The project to create the pew cushions, as this extract from the diary, kept throughout the project by Eileen Burman, formally of East Glebe, recalls:
“On April 27th 1990 a meeting of those interested was held at the Parsonage. It was attended by thirteen people and with apologies from a further sixteen who were interested, along with two cheques from two others for the purchase of materials. All of this was following on from a casual remark made in church after a service concerning the hardness and discomfort of the church pews. It was decided that evening to start and rectify this discomfort by making a few cushions for one or two seats – a little project, a little idea, a lot of enthusiasm from which so much was achieved”
An unknown number of hours went into the project which involved a devoted group of local people. The project was completed over 20 years later in 2011.
On the south aisle east wall there is a collage depicting a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, superimposed on a cross. It was worked by Mary Wills a post-graduate student 1966-67 at Birmingham College of Art. appliqued from material of brown, beige, blue, maroon, gold-coloured leather and plaited cords. It is inscribed along the base with the inscription: ‘Evelyn Hill 1883-1966 Mors Janua Vitae’ (Death is the Gate of Heaven) and was given in the memory of Evelyn Hill by her niece Mrs Rosemary Williams who lived in the village for many years.
A recollection by Mary Wills, the designer of the Baptistery Embroidery
I was one of four students asked to submit an embroidery design for the Baptistery at Stoneleigh Church, which was commissioned to be made by the textile department. My design was chosen because it was representational, the dove descending, representing the coming of the Holy Spirit.
I made a small scale embroidery to be enlarged to the present size. The cross was longer at its base to balance the composition, but after approximately two years a sponsor for the funding wished the lettering at the base to be embroidered on the background in memory of Evelyn Hill.
The background fabric was carefully chosen to match the colour of the wall, but this unfortunately was painted white. The embroidery was made by completing pieces separately, as much as possible, and then applying them to the background. This involved a frame in three hinged pieces being constructed and the background fabric being stretched over this. Scaffolding was put up at the back and front of the frame and involved two people on either side passing a needle and thread back and forth to attach the pieces.
At this time I was teaching at Handsworth Dress School and Bourneville Art College and came into the textile department to liaise with the technical lecturer to see the work to completion.
MOTHERS’ UNION BANNER
The Mothers’ Union processional banner was commissioned in the 1960s by Evelyn Hill. Designed and worked by the late Beryl Dean (1911-2001) it is made from silk fabric and is appliquéd and sectioned in coral, sand and brown shapes. As well as figures of Virgin and Child, you can find the symbols of the snake, pelican and Norman Arch over stitched in gilt lurex thread.
Beryl Dean was a craftswoman-designer who, in the field of ecclesiastical embroidery prior to the 1950s, was not regarded seriously. Certainly, it was generally the architect who dictated the detailing and the design of church furnishings. Beryl Dean helped to break that tradition, imposed in the 19th century, and made it possible for the embroiderer to once again be respected as both designer and maker of church textiles.
Other examples of her work can be found in churches throughout the country, including altar frontals in St Margaret’s, King’s Lynn; St Martin’s Church, Dorking; Emmanuel College, Cambridge; St Paul’s, Sheffield and the Chapel at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London. She also designed the Jubilee Cope, and Mitre for the Bishop of London, to mark the Jubilee of the Queen’s reign (1977) and the Windsor Panels, made for the Rutland Chantry, Windsor Castle (1974).