In this time of general election excitement it seems apt to reflect on the past and those who campaigned for our right to vote.
This hanging from our collection is believed to celebrate the passing of the Great Reform Act of 1832. The act was passed after many years of petitioning and popular agitation about the abuses and corruptions within the system for electing MPs. New boroughs were created, in the emerging industrial cities in the north, by taking away seats from the ‘rotten boroughs’, where hardly anyone lived. The act also widen the electorate giving more men the vote (No women quite yet!).
Although the origins of this hanging are unclear it is the imagery found on the hanging and also the history of these types of textiles that bring us to believe it is making a political statement supporting parliamentary reform. The central panel of the hanging appears to depict the heads of Lord John Russell and Earl Grey who pushed the act through Parliament. The hanging is made using a technique known as inlaid patchwork, whereby woollen cloth is inlaid and sewn together to make up the design. The technique was usually worked by tailors recycling the off-cuts of their trade. Tailors, in 1832, would had been one section of society that probably benefited from the Great Reform Act.
This hanging is currently in Bautzen, Germany as part of a touring exhibition of Inlaid Patchwork. But it will be returning to Leeds, as the exhibition is coming to the Art Gallery at the end of August.