in a proposal to create another embroidery, perhaps to become the ninth panel, to celebrate the Borough's involvement. The embroiderers realised straight away that by 2012 they will all be 14 years older than when they started their project and their fingers may not be as nimble as before. Consequently they decided to invite a local textile college to carry on the tradition, under their guidance for continuity.

And finally, right at the start of 2010 it was announced that Greenwich would become a Royal Borough in 2012. So there is even more to celebrate.

It is a fact that time starts in Greenwich. History has been made here for over 2000 years.

Time never stops, and neither does Greenwich's history.

What's next, do you think??

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