The Hangings

The three hangings, which are displayed in the church hall, celebrate the long history of St Mary’s church in Acton, showing the different stages through which the different buildings on the site grew.

The first hanging shows the church as it may have been in early medieval and in Tudor times. This was a matter of guesswork, as nobody knows what the early church really looked like. It was built of stone and flint: not locally available, so the first endowment, by the canons of St Paul’s Cathedral, must have been generous. The early buildings survived into the 19th century but accrued all sorts of additions and embellishments over the centuries. However, an 18th century print—although undoubtedly romanticised—provides an idea of the original constructions and design. The brick tower, which was added during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, survived long enough to be photographed.

The second hanging shows the church as it was at the beginning and later in the 19th century, when the present day church had been built but before the Tudor tower, which was preserved at the rebuilding, had been demolished.

The third hanging shows the 20th century church, with the present day tower—it replaced the Tudor tower ten years later—and with and without the adjoining church hall building.

No attempt was made to cover every square inch of the hangings with embroidery: the group of needlewomen was a small one. The backgrounds, sky, etc. were painted on ‘duck’ — artist’s canvas, which is equally good for embroidery —and the churches were embroidered on patchwork fabric and appliquéd to the background. Only simple stitches were used. By far the most challenging, but also enjoyable, part of the work was in populating the foregrounds of the hangings with Actonians in many different periods of dress, but all padded to stand out from the hanging in bas-relief. The 20th century figures, with their tight-fitting clothes, were the most difficult of all.

Photographs of the hangings can be seen in the photo gallery on this site.

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