Upper Kennet Valley Hanging

Words supplied by Margaret Heath, who designed and project managed the stitching of the hanging.

The design was created to reflect the geology, flora, fauna, architecture and atmosphere, of the Upper Kennet Valley. It takes a linear view of the valley facing north with the four villages of East Kennet, West Overton, Lockeridge and Fyfield pictured (in that order) left to right along the design. The Marlborough Downs are on the horizon, the Ridgeway is just visible above East Kennett and two local landmarks, bluebells in Westwoods and the sarsen field of Lockeridge Dene, are in the foreground. In the mid-ground the line of the A4 road is traced by a line of trees and the River Kennet is followed across the embroidery as it meanders on towards its junction with the Thames at Reading.

Each village is represented by a selection of houses and public buildings which give a sense of the community portrayed. Criteria for inclusion in the design were that the buildings had to be visible from the road and were of sufficient architectural interest or of historic significance to the area. The oldest house that is illustrated is Jays Cottage (of which more later) and the latest ones are pre and post war Local Authority housing which  replaced the dilapidated farm cottages which had been declared unfit for use. These have gone on to be the pretty cottages done up for ‘incomers’ to the area. There were no houses of a later date than those of the LHA that were of sufficient interest to be included.

Farming is the main industry of the area and is represented by crops of wheat and oil seed rape while sheep, cows, horses and two pet pigs, beloved by the local community, graze on the pastures of the valley floor.   Pheasants and buzzards are a common sight and hare, badger and deer are also visible to those who wait to observe them so they are all included. At the base of the embroidery there is a bank of flowers
and fruits of all the seasons commonly seen along the valley.

Other items of special interest are: 

East Kennett: the Millenium seat which was funded by the residents of East Kennett, as was the weather cock on the church steeple which was erected during the time the embroidery was being stitched.  The junior department of the school, at East Kennett, is to close and all the children of nursery and primary school age will be taught on one site at Lockeridge making the school badge on the embroidery at East Kennett a historic picture. (NB. For some unknown reason the village of East Kennett has two tt’s at the end but the River Kennet  has only one.) One of the two bridges in the village that cross the Kennet is pictured; the Ridgeway runs over the other one and can be seen in the distance on the Downs marked as a thin track.

Between East Kennett and West Overton are some pollarded willows set in flood water. This occurs during the winter although the river dries up almost completely in the summer. Sheep often graze these fields.

West Overton: the Consecration Cross, one of two, set into the wall at the east end of West Overton Church denotes its ancient origins. The present building is a Victorian replacement for its dilapidated predecessor. The tower of this church is a prominent landmark as you travel along the valley on the A4. There are several brick built houses from the Meux Estate with their characteristic building style shown in the work. The public house, The Bell, on the main road has changed hands since the embroidery started and has been
completely refurbished so that it now looks rather different.  

Lockeridge: the largest of the four villages, does not have a church but it has a public house called ‘The Who’d a Thought It’ which has a painted sign with a curious design. We were unable to discover the story behind this. The school has a small bell tower with bell and the date 1876 picked out on it. There are more of the red brick Victorian ‘Meux’ houses here. They are of particular note as they were built by and are all that remains of a large estate held by the brewing family of the same name. The pink thatched cottage. known as Jay’s Cottage, is said to be the oldest in the village of Lockeridge, and it was good to have a Guild member who had been born and brought up there, embroider it. Very few of our members have local origins so this was of particular importance. The big house is very obvious as you approach Lockeridge and has a large, stylised, pineapple signifying welcome, on each gate post. There are glimpses of the river in the background between the houses. Except for the one on the bridge over the River Kennet at Lockeridge, all the signs on the work, for the schools, the public house, the National Trust badge and the church windows at Fyfield, were the work of one member who stitched them with a computerised machine. 

Lockeridge Dene: now under the protection of the National Trust is a remnant of a much larger area of sarsen stones. This was reduced by harvesting the stone and using it for building. Many of the local houses, walls and gateposts are constructed with sarsens; some houses have a combination of sarsen and red brick. 

Fyfield: lost many of its houses when the A4 was widened in 1930’s. The design illustrates the result of these road works by depicting a row of red brick semi detached houses known as Priest’s Acre which were built to house the displaced villagers. As a result, the village was divided, with the church, also shown alongside its small stained glass windows, down a separate lane which leads to the, reputedly, Roman bridge over the Kennet. The bridge is depicted with yellow flag, irises and reed mace fringing the water; cattle graze in the meadows nearby.  North Farm on the edge of the Downs is the residence of the family who made the land for
the Hall available and it has been included for that historical connection with the community. The farm is very involved with race horses and so there are gallops with two horses being ridden in the distance on the Downs. These and the tiny children of the school signs are the only human figures in the landscape. A decision made by the designer, Margaret Heath, right from the start was that there should be no figures in the work. 

The valley is seen in the colours of the different seasons; winter floods around the pollarded willows, bluebells in late spring, hedge flowers of high summer and warm tones of autumn fruit. They are all set against the greens of a lush pastured valley.

The work was done by the members of the Marlborough and District Embroiderers’ Guild at Stitch Days held every month at the Hall but there was also help from village people who attended a coffee morning and who either put in a few stitches or in some cases did a whole piece. Young Embroiderers’ made their contribution at several of their meetings and it was also taken into the both Upper and Lower School of Kennet Valley School where the children were very pleased to be able to add a few of their own stitches even though many of them
had never held a needle before. Over 150 people took part, men, women and children. The oldest stitcher was 86 and the youngest was 5. 

Many people had not worked on a piece as large as this and it was a big challenge to take it on but the members rose to it and enjoyed working in small groups at Stitch Days once a month and, as the work progressed at members’ homes on a weekly basis. It became a time for learning new techniques and skills and for making new friendships. At least four members learned how to use their sewing machines for embroidery and others gained confidence with every piece they stitched either by hand or machine. 

Since the stitching of the piece, there have been several changes to buildings pictured and the embroidery has already become a snapshot in time of the years between 2006 and 2010.