Rex Needle: Kneelers bring a splash of colour to Abbey Church

A display of kneelers in the nave ''Rex Needle Local Sept 20 2013
A display of kneelers in the nave ''Rex Needle Local Sept 20 2013
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The story behind one of Abbey Church’s newest kneelers is a tribute to the restoration of nearby Baldock’s Mill and its water wheel.

These items began life in centuries past as small pieces of furniture used as footstools but completely covered in cloth so that no legs were visible but progressed in design to the present embroidered cushions that in many cases are miniature works of art demonstrating the ancient craft of needlework and usually completed by ladies of the parish.

A large collection may be found among the pews in the Abbey Church with a variety of designs finished in coloured wools including birds, flowers, rural scenes, landscapes and commemorative motifs, the result of countless hours of dedicated work by many pairs of hands and always ready to give useful service on Sundays or at times of private prayer and contemplation.

Each has its own story and the latest addition to the collection is no exception because it commemorates a moment in the history of this town, the restoration of the water wheel which once powered Baldock’s Mill in South Street, now the home of the Heritage Centre. There has been a mill on this spot since Norman times and the present building dates back to 1800 when it was used for grinding corn but stopped working around 1924 when the wheel collapsed and it was decided that repairs were too expensive.

Ownership of the building eventually passed from the Marquess of Exeter to Bourne United Charities who now lease it to Bourne Civic Society for use in its present role. In 2002, committee member Jim Jones, a qualified engineer, embarked on an ambitious project to restore the wheel, 15 feet in diameter by 3 feet wide, to its working condition and provide power to light and heat the building and so reduce the annual electricity bill.

It was a massive project of design and construction and involved visits to other working mills in the country for practical ideas and advice but, ably assisted by Doug Fownes and several other enthusiasts who popped in from time to time, the work was finished in September 2003 when an official ceremony was held to mark completion. Jim Jones was subsequently honoured with the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June 2009 for this and his other work for the church and community.

The working wheel is now one of the main features of the mill where visitors can see it turning and producing electricity and it is this project that has been commemorated on the latest kneeler, the work of Mrs Avice Budd who wanted it dedicated to Jim Jones to mark his marathon task which he reckons took more than 400 hours of working time. She put the idea to the Civic Society and Doug Fownes produced a computer generated design showing the pattern and appropriate colours but the right materials were needed before work could begin.

Kneelers worked by church members in the past have come from tapestry kits supplied by Jackson of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire and they have become so popular that the finished products can be found in churches and cathedrals at 8,000 locations around the world.

The average price is £44 each but the wheel design with the wording “Baldock’s Mill, Heritage Centre” around the edges was a special commission for an individual pattern and therefore cost three times as much but Avice managed to find sufficient money from donations to place an order. The kit arrived in November 2012 and she set to work, completing the kneeler in February this year when it was handed over to the Civic Society.

There are currently 70 kneelers in the church, mostly worked in recent years although some are much older. A renewed interest in adding more began six years ago when a Knit and Sew Friendship Group was started by Mrs Rosie Cudmore with members meeting in the church every month.

Avice’s kneeler is one of several new ones that will soon be gracing the nave because £800 has recently been donated to the project by church stalwarts Jim and Betty James which was collected in lieu of presents during their diamond wedding celebration held at the Abbey Church in April this year. Betty has already completed several in memory of family members and she thought it appropriate that the money should be used to buy more and an appeal for volunteers has been made in the parish magazine.

“We are relying on some kind people who will be happy to work on a kneeler of their choice, one they can choose from the brochure”, said Betty. “We all know of someone who would appreciate such a token in memory of a loved one or perhaps someone who has contributed in some way to the Abbey Church or even the town itself.”

But the task is not an easy one. “All of us who have worked on the kneelers know that they cannot be polished off in five minutes”, said Betty, “so anyone who does decide to join in must allow several months for completion.”

Among those already in the pipeline is another connected with the Heritage Centre, this time a kneeler to commemorate the BRM victory in the 1962 world championships, a design again completed by Doug Fownes with the help of his computer showing the winning car with Graham Hill at the wheel and, once the materials arrive, the Civic Society will be seeking someone to sew it.

This and the mill wheel kneeler are expected to be blessed by the vicar, the Rev Christopher Atkinson, at a forthcoming Sunday service this winter together with other kneelers that may be completed in the meantime.