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Agnes Blencowe
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Agnes Blencowe

Miss Blencowe was the sister of The Reverend Edward Everard Blencowe, Rector of this parish from 1831 to 1869, for whom she acted as housekeeper.

She was highly influential in the design of English Church Embroidery and together with the sister of the church architect George Edmund Street, founded in 1854 the Ladies Ecclesiastical Embroidery Society. Three examples of her work are still in use in this church: the white frontal on the altar in the south aisle and a red and a green stole.

In 1848 she published two plates of floral patterns from medieval vestments and furnishings, drawn full-size. In 1894 she was the author of a much acclaimed publication called 'Design for Church Furnishings'.

Some Anglican Convents had Embroidery Schools and workrooms. These were a haven for talented women, many of whom were directly involved in the design of church embroidery. Agnes Blencowe remains the best documented among them.

Under the guidance of Miss Blencowe, the embroidery room at St. Mary the Virgin, Wantage, was opened in 1866. Orders began to pour in and the workroom quickly became known for the high quality of its embroidery. Sister Agnes became an exterior sister in 1863 and professed in 1872. She ran the embroidery room for some twenty years, training and supervising many needlewomen, until blindness prevailed. She died in 1896.

This workroom survived into the 1970s.

Sister Agnes often told the story of her encounter with the disregard of canon law on a visit to a parish church in Norfolk with her brother. On entering the church they were surprised to find no altar, and when they asked where it was, the parish clerk told them that "their table had been taken out to the cricket match to score on". She answered indignantly (remembering the Canon of 1604, which orders the use of a "carpet for the altar of silk or decent stuff") that 'had it been covered with a decent carpet no one would have dared do such a thing', and from that moment she determined to give her life in reparation.

For this information we are indebted to ENGLISH CHURCH EMBROIDERY 1833-1953 published in 1998 by Watts & Co. Ltd., and written by Mary Schoeser. ISBN 0 9533265 0 0.