Tapestry tells story of Sunderland community

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THE story behind a tapestry detailing a thousand years of life in a Wearside suburb will be revealed at a special event. Today we take a look.

Now the story behind the 49-piece tapestry is to be told for the first time next month – more than a decade after the artwork was completed.

LANDMARK: Fulwell Mill.

LANDMARK: Fulwell Mill.

Connie Bulmer, widow of Dennis Bulmer – the historian who came up with the idea for the tapestry – will give a talk on the topic on May 6.

“We had a fair in Fulwell to mark the Millennium, but then Dennis wanted to organise something that would be more long-lasting as well,” she said.

“People had often told him that Fulwell didn’t have a history, and that set down a challenge for him.

“He started researching the area’s past.

“There wasn’t really a history of Fulwell available so, as he found stories, he drew pictures to go with them. That was the start of things.”

Dennis enlisted the help of the Fulwell Society, of which he was president, as well as Living History North East for his historical research.

Archive maps dating to 1620 were used to chart the area’s development, and several volunteers even visited the Bayeux Tapestry for inspiration.

Work on transforming Dennis’s drawings into more than 40 needlework scenes then began in 1998 – with dozens of Wearsiders offering to help out.

“A lot of nostalgia, a lot of imagination and a great deal of artistic licence were put into the production,” according to the Fulwell Society.

Indeed, although colours were optional, Dennis’s outlines were strictly observed – with at least 25,000 stitches needed for each 18x24ins patch.

A £2,300 Lottery grant helped pay for materials such as synthetic carpet backing and embroidery silks, while supporters donated balls of wool.

“We want to tell the story of Fulwell in pictures,” said Dennis at the time.

“A lot of people think Fulwell is modern, but that is not the case.

“Fulwell has more than a thousand years of history, and our tapestry will portray the area from the time of Venerable Bede up to the present day.”

Once finished, the 100ft tapestry depicted dozens of historical highlights, including a path used by monks which ran through Fulwell in Bede’s day.

The invasion of the Scots, a Civil War battle in Southwick, the aftermath of World War Two and landmarks such as Fulwell Mill were also featured.

Other highlights included beach views, Sea Lane in 1790, Ebdon’s Farm and a 14th century scene from the Black Death period - when four locals died.

Even the Echo scooped a place in the tapestry – when volunteer Maureen Pennell put an advert for the newspaper on her picture of an open-top tram.

“People from across Sunderland were invited to help out, and we had several elderly and housebound volunteers who sewed for us,” recalls Connie.

“We received wonderful support.

“It was a real community effort bringing people together to produce something spectacular to mark the Millennium.”

The completed work of embroidery art was finally unveiled at Fulwell Community Centre as part of the Fulwell Festival in 2000 – to great acclaim.

And today the tapestry – which was framed by Fulwell Community Association at a cost of nearly £1,000 – can be hired by schools and local groups.

“Fulwell has a rich history and Dennis wanted to celebrate that,” said Connie.

“I’m sure he would be proud to know that his work still lives on.

“My talk will feature the background to the tapestry, as well as information on some of the scenes.

“I hope people will find it interesting.”

l The Fulwell Society will host Connie’s tapestry talk at Fulwell Community Centre on Tuesday, May 6, from 7.30pm. All welcome.