Over the past century, an altar cloth at Bradford Cathedral has borne the scars of wounded soldiers interwoven through its delicate floral pattern.

For injured and shellshocked soldiers returning from the bloody battlefields of the First World War, embroidery was therapy. The results of their efforts was a beautiful altar frontal which has long been in use at the Cathedral.

Now it is being restored, as part of a project paying tribute to Bradford’s textile heritage and the role the Cathedral has played in it. Part of Artspace, bringing arts into the Cathedral, it celebrates the stories told through fabric and thread.

The project was highlighted in a Songs of Praise programme filmed at the Cathedral, broadcast on BBC1 earlier this month. A second programme from the Cathedral will be screened on Palm Sunday, April 13.

Once restored, the altar frontal stitched by soldiers returning from the Front will be mounted and displayed in the Cathedral’s newly re-furnished Chapter House, preserved away from natural light. It will be part of the Cathedral’s focus on the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, and the role of the Bradford Pals, in 2016.

It is one of two important textiles owned by the Cathedral. The second is a 140-year-old altar frontal by 19th century designer William Morris which, once restored, will be placed in the Cathedral’s Lady Chapel, where it fits with the colours of the windows. Bearing the word “I am the Light of the World”, the cloth bears Morris’s vibrant flora and fauna-inspired design.

The William Morris connection came from Bradford millowner’s daughter Sarah Wittuck, who moved in artistic circles in London. Morris and other artists contributed towards her efforts furnishing St Clement’s Church in Barkerend with artwork and carvings, and also designed windows in the Cathedral.

More contemporary furnishings are being created by professional textile designer Polly Meynell. who is working with the Cathedral on producing new altar frontals and vestments, using fabrics produced or sold in Bradford, Yorkshire wools and Asian silks. Local companies including Hainsworth of Pudsey have donated fabric.

The designs, reflecting Bradford’s heritage, will feature scenes of Manningham, Saltaire, Haworth, Lister’s Mill and the Leeds Liverpool canal, and the cloths will be in use to mark the 50th anniversary of the East End of the Cathedral. So far £48,000 has been raised towards the £52,000 altar frontals scheme, expected to be completed by the end of the year. Polly is also designing kneelers which will be stitched by a group of Christian and Muslim women, who will learn about their use and meaning.

The Cathedral is working in partnership with students at Bradford College who were challenged to produce designs for seat cushions for choir stalls in the chancel. Next month Polly will work with the students on refining their designs.

Canon Sam Corley says it gives students experience of a “live project”.

“They will be required to explore the textile heritage of the city that the project celebrates and it will give them experience in the field of ecclesiastical textiles, which may open up employment opportunities in the future,” he adds.

The various strands of the heritage project will come together in an exhibition to appear in the North Transept at times of the year when there are no other displays there.

“This would be an exhibition that school visits would draw upon, and also for casual visitors to the Cathedral as well as all those who attend services – a total number of around 30,000 visitors a year,” says Sam.

“The exhibition would tell the story of Bradford’s textile heritage, explain the role of the Cathedral in that heritage, describe Polly’s scheme to celebrate the 50th anniversary using local materials and the partnership with Bradford College in that work, and would also profile a small number of companies and organisations that are still active in the textile industry.”

Currently running at the Cathedral is The Journey, an exhibition by textile artist Jacqui Frost responding to aspects of faith. Drawing on images old and new, using buttons and various fabrics, her artwork follows the last stages of the journey of Jesus.

Artspace events continue at the Cathedral tomorrow with the opening of a series of cycling-themed films screened by Cine Yorkshire. Tour De Cinema – taking place in community venues as part of the Yorkshire Festival, celebrating the Tour de France Grand Depart – opens at the Cathedral with the world premiere of Velorama, celebrating a century of the bicycle with BFI Archive footage, and From Trike To Bike, drawing from the Yorkshire Film Archive cine club and home movie collections. The event is part of the Bradford International Film Festival.

  • For more about Artspace events at Bradford Cathedral ring (01274) 777720 or visit bradfordcathedral.org.