We’d only popped into Fishguard library for a map of the town so we could begin our explorations, and this is what we found: a magnificent creation of crewel-work that can surely hold its own alongside the Bayeux Tapestry which inspired it.
Both works tell of invasions of Great Britain by French forces, but whereas one is an 11th century account of ‘conquest successful’ (and probably everyone who knows a bit of British history will know about 1066 and William the Conqueror), the other marks a bicentennial commemoration of the last invasion of mainland Britain – a two-day shambles in February 1797, when 1400 soldiers of the French Revolutionary Government were put ashore near Fishguard with orders to conquer.
It seems the soldiers were not of the highest calibre militarily speaking. Only 600 were regulars, the rest were apparently ex-convicts recently released from gaol, and all were under the somewhat elderly command of an Irish-American colonel, one William Tate. Things went wrong from the start. Bad weather prevented French ships from landing the troops at their intended objective near Bristol, and instead they retreated into Cardigan Bay. And when the force was finally landed, and their ships sailed off, abandoning them, many of the soldiers ran amok, looking for food, raiding farmhouses and were quickly beyond control.
On the Welsh side there was also much pandemonium as the local gentry were charged to raise an army. Lots of summoning and gathering hither and thither, an inexperienced young gent initially put in charge of defending militia and making a hash of it. Meanwhile Jemima Nicholas (Jemima Fawr or ‘the great’ as she was later a known), wife of the local cobbler, set forth with a pitchfork, rounded up 12 Frenchmen and marched them into Fishguard where she locked them in the church before resuming her hunt.
In the end Lord Cawdor, commanding British militias gathered from across Pembrokeshire, won the day, though a tale has it that the French only accepted unconditional surrender because they mistook the Welsh women come to watch as the gathering of a large British army. The women were wearing their traditional tall black hats and red shawls.
As you can see, the tapestry is a delight. Every inch of it brimming with humour and finely executed detail, and all of it using much the same stitch work found in medieval embroidery. The designer, Elizabeth Cramp, also followed a similar lay-out to the Bayeux Tapestry. At 53 cm wide it is a similar depth, although its 30 metre length makes it less than half that of the Bayeux version. It anyway took 77 local people four years to complete and now belongs to a local charitable trust: Fishguard Invasion Centre Trust Ltd. A veritable tour de force.
It was also very difficult to photograph, what with the spotlights and reflections. And I’m sorry I missed catching Jemima Fawr with her pitchfork. But if you go to the link HERE you can spot her in the middle of the header photo and learn more about the making of the tapestry and the names of all those diligent workers who so skilfully applied their needles and threads.
copyright 2019 Tish Farrell
Line Squares #3 Join Becky with her October Squares challenge; the only rule: your header photo (showing lines however you see them) in square format.