224,000 hours of stitching, 3 days of photographing

It’s coming to the end of my time here at Guildford Cathedral. Well, it’s not really – I’m just going on holiday to Mallorca and will be busy doing other things until the end of August (rather than looking at kneelers). I will almost definitely be back in September and it wouldn’t be surprising if I’m still around way after my dissertation is handed in.

Anyway, today was the day that I was set to finish photographing and documenting all 1460 of the cathedral’s kneelers. Or it should’ve been. Turns out there were actually 1600. I still finished, just the final remnants of novelty wore off as the count exceeded the expected.


It was a task that I was told would be overcast with monotony and occupy the entirety of my summer. It didn’t. It took me three days. I say me, I mean we. The 14-hour project was only accomplished because of the help of my trusty photographer Rhiannon Black as well as other helpers (shout out to Mummy Barnes and Rebecca Grafton). Organising, collecting, photographing, noting, documenting, annotating and stacking were the unvaryingly recurring verbs that come to mind. It could’ve been worse – it’s not every day you work in a Cathedral or an Elizabethan house (even though the first is consumed in scaffolding and we were in the loft of the latter. Still cool though).

As I said though, my work really hasn’t been inundated by such an ordeal. Most of my time has been occupied with research, historical analysis, reading and interpretation of the imagery and of the sociality behind the Guild; something that I have enjoyed so much that it hasn’t really seemed like ‘work’. I haven’t even scratched the surface after four weeks; evermore interminable and unfathomable in both depth and breadth. All too easily assumed as being marginal in the grand scheme of the cathedral’s complexities, this delineation of material culture has been (and still is) both thought-provoking and captivating to say the least. I have begun writing up my thoughts, insights and geographical conceptualisations just to get my head around it all.

Obviously I’m not going to put all 1600 photos of the kneelers in my dissertation. I wouldn’t do that to the marker, the printer, or to myself for that matter (it wouldn’t even make sense). Instead, the photographs will be used by the People’s Cathedral Project here at Guildford. One outcome of the National Lottery funded venture is set to be in the form of a touch screen display for the visitors to explore the historical elucidations and interpretations of the project and in that shall be Rhiannon’s photographs and my analysis. There is also talk of adding them to the digitised archive that is being created by Rebecca Grafton here, too. That’s one of the best things about this placement-based dissertation – the fact that the work isn’t just going towards my degree, but to the Cathedral and for people to enjoy (hopefully).

It’s taken three long and intense days to document them all, and four weeks to try and understand them all, but the extent of work, creativity, reasoning and organisation that went into the actual making of this kneelers shouldn’t be forgotten. It takes an expert 110 hours, let alone amateurs of which there many among the 800 volunteers who partook in the prodigious project. Say, for arguments sake, each kneeler took one individual 140 hours. That’s 224,000 hours of stitching alone. That’s over 51 years (18,666 days) of work (taking into consideration the night but not tea breaks, lunch, gossip and everything else you do during the day). Let’s not beat around the bush here, that is ridiculous. One lady, Mrs Beatrice Carroll, did 59 kneelers. Fifty-Nine. That’s 8,260 hours of embroidery.

Let that put it all into perspective.

I have loved working here at Guildford Cathedral. This kind of research and interpretation really appeals to me as a job – not necessarily as an academic but maybe similarly to the members of staff that have welcomed me into the team so nicely. By doing these blogs too it’s made me realise how much I love writing – so much so that I’ve started to blog elsewhere both independently and for Guildford Cathedral. If you’re interested in having a look, click here for my blog and here for the People’s Cathedral Project blog.


I’d like to say that I took this, but that would be lying. Credit to www.green-ward.com



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