Within its Gothic Revival galleries, the Reading Museum displays an eclectic mix of Roman finds, medieval carvings, Huntley & Palmers biscuit tins, and British art. In 1895, it acquired its most unusual exhibit: a full-sized replica of the famous Bayeux Tapestry that tells the story the Norman conquest of England, but with a few modesty-enhancing modifications.
Ten years earlier, in 1885, Elizabeth Wardle visited the original tapestry in Bayeux, France, and decided England needed its own copy of the iconic artwork. Wardle was a skilled embroiderer and directed 35 women from the Leek Embroidery Society to make the replica.
Like the original, Reading’s version is an embroidery and not a tapestry, faithfully recreated in hand-dyed woolen yarns on a linen backcloth. It was created in sections, joined to form the impressive 230-foot (70-meter) work. Unlike in the original, every woman who created the Reading replica signed her name under the section she completed.
The other significant revision is that several naked men in the tapestry’s borders have had their modesty protected with underwear. These additions are often blamed on the women of Leek, but it’s now thought they were copied from photographs of the original that had been “cleaned-up” by the South Kensington Museum staff in London.
Today, the tapestry is shown in its own purpose-built gallery. You can view the entire replica and spot famous scenes from 1066, including Halley’s comet and the death of Harold, allegedly with an arrow in his eye.
Know Before You Go
Reading Museum is located inside the city's landmark gothic town hall, only a few minutes walk from Reading train station. Reading is only about 25 minutes by train from London Paddington. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is free.