This article is taken from the PowerPoint presentation on the Kneelers of Steep church given to the Steep History Group in February 2019.
The kneelers of Steep church feature in the book, “Embroidered Church Kneelers” by Barbara Thomson and Wendy Trewin:
Gardeners rush to eradicate lawn weeds as soon as they dare to appear. At Steep in Hampshire, Canon Douglas Snelgar decided to commemorate them on the kneelers….so sprigs of dandelion and daisy are at the centre of two of the150 kneelers he designed. As none is alike, the variety is astonishing and yet there is a symmetry about the project as a whole. The emphasis is on design not on pictorial effect. The treatment of, say, oak leaves and acorns, or sprays of holly or mistletoe, seems made for the purpose. Four bullfinches fly with their wing tips touching and beaks facing inwards: spotted toadstools form a pattern; bats, butterflies, blackberries, apple blossom, ferns, rabbits, hedgehogs, trout, primroses – all these and many more, stand out on dark or light blue backgrounds framed by a thin yellow border. A splendid game bird graces one kneeler. ‘It doesn’t really belong to Steep, but when it fell into the vicarage garden, although it soon flew away, I felt it should be included,’ Canon Snelgar explained. …….he knows the flora and fauna brought to the village as the seasons come and go.
There are/were about 150 kneelers. They include:
16 animals, reptiles, snails 21 birds 3 fish & amphibians 13 insects 51 plants & flowers 30 trees & shrubs 2 fungi 3 Corn 2 extra large ones: the vicar’s kneeler & the bishop’s kneeler 8 Miscellaneous
How did they come about? When were they made?
Anne Winscom’s account of the kneelers states:
In 1967 the kneelers in the church were a mixed bunch covered in either rexine or cloth of varying sizes. A meeting was held at the Vicarage. About a dozen ladies attended. The Vicar produced some designs. Mrs. B. Harcourt-Powell agreed to take charge of the materials, issuing them as required. (Bettina Harcourt-Powell lived at Venables at Steep Marsh in 1979.)
The first kneelers were of a variety of subjects:
- the All Saints’ and Diocesan motifs
- a naval badge
- the church bells
- the Bedales Rose badge
- natural history of the area
It was then decided that the rest of the kneelers should represent the natural history of the area. No more miscellaneous subjects were produced. Kneelers made 1967 – 1980.
What was going on at Steep church when the decision to create the kneelers was made?
1957 Douglas Snelgar appointed vicar of Steep
1961 Faculty for: Installation of new north porch doors Extension of porch light Formation of a chapel at east end of north aisle
1966 Faculty for: Underground electricity to replace overhead cables Repair to coping stones & rendering of external walls Insulation of chancel roof Brass chandelier installed in chancel
1967 The decision to create the kneelers was made
Dec 1968 Centenary: 100 years since All Saints’ became a parish in its own right.
Dec 1968 Centenary: 100 years since All Saints’ became a parish in its own right.
1969 Faculty applied for to cover the following:
- Chancel improvements
- Removal of the rood screen
- Conversion of church heating to oil
- New safe installed for C16 chalice
- Existing safe built in
- New locks & bolts on a number of doors
- Vestry redecorated with new hanging cupboards & shelves
- New fire extinguisher
- Churchyard improvements – lowering of mounds & removal of uninscribed kerbs
1969 New lectern made by Hugh Routh
Aug & Sept 1969 All Saints’ centenary celebrations:
- Pony gymkhana in vicarage garden
- Walking of the bounds
- Invitation dance at vicarage
- Flower Festival over 3 days
- Display of church silver & records
- Choral music concert
- Flower arranging demonstration
- Music & poetry evening
- Jumble sale
- Social evening at village hall
- Dunhurst School choir leading the Harvest Festival service at Steep
THE DESIGNERS OF THE KNEELERS:
- 115 kneelers were designed by Canon Douglas J Snelgar – he was vicar at the time they were made.
- The rest were designed mostly by members of the parish:
- 15 by Anne Winscom
- 4 by Joan Coles & Anne Winscom jointly
- 4 by Cicely Ilbert
- 3 by a lady from Brighton Art College, name unknown
- 2 by Sydney Spragg (father of Joy Clarke, who lived at Restalls)
- 1 each by:
- Cecily Alder
- Joan Coles
- Phyllis Dacam
- Betty Haggard
- Ann Mills
- Marianne Routh
- Mary Queen of Scots
- THE MAKERS About 60 people worked on the project which took 13 years. (1967 – 1980)
THE BACKGROUND COLOURS OF THE KNEELERS:
- Gold – this was to be the colour for those in the side chapel
- Initially 4 other colours were to be used:
- Dark green
- Pale leaf/olive green
- but it was soon found that two colours produced a better effect.
- Dark green & blue green were chosen.
HOW WERE THE DESIGNS DONE?
They were drawn on graph paper 10 squares to the inch. This corresponded to the double thread canvas of 10 stitches to the inch. The vicar Canon Douglas Snelgar did most of the drawings and designs.
THE 1967 – 1976 FIRST STAGE OF THE PROJECT
By 1976, nearly ten years after the project started, 60 kneelers had been produced. Average of 6 – 7 kneelers per year produced Mrs Harcourt-Powell was ill & could not continue. Anne Winscom took over the organisation.
1976 – 1980 SECOND STAGE UNDER ANNE WINSCOM
New people joined the sewing team. More designs were produced. 60 more kneelers were completed. Average of 15 kneelers per year produced
149 kneelers were completed.
THE MATERIALS USED
Double thread canvas of 10 stitches to the inch was used. Appleton’s crewel wool was used, 3 strands at a time. Each colour shade of the wool had a unique number:
- Light background was no. 154 (LB)
- Dark background was no. 158 (DB)
- Green background shade was Mid Olive’ no. 342 (Gr)
- Gold background shade no. 842 (G) The canvas
- Gold border shade no. 844
- Supplies of all the shades were obtained by the church and issued to the makers.
This made for a co-ordinated whole in both quality and colour shades. The use of the above materials produced a particularly fine design/picture, which is unique to the Steep kneelers. Other churches have similar embroidered kneelers, but the results are often more crude, with thicker wool and perhaps a different gauge of canvas used.
The Wools used
Meticulous records were kept. Anne Winscom’s folder in the church archives cupboard has several pages recording the numbers of the wools used and where they were kept.
THE STITCHES USED
The tops (the face with the pictures) were worked in cross stitch. The sides were a variety of stitches of the makers’ choice:
- Long legged cross stitch
- Rice stitch
- Oblong cross stitch
- Florentine stitch
Some makers added their initials & date on the side.
KNEELER WORKING PARTIES
In the later 1970s an announcement was printed in the Steep newsletter each month: The kneeler working party would be meeting on the first Thursday of the month at a particular house (often Oakley Cottage – that of Marianne Routh, or at the vicarage). Those who wished, brought the kneelers on which they were working, chatting to each other as they sewed. The Kneeler Working Parties became a significant social group within the village of Steep. When all the kneelers had been completed, ladies continued to meet in their groups over tea or coffee, for companionship and conversation for many years to follow. HOW were the designs of the kneelers allocated to the makers? Carol Glover remembered that makers would attend a kneeler working party. A large pile of designs would be brought to the party by Anne Winscom. Those who had volunteered to sew were able to choose from the drawings which kneeler they wished to make. They then took the design, canvas and wools home and began to make a kneeler. At the time. Diana Parker was based in Singapore with husband, Blake, R.N. When their son returned in the holidays from his UK boarding school, the kneeler design and materials were sent with him to Singapore. Diana opened the package & an ivy leaf fell out. She was to sew the ‘Ivy’ design L33. The leaf had been included by Douglas to ensure authenticity in the sewn design.
THE MAKING UP OF THE KNEELERS
The foam for the insides came from a shop in Portsmouth. Wooden bases were supplied by a local carpenter. The first kneeler had been made up by an upholsterer, but it was expensive. Douglas Snelgar studied what had been done & then made up the rest himself. (At the time, he was vicar of Steep only. Froxfield & Privett were then a separate parish.) Later in the 1980s, it was decided to add buttons/feet to each kneeler in order to stop wear when the material rubbed against the floor. Brian Keys remembers this happening. BY WHOM WERE THEY MADE? Ann Winscom seems to have been one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Steep kneelers 1976 – 80. A number of the ladies who embroidered them were her neighbours, friends or relatives or attended Stroud church. The makers did not all come from Steep & Stroud. Some came from Petersfield, Emsworth, Liphook & further afield. Many of the people who designed or made the kneelers have now died. (Feb. 2019)
Ann Winscom’s 15 designs:
- Cabbage White Butterflies DB (worked by Barbara Brierley)
- Cows(worked by herself)
- Elderflower LB (worked by Jennifer Hunt)
- Fritillary butterflies LB (worked by Muriel/Mary Bostock)
- Hare DB (worked by herself)
- Hawthorn LB (worked by Elizabeth Brooke)
- Hens LB (worked by Mrs L Slayter)
- Kingfisher DB (worked by herself)
- Mushrooms DB(worked by Willie Higgs)
- Oak leaves DB (worked by Fanny Slater)
- Oak Leaves LB(worked by herself)
- Snails DB (worked by Carol Glover)
- Wood Anemone DB(worked by Nancy Klitz)
- Wrens LB(worked by Joan Coles)
- Yellow Brimstone butterflies DB (worked by Alison Hunt & Ann Winscom)
Ann Winscom sewed 13 kneelers herself & helped with others.
Anne W. also made: Apple Blossom Bees Blackberry Cow Parsley Cows Dandelion clocks Hare Hedgehogs Hens Lime Oak leaves LB Poppy Yellow brimstone butterflies Cabbage white butterflies Hawthorn
He was the eldest of 3 sons of Mr & Mrs J T Snelgar. 1917 Born in Catford, East London. On leaving school he worked with deprived people at the East London Mission and had aimed to join the probation service. He loved acting. He had always loved to draw and paint but had no formal art training. He did a BA History degree. He worked very briefly for an interior design company who made Parker Knoll chairs. He was a conscientious objector at the onset of WWII and was sent to work on a farm in Buckinghamshire. After the London Blitz of 1940, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (London) as an ordinary seaman. He was soon sent for officer training and became Sub Lieutenant. WWII service 1943 – 1946
- 15/7/1943 his rank was listed as Temporary Sub Lieutenant
- 15/12/1943 was Commanding Officer on HDML boat 1051
- 1943 – 1945 seems to have been part of secret operations in the Mediterranean.
- He was MID (Mentioned in Dispatches)1945 Awarded the DSC (Distinguished Service Cross) for his war service to Greece.
- Served on HDML boat 1023
- Then at HMS Mosquito shore base Alexandria.
- 1946 at HMS Lanka in Columbo where he performed a mainly desk job for Special Operations.
In 1943 he took it from South Africa, up the east coast of Africa and through the Red Sea, for service in the eastern Mediterranean He also saw service on HDML boat 1023. In HDML boats like these, Douglas took part in secret operations. It is believed they were involved in landing and taking off troops/commandos and others from the island of Crete and possibly other nearby locations. Douglas was awarded the DSC for this service. After WWII Douglas went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He gained an M.A. in theology. He then trained for the priesthood at Westcott House Cambridge. Ordained in 1950, he was a curate St Peter and St Paul, Fareham 1951-3 and then curate at Holy Trinity, Ventnor, Isle of Wight 1953 onwards. April 1955 he married Pamela Anne Roberts at the church of St Peter and St Paul, Fareham. She was the daughter of Portsmouth diocesan Archdeacon Edward Roberts at the time. He later became Bishop of Ely. 1957 Douglas Snelgar became vicar of Steep After 35 years in Steep he retired to Harting in 1992. He died in 2008 & is buried in Steep churchyard.
Other main makers and designers of the kneelers:
Carol Glover – sewed 11 kneelers: Bats DB Bulrushes LB Buttercups DB Daisies DB Dandelions DB Gorse LB Jay LB Plantain DB Snails DB Weasels DB Yew LB
Cicely Alder – sewed 11 kneelers & helped with 2 others
Mrs Cicely Alder, 1901-1993. She lived at Hillside, Harrow Lane with husband Leonard, an Admiralty scientist. Was passionate about crafts, creativity, needlework. She is buried at Petersfield cemetery
Muriel Mary Bostock sewed 5 kneelers
1924 – 1992 she was Cicely’s daughter, mother of Simon & Martin. Buried Petersfield
Joan Coles sewed 11 kneelers
Other workers of the kneelers:
Kathleen Dunn – 7 kneelers – catkins, convolvulus, goldfinches, honeysuckle, ivy, hops, mistletoe
Kay Bennett – 5 kneelers – badgers, bryony, spindleberry, horse chestnut, squirrel
Jennifer Hunt – 4 kneelers – coltsfoot, swallows, tiger moth, elderflower (Wife of Peter Hunt, lived at Old Chapel, Stroud)
Elizabeth Brooke – 3 kneelers – adder, grasshopper, hawthorn
Margaret Brooke – 3 kneelers – All Saints’ motif, aspen, doves on basin
Marianne Routh – 2 kneelers – cowslips, snowdrops (bunches)
Joy Clarke – 2 kneelers – adders, swallows
Fanny Slater – 3 kneelers – fritillary flowers, meadowsweet, oak leaves
Pam &/or Douglas Snelgar (with Joan Coles) – 1 large kneeler – Lord Chancellor’s Coat of Arms
Jean Clare (Sue Coles’ mother) & Sue Coles – 1 kneeler – rook
Diana Parker – 1 kneeler – ivy (worked in Singapore)
Joan Snow – 1 kneeler – thrushes
Diana Snow – 1 kneeler – periwinkle
The design drawings and designers
But before any of the kneelers could be worked, a pattern drawing was required to show where the stitches for the design would go. These were done on graph paper corresponding to the gauge of the tapestry canvas used. These drawings on graph paper, with pale pencil colouring are still in the possession of the Snelgar/Burnell family.
Douglas Snelgar designed 115 kneelers, so would have produced working pattern drawings for all of these.
Anne Winscom produced 15 designs + 4 designs jointly with Joan Coles
Joan Coles produced 1 design herself + 4 designs jointly with Anne W
Cecily Ilbert produced 4 designs
Brighton Art College lady 3 designs
Sydney Spragg (Joy Clarke’s father) 2 designs
Phyllis Dacam, Betty Haggard, Ann Mills produced 1 each
One came from a Mary Queen of Scots design.
How was the making of the kneelers funded?
A number of people paid for their own materials. Old newspapers were collected & sold. Originally it had been estimated that each kneeler would cost £3 to make. This rose as years progressed.
Where were the Kneelers made?
Many were made locally in Steep and Stroud. Others by people who lived in Petersfield. Kneelers were also worked in:
- Naval wives took them with them when they went abroad with their husbands
- People took them on holiday with them
The end panels
Many end panels are plain cross stitch. Some makers took particular pains to make sure that the side panels also were decorative.
Those with a Bedales connection who made kneelers:
- Kay Bennett – 5 (badgers, bryony, horse chestnut, spindleberry, squirrel)d. 2017 Sports teacher, wife of Ben
- Irene Bright – 3 (Bedales Rose, owls, peregrine). d. 1990 Housekeeper at Bedales
- Amy Clarke – 1 (primrose) d. 1972 Former Head of Dunhurst School
- Daphne Crocker – (spindleberry with Kay Bennett) d. 1981 Head’s secretary, wife of Bill, Head of science
- Persis Freer – 1 (HMS Jupiter crest, in memory of Mrs Sonia Blake’s husband) d. 1987 Housekeeper & matron at Bedales
- Veronica Chater – 1 (Thistles) Housekeeper at Bedales
- Joan Gardner – 1 (Bedales Rose) d. 2009 Wife of Harold, former Head of English
- Muriel Gimson – 1 (squirrel with Kay Bennett) d. 1970 Former teacher, wife of Basil
- Cecily Roberts – 1 (bells) d. 2005 Bursar’s secretary, bell ringer
- Marianne Routh – 2 (cowslips. snowdrop bunches) d. 2006 District nurse, wife of Andrew, biology teacher
- Bunty Shaw – 3 (blackberry, hares, scarlet pimpernel) d. 1997, lived next to The White House, Bell Hill Wife of Tubby, groundsman
- Christine Smith – 1 (fir trees) Dunhurst Groups teacher
- Sophy Tatchell – 1 (bracken) d. 2014 Head of Dunannie
- Fanny Slater – 3 (fritillary flowers, meadowsweet, oak leaves) d. 2002 lived at Sandsbury Cottage, geography teacher at Petersfield School & Oxfam shop volunteer, wife of Bill Slater, teacher of geography and economics at Bedales.
- Elizabeth Brooke – 3 (Adders, grasshopper, hawthorn) Former pupil poss. lived on Bell Hill
And who were all the others who made the kneelers?
- Aline Robertson a bell ringer, lived near Tankerdale
- Alison Hunt daughter of Anne Wincom
- Ann Mills lived at Stonerdale 1970s-80s did fine sewing & design
- Anne Hartley mother of John, wife of Richard Hartley, local vetAnn Stubbs ‘lived at Hindhead Miss Steele’s niece’ – from DJS notes
- Anne Winscom d. 2015 of The Red House Stroud, churchwarden, wife of Peter, Stroud farmer
- Barbara Brierley (Miss) friend of Miss Ethel Benjafield. Who was she?
- Betty Bicknell lived at Island Croft
- Dr Betty Evans Cecily Ilbert’s cousin
- Carol Glover lives at Drakelowe Church Road, prev Upper Ashford Lodge wid of Maj Robin Glover
- Cicely Ilbert artist, former wife of Dr Robin Ilbert, lived at Little Shackles Harrow Lane
- Cicely Alder 1901-1993 lived at Hillside Harrow Lane, loved crafts & needlework, wife of Leonard Admiralty scientist, mother of Mary (Muriel) Bostock.
- Daphne Gray lived at Garden Hill Cottage, husband Tim ex para ran printing works in Liss
- Diana Parker lives at Whytton House, Steep, wife of Capt Blake Parker RN
- Diana Snow Joan Snow’s daughter in law lived at Liphook /Bramshott orig from Liss
- Miss Dorothy Blake friend of Mrs V. Patterson
- Elizabeth Brooke worked 3 kneelers, possibly daughter of Margaret Brooke, went to Bedales, may have lived Bell Hill
- Ida Greenwell lived at Berryfield, wife of Brig. Philip Greenwell
- Jan Mason Anne Winscom’s sister in law, now Jan Cole
- Jean Clare mother of Sue Coles of Aldersnapp Farm
- Jennifer Hunt lived at The Old Chapel, Stroud, Peter Hunt’s first wife
- Joan Child lived at Lowood, Ridge Common Lane, next to Stroud church, military husband, moved to Sussex
- Joan Coles Richard’s mother, lived at Aldersnapp Farm
- Joan Fanshaw d. 2018 Lived at Freshwater House Stroud. WWII plotter at Bentley Priory, wife of Tom, Captain RN
- Joan Fiddian-Green lived at the Butts, Steep
- Joan Snow d. 2015 of Rothercombe Farm
- Joy Clarke d 2017 lived at Restalls, church flower arranger, wife of Maj Denis Clarke
- Joyce Walker Daphne Gray’s sister
- Judith Hunziker daughter of Mr & Mrs Charles Morris of Underhangers, The Island, lived in USA
- Kate Hargreaves lived at Wetherbury, Alton Rd. Steep, attended St Peter’s church
- Kathleen Dunn 1913-1997 Kathleen Olive Dunn possibly lived at Waggoners, near Tankerdale
- Lady Doris Blacker d. 1983 J.P., of Coldhayes Steep Marsh, Mother of Brian & David, wife of Lt Col Latham Blacker
- L. Slaytor Joan Coles cousin lived at Emsworth married Canadian John Slayter adopted 4 children
- Margaret Brooke worked 4 kneelers. Hugh Routh thinks family lived on Bell Hill. Wife of Norman Brooke, mother of Elizabeth Brooke who went to Bedales & also worked kneelers
- Moyra Massey Lived at Winters Cottage, Ridge Common Lane, now in Petersfield
- Midge Boyall of Island Chase, wife of Commander Anthony Boyall RN
- Mary (Muriel) Bostock 1924-1992 Cicely Alder’s daughter, mother of Martin & Simon, buried Petersfield
- Nancy Klitz lived at Crees Corner, wife of John Klitz architectural engineer
- Pam Snelgar née Roberts, wife of Douglas
- Philippa Miles wife of Peter, discount broker, living at Little Langleys in 1964. He was keeper of the Queen’s privy purse. Bought LL from the Spencer Churchills, made beautiful garden
- Phyllis Dacam Lived at Stroud, then Hazelbank Close Petersfield ex naval family
- Rosemary Swan former Steep School & Dunhurst teacher. Lived at Clare Gardens Petersfield
- Sheila Balfour lived at 57 Bell Hill, husband RN moved to Buriton then Dorset
- Stella Wright Mother in law of Judith Wright of Stroud
- Wenda Roddis Steep School assistant staff
- Veronica Chater Bedales housekeeper
- Mrs V Patterson lived at Bell Hill Ridge
- Willie Higgs d. 2014 lived at Stroudbridge Cottage, Stroud
The ones about whom we know nothing & are seeking information:
- Ann Stubbs
- Barbara Brierley
- Dorothy Blake
- Kathleen Dunn
- V. Patterson
Some makers left their initials on the end panels of their kneelers
We are trying to collect photographs of all those who made the Steep kneelers. So far, we only have the following pictures.
If you have a photograph of someone who made a kneeler, please send it in to us, so that we can add it to our Steep History archive collection. firstname.lastname@example.org
As of February 2019, the following kneelers are missing.
The pictures below are copies of old photographs of the missing items.
Information on Canon Douglas Snelgar from:
Canon Douglas Snelgar DSC., M.A. – Address by Blake Parker July 2008 The London Gazette 14 August 1945 Conversation with Sarah Burnell Photographs of Douglas Snelgar and others from Steep church archives
HDML boats: (Harbour Defence Motor Launch boats) – hmsmedusa.org.uk
Information on the people who worked on the kneelers from:
Conversation with Carol Glover 2018 Conversation with Richard & Sue Coles 2018 Handwritten and typed sheets of information from Douglas Snelgar in the Snelgar/Burnell family archive Two folders of information on the kneelers in Steep church archives compiled by Cecily Roberts, Anne Winscom & others
Information on the process of creating the kneelers from:
Typed information sheet produced in 1989 by Anne Winscom
Richard & Sue Coles, Gill Wicksteed, Clinton Brown, Martin Bostock, Fran Box, Petersfield Post, Bedales Archives
Embroidered Church Kneelers by Barbara Thomson & Wendy Trewin pub Batsford 1987
With thanks to the John Owen, vicar of All Saints’ Steep and to its PCC for permitting access to the kneelers and to the church archives.