[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: LVI | By Viveka Hansen]

In the monograph The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914, my brief introduction of earlier periods touched upon the long history of Whitby Abbey. This post will give some further thoughts, studied via a preserved early 14th century embroidery that once was believed to have been part of the liturgical textiles of the abbey, and a book written by Lionel Charlton in the 1770s. The brief discussion will particularly focus on two men’s interest in the Medieval period – from an 18th century as well as a 1920s perspective – which gives us a glimpse of textile depictions in connection to the Medieval Whitby Abbey. 

The Embroidery in silk and silver-gilt thread is dated to circa 1310-1340 – and according to V&A’s records it is ‘Said to have come originally from Whitby Abbey’. Their source Mrs Archibald Christie additionally explained in the Burlington Magazine of 1921 (p. 9): ‘Formerly in the possession of the Cholmondley [Cholmley] family…’ (Courtesy of: V&A, no: T.344-1920)

The Embroidery in silk and silver-gilt thread is dated to circa 1310-1340 – and according to V&A’s records it is ‘Said to have come originally from Whitby Abbey’. Their source Mrs Archibald Christie additionally explained in the Burlington Magazine of 1921 (p. 9): ‘Formerly in the possession of the Cholmondley [Cholmley] family…’ (Courtesy of: V&A, no: T.344-1920)

The museum (V&A) is describing the well-preserved embroidery with the height of 24,5 cm and breadth of 25,5 cm as follows: ‘Square panel, probably from a burse, depicting the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John enclosed within a barbed quatrefoil. Figures embroidered in silk in split stitch against a background of underside couched silver-gilt thread. Underdrawing visible in worn areas, particularly Christ’s body. All four edges are unfinished. Unlined. Tiny rusted pinholes at each corner. Colours fresh on back.’ A “burse” is noted in the Oxford Dictionary as ‘a flat, square, fabric-covered case in which a folded corporal cloth is carried to and from an altar in church’.

The burse fabric was bequeathed by Robert Elliot Pannett to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1920. Robert Elliott Pannett (1834-1920) was a Whitby solicitor who held various positions in local government during his professional life. He was also for many years deeply engaged with the Whitby Lit. & Phil. Society of which he became a member in 1861 before serving on the Committee from 1862 to 1920. Due to Pannett’s very long historical commitment in the local Whitby area and that the former owner – the Cholmley family – for several generations lived at Abbey House closely situated to the abbey, together with the facts assembled by the V&A and Mrs. A. Christie in 1921, give evidence for that this exquisitely made silk and silver-gilt embroidery most probably had its origin in the Medieval Whitby Abbey.

This medieval glass panel with its centred loom was originally one of what must have been many glass windows in Whitby Abbey, that visitors at the abbey would have been able to study. It was described much later by Lionel Charlton in his 1779 book about the history of this reproduction. ‘These windows seem also to have been enriched with a considerable quantity of stained or painted glass. What was the fate of this is not certainly known, but it seems most probable to believe it was also carried away privately, as two panels thereof are yet remaining in the windows of a house belonging to Mr. Marmaduke Watson of Whitby, which are probably five or six hundred years old, and seem both to refer to the Virgin Mary…’ (Charlton, 1779, Plate II)

This medieval glass panel with its centred loom was originally one of what must have been many glass windows in Whitby Abbey, that visitors at the abbey would have been able to study. It was described much later by Lionel Charlton in his 1779 book about the history of this reproduction. ‘These windows seem also to have been enriched with a considerable quantity of stained or painted glass. What was the fate of this is not certainly known, but it seems most probable to believe it was also carried away privately, as two panels thereof are yet remaining in the windows of a house belonging to Mr. Marmaduke Watson of Whitby, which are probably five or six hundred years old, and seem both to refer to the Virgin Mary…’ (Charlton, 1779, Plate II)

Hild’s Abbey and the Synod of Whitby were established already in 664 AD and during the next two hundred years until 867 AD a monastic settlement developed here. It was however not until around 1220 that the Gothic Abbey that survives as a ruin today was built; it served as an active monastic centre until it was abandoned following its forced dissolution in 1539.

This detailed depiction of Whitby Abbey dating from 1773, introduced “Book Two” of Lionel Charlton’s publication. The image shows the contemporary reader a prospect of the disintegrated state of the Abbey, but also gives present day viewers a unique understanding of the building in the late 1700s which has today and since a long time been in ruins. Charlton’s comprehensive study of the Medieval Abbey and its history does on the other hand not reveal any more examples of its former textile treasures or everyday liturgical cloths/clothing. (Charlton, 1779, p. 48).

This detailed depiction of Whitby Abbey dating from 1773, introduced “Book Two” of Lionel Charlton’s publication. The image shows the contemporary reader a prospect of the disintegrated state of the Abbey, but also gives present day viewers a unique understanding of the building in the late 1700s which has today and since a long time been in ruins. Charlton’s comprehensive study of the Medieval Abbey and its history does on the other hand not reveal any more examples of its former textile treasures or everyday liturgical cloths/clothing. (Charlton, 1779, p. 48).

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Sources:

  • Charlton, Lionel, The history of Whitby and of Whitby Abbey, York 1779.
  • Hansen, Viveka, The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914 – A lively coastal town between the North Sea and North York Moors’, London & Whitby 2015.For full list of Notes & Bibliography, pp 404-423. (Additionally: Research material from the period 2006-2014, including surplus photographs and various facts not possible to fit into the book)
  • Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London (Online: Medieval embroidery).
  • Christie, Archibald, ‘A New Early English Embroidery at the Victoria and Albert Museum’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 39, pp. 8-10, 1921.

(The monograph The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914 is available here: The IK Foundation)

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

Hansen, Viveka, ‘Two Textile remnants from the Medieval Whitby Abbey’, TEXTILIS (February 15, 2016); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)