Aberdare Boys Grammar School
The Cynon Valley Millennium Tapestry, with a panel depicting an Aberdare Boys School rugby XV playing a Mountain Ash school XV
from Bourke Le Carpentier
The Story of the Cynon Valley Millennium Tapestries
by Bourke A. Le Carpentier
In 1972, Joan Le Carpentier, from Abernant in the Cynon Valley, South Wales, not long married and with a baby daughter, became interested in needlepoint tapestry and bought herself a kit depicting the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. This was a large canvas for a beginner but she made light work of it and it hangs in its picture frame, among many others, at her home to this day. It was during that time that her husband suggested an original tapestry should be created showing aspects of the Cynon Valley. He had the Bayeux Tapestry in mind as a basis for the style, with a main theme running along the centre, from left to right, and borders top and bottom showing peripheral subjects. As you read this, you can probably imagine the familiar soldiers and war-horses replaced by coal miners in various hard working poses wielding pick and shovel, loading drams with coal and leading the pit ponies along the dark workings. The top border would show pit surface buildings and winding gear with terraced houses in the background. The bottom border, other items of historic interest.
The idea lay dormant for years and during this time Joan became a tutor at evening classes, teaching tapestry and embroidery. She also opened a sewing craft and haberdashery outlet, Aberdare Spinners, in the Aberdare Market Hall. Then one day in 1998 the "local tapestry" idea was mentioned at evening classes, at a time when the Adult Education Department was looking out for some prestigious project to represent evening classes and celebrate the approaching New Millennium. The suggestion was seized upon with enthusiasm and the project took off within days, with the blessing of everyone concerned and of many who weren't.
The highly regarded Cynon Valley History Society was invited to become involved. Thankfully the members agreed and they formed a sub-committee to work on a list of subjects to be included. In meetings held subsequently to discuss these matters, it became obvious that the difficulty was in deciding what to leave out rather than in what to include.
Brilliant lateral thinking
One example will suffice to illustrate a typical problem. A rugby game was to feature prominently, but there were at least half a dozen clubs in the valley. Which teams were to be left out? After much wringing of hands and head scratching, the History Society Chairman, Bryn Davies, solved the puzzle. There were, he pointed out, only two grammar schools in the valley, so the rugby scene would feature a game between them. This would surely not upset any adult club. Problem solved.
The learning curve
A small selection of people was to become responsible for the actual design with the late Goronwy Owen, the versatile local artist taking on the task of creating original portrait paintings and other drawings. This involved much research and experimentation on his part.
These paintings were then to be computer scanned and processed into tapestry graphs for the evening class students to follow. This way of thinking was quite new to some and it took a while for the method to be accepted and the learning curve to evolve into a straight line. But as can be seen from the finished work, they got there in the end.
The overall plan
It was decided, there were to be four tapestry panels, each 5 feet wide by 3 feet high and separately picture framed. Number 1 would cover aspects at the top of the valley, Rhigos, Penderyn, Hirwaun, and Penywaun. Number 2 would cover Aberdare, Trecynon, Llwydcoed and Cwmdare, for instance. Number 3, Aberaman, Abercwmboi, Cwmaman, Cwmbach. Number 4, Mountain Ash, Penrhiwceiber, and Abercynon, including Cefn Pennar and Llanwonno. We are then, looking from the south-west to the north-east, though this could not be interpreted too strictly. Each panel would feature a top and bottom border treated more or less loosely, also a main theme running through the middle and a very prominent portrait of a person of particular note in the history of the valley. These portraits were to be of two men and two women.
The influence of The Bayeux Tapestry layout can hardly be seen, the top and bottom borders with main theme running through the centre. The biggest influence on the design however, was probably the Occupation Liberation Tapestries in Jersey, Channel Islands and we offer our respects to Mr Wayne Audrain their designer for a style that could hardly be surpassed.
Between the second and third main panels there is a small additional tapestry that
lists all the stitchers who worked on the project. An image of this is shown below,
followed by a transcript. Eagle-eyed readers will spot the name of the school secretary
of the Boys’ School, the late Mrs Jennie Williams.
Caroline E. Battenbo
Barbara A. Evans
Myra K. Gordon
Jacqueline E. Jenkins
Margaret M. John
Freda M. Marty
Glenda M. Morris
Debra D. Munday
Frances M. Phillips
Marina M. Watts
Elena M. Williams
Gwyneth M. Bond
Wendy A. Collins
Isabel M. Evans
Gwyneth N. John
Gladys M. Morgan
Grace E. O’Shea
Sheryl Van Baaren
Adult Education Co-ordinator Alison Isaacs.
Project Artist and Designer Goronwy Owen.
Project Photographer John Abbott.
Class Tutor Joan Le Carpentier.
Originator and Designer Bourke A. Le Carpentier.
With The Valued Assistance of
The Cynon Valley History Society.