A future treasure of the past at St Peter’s Church in Burnham
PUBLISHED: 10:47 29 August 2014 | UPDATED: 10:47 29 August 2014
There are families across the world with paintings, tapestries and toys made by Burnham’s Gwen Hill, but the people of her home village have a very special piece of work inside St Peter’s Church which provides a beautiful pictorial record.
Back in 1983, Gwen, born into the Blackman family, realised just how much her beloved Burnham was changing. She decided to take on the mammoth task of making a tapestry depicting village features, including those that were fast disappearing. Fortunately, her sister was Dorothy Blackman, the late local historian and co-author of ‘Burnham – Yesterday’s Town’. Dorothy had numerous old black and white photographs of local sights so Gwen set to work.
Over the next year, using her memory and the photos as a guide, she created the six foot long tapestry of 13 large cameo pictures, three smaller ones and a crest. It took some 1,500 hours of patient work and features an incredible two million stitches.
Two years ago she donated it to the church, where it proudly hung on a rail, and has now paid for it to be framed, together with a record of the historic scenes it depicts. A delighted Rev Bill Jackson has re-hung the work in the Cornerstone room in the church.
Daughter Carol Heming and the rest of the family are very proud of Gwen’s work. Carol says: “My mother is now 91 years of age and still going strong! She was very keen to ensure the tapestry was preserved for future generations to enjoy.”
Gwen is well known across Burnham, having been involved in a host of village activities over the years, from being a Sunday school teacher at the Congregational Church to proudly supporting Burnham Football Club.
Her artistic nature shone from teenage years and at the age of 16 she began painting in water colours and then oils. She pursued her interest alongside marriage to Phil Hill of Cippenham in 1943 and the arrival of three daughters, adding embroidery in silks to her skills.
When Gwen took on the tapestry project there was to be no skimping. She achieved fascinating shading by using slightly different coloured wools in the needle and even some ‘3d effects’ with overlapping and raised stitches.
Scenes in the tapestry include the church, of course, with a lovely old elm tree beside it which sadly was lost to Dutch elm disease. Another panel depicts the old Burnham C of E School built in 1871, demolished just over 40 years ago. High Street scenes include Swan Cottage, Halls the butchers, Thatcher’s the milliners and old Chauffeur’s Cottage (with the Rolls-Royce of Clifton Brown, a well-known personality of Burnham past, parked outside). Every corner of the village is covered with this remarkable record, even an old Burnham Beeches tree called ‘His Majesty’.
Our photographer Maureen McLean was delighted to record Gwen’s recent visit to St Peter’s with daughter Carol to see the magnificent work in place. Very few villages have such a dramatic and visually appealing record of their past – what an excellent way to encourage youngsters to learn more about local history.