Cope Hood sewn by SSB. Click on the image for a set of vestment photos.

The need for vestments and hangings for the Community use saw the founding of the work-room at Lloyd Square in London in 1873. In the Chronicles of 1876 we read that Sister Grace made a funeral pall of grey and gold. The School of Embroidery was opened a few years later at No 6 Lloyd Street. The income from the School of Embroidery helped to fund the other work carried out by the Community – their Orphanage and parish work. Girls for training were received and orders from outside were accepted. By 1883 Embroidery lessons were given at the Bournemouth Convent.

In 1883, Sir Ninian Comper began a life-long partnership with School, for which he was still remembered at the Centenary Celebrations of the Founding of the Community, in 1966, for a “long and fruitful association”.

In 1887, the first official Sister-in-Charge of the Embroidery School was appointed. Sister Eliza Christina worked with her assistants Sister Ellen and Sister Ellen Joanna. The Sisters’ aim of producing work worthy to stand in the great tradition of English ecclesiastical embroidery was greatly advanced by Comper’s guidance and patient training of workers to carry out his exquisite designs.

During 1892/3 Sister Anna Mary succeeded as Sister-in-Charge until her death in 1922. She was well remembered for all the help to poor churches and caring for the young girls who came to the School for training and to work at the age of 14.

From 1893 silk brocade and damask, cloth of gold, linen and tapestry were woven to his design by a firm of Spitalfields weavers, M Perkins & Son, of Curtain Road, Shoreditch and dyed by Wardle & Co of Leek, using Chinese compounds for their purity of colour. The textiles were sold commercially, although primarily designed for Comper’s own use.

Increased orders necessitated engaging good secular staff; Miss Hetty Worrell acted as Head Embroideress, followed by Miss Emma Walker and Miss Clara Jay, all trained within the School under Comper. In later years Winnie Peppiatt was conspicuous for the excellence of her work. Mary Davis, embroideress from an early age, gave up embroidery for the less glamorous “making up”. This making up of vestments, frontals, banners and mitres is by far the more difficult task, as fabrics, embroideries and lining need to be brought together in such a way as to “hang well” when finished. Mary explained this side of the making and remounting of Vestments during her talk on Associates’ Day in 2005.

An exhibition of work by the Sisters since the beginning of the Embroidery School was held in 1972 at the former convent at Bournemouth. Exhibits were collected from around the country and were a fitting tribute to the closure of the School of Embroidery of the Sisters of Bethany which occurred a few months after the Exhibition.