Cathedral Kneeler Embroidered in 1964 Returned To Creator 60 Years Later

Josie Sinclair was just 12 years old when she took part in the Cathedral’s kneeler project in 1964 and had the honour of being the youngest embroider to provide one of the one thousand kneelers gifted to St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Now, 60 years later, she has taken her kneeler home to her church in Haughley.


Almost 1000 kneelers were created in the 1960s to celebrate the Cathedral’s extension. Oswald and Grace Sitwell approached the Provost at the time, the Very Reverend John Waddington, and asked he if would like new kneelers for the Cathedral. He agreed and it was decided that each parish in the diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich would make two kneelers each.

This is where people like Josie came in. Across the county, those with a talent for embroidery were recruited by their church to make a kneeler. The aim was to have kneelers which looked like a ‘set’ with uniformity of colour. Each kneeler was to have a ‘Y’ cross worked in red and gold with the stem starting at the bottom centre and the arms reaching to the two top corners. This is an early Christian symbol. The rest of the kneeler was to be blue, a traditional colour of Suffolk cloth, which was widely sold in the medieval period. Lighter blues would be at the top between the arms of the Y and darker blues for the rest. Each parish was invited to choose a symbol to reflect their location, either linked to the dedication of the church or a local landmark. Finally, the name of the parish was added to the bottom of the kneeler.


When Josie was asked to create a kneeler for her parish church in Haughley, she was twelve years old and known to have a talent for sewing. She said, “I’ve been singing in the Haughley church choir since I was about six or seven, and I’m still singing there now. Someone at church must have asked me to make our church kneeler as I had made tapestries before, but I don’t remember too much about the project as I was so young.”


Josie, who at the time was a pupil at Bacton Modern School, later went on to attend the London College of Fashion. She became a dressmaker and has worked in the industry ever since.


The aim was for the project to be self-supporting. The cost of the materials for one kneeler was one guinea and most of the stitchers covered their own costs. When that was not possible, the PCC or the Mothers’ Union stepped in. The canvas used was a French type with fourteen threads to the inch. The wool was ‘crewel’, a fine wool with several strands used at once. The individual stitchers were able to choose their own stitches and how they were worked.


Other organisations, such as schools and churches of other denominations later came on board and the kneelers were dedicated at a Festival service on 25 July 1970. Since then, they have been used and admired by countless visitors and worshippers at the Cathedral.


In March 2024, the Victorian pews in the Nave, on and under which the kneelers had been used for over five decades, were replaced with chairs. A new arrangement was needed for the kneelers; 500 would remain in the Cathedral, where they have been alphabetised and made more easily accessible for visitors to view. The additional kneeler for each parish was then offered back to the church, or in cases like Josie, to the person who sewed it or a relative.


The Cathedral kneelers are located in the North Transept gallery, Chapels of St Edmund and Transfiguration and the Chancel as a visible sign of the connection between the parishes of the Diocese and the Cathedral.