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This week marks the centenary of the St Fagans Red Cross VAD Hospital which opened in the grounds of St Fagans Castle on 22 March 1916. This blog looks at three examples of needlework made by serving soldiers from the collection, including a delicate piece of beadwork hand-crafted by a patient at the St Fagans auxiliary hospital.

Patchwork chest of drawers cover (1883)

Richard Evans from Llanbrynmair served with the Army in India. While stationed there in 1883, he supposedly made this striking patchwork chest of drawers cover as a present for his mother. The back is marked with a handwritten dedication in black ink: Rhodd i fy mam Sarah Evans 1883 (A gift for my mother Sarah Evans 1883).

The bold geometric design is stylistically very similar to other patchworks made by soldiers of this period. The Victoria & Albert Museum has a large bedcover in its collection attributed to Private Francis Brayley, whose regiment was based in India between 1864 and 1877. Both Richard Evans and Francis Brayley made their patchworks from thick woollen cloths, likely to be off-cuts or remnants of military uniforms.

Needlework was considered a very useful skill for soldiers to learn, not only to maintain and repair their kit, but also as a method of relaxation – a distraction from the temptations of alcohol and gambling. Textile crafts were also used as occupational therapy for injured soldiers, as depicted by the artist Thomas William Wood in his painting of Private Thomas Walker. Held by the Hunterian Museum, the painting shows the convalescing soldier stitching a patchwork quilt from his sick-bed.

Sweetheart pincushion (1914 - 1918)

Private Brinley Rhys Edmunds from Barry died of dysentery while imprisoned at Konigsbruck in September 1918. During the War, he made this heart-shaped pincushion for his mother – possibly at a military training camp or barracks. The centre of the pincushion features the insignia of the Welsh Regiment and the motto Gwell Angau na Chywilydd (Better Death than Dishonour). Known as ‘sweetheart’ pincushions, many thousands have survived in museums and family collections, although very little is known about their production and distribution. The uniformity of these pincushions suggests they were produced as craft kits for soldiers and civilians to assemble.

Beadwork butterfly (1918)

Corporal Walter Stinson, a painter from Battersea, was a patient at the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital in early 1918. While recuperating from injuries sustained in France, he made this intricate butterfly belt buckle from tiny glass beads. It seems that he and his fellow patients made and sold similar pieces in aid of the Evening Express Prisoners of War Fund. The following note was published in the Western Mail on 19 April 1918.

Yesterday’s total of £38 15s 6d sent to the Evening Express Prisoners of War Fund included… £10 from the patients at St Fagans Red Cross VAD Hospital (proceeds of bead work).

According to Walter Stinson’s descendants, the Prince of Wales bought one of his pieces at an exhibition in Cardiff. He was discharged from the Army on 3 December 1918 for being no longer physically fit for service.

To discover more about the use of textiles and needlework to commemorate, celebrate, mourn and heal during the First World War, take a look at Amgueddfa Cymru's online collections database. And as we continue to mark the centenary of the St Fagans Red Cross Hospital, follow the hashtags #Hospital100 #Ysbyty100 on Twitter.

 

 

Elen Phillips

Principal Curator Contemporary & Community History
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Comments(1)

Val Shields
26 March 2016, 16:29
Delighted to discover this new blog! Thanks to the Quilt Association and Elen Phillips of St. Fagan's.

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