The Society's seal and three photographs

Virtual Museum

John Collingwood-Bruce’s Paper Copy Of The Bayeux Tapestry

Without the benefit of modern ways of viewing the Bayeux Tapestry, this facsimile was a novel way for people to get an idea of the sheer scale of the original Norman embroidery. Our member, John Collingwood-Bruce commissioned the 70m long drawing in 1851. It was drawn by his friend, John Moffat (brother-in-law of the famous explorer, David Livingstone) and coloured in by his students at Percy Street Academy in Newcastle. Once completed, Collingwood-Bruce used it as a teaching aid and took it when he went round Europe giving lectures. He published these lectures as The Bayeux Tapestry Elucidated in 1855; you can (in normal times) look at this book and its colour illustrations either in our own library or in the University Library's special collections.

There are only three other Victorian copies of the Bayeux Tapestry in England, one of them a full-size embroidery currently in Reading Museum.

In 1884, Collingwood-Bruce donated the facsimile to SANT, who displayed it in their library at the Black Gate Museum. It ran around the top of the walls as a frieze. Over the years the bookcases were extended upwards, hiding sections of the facsimile. These sections were probably by now very dirty due to the atmospheric pollution from both the railway and the small fire lit in the Library, and were probably not considered very important. What was visible was taken down in the early 1960s when the archaeological material was moved up to the Museum of Antiquities and the room was redecorated to house the Bagpipe Museum. These pieces were rolled up and put in a cupboard and rediscovered in 1990. They were then taken to the Discovery Museum where they are currently in storage awaiting conservation.

The rest of the facsimile had been virtually forgotten. It was thought there might be some left behind the bookshelves but no-one really knew. In early July 2013, the builders in the Black Gate discovered a section of the facsimile when they were taking down some of the bookshelves in advance of new interpretation being created. It has been re-united in storage with the other sections.

For more information about John Collingwood Bruce and his activities, and an illustration from his book about the tapestry, see Ian Bower's blog for Tyne-Wear Museums in April 2020.

In the future, don’t forget your past