From sacred place to outer space: Collective creativity and the iconographies of mid-twentieth century English modernity in Guildford Cathedral's kneelers

Will Barnes, Claire Dwyer, David Gilbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Between 1936 and 1969, around 1600 kneelers were produced for the new Anglican cathedral at Guildford in Surrey, southern England. This was a major collective devotional artwork, involving hundreds of embroiderers, mostly local women. The project was a distinctive form of community and collective artwork, that complicates established understandings of embroidery, craftwork, femininity and politics. It worked within guidelines for design and materials set by the interior designer Lady Prudence Maufe and her husband Sir Edward Maufe, the cathedral’s architect. However, it also allowed for considerable autonomy and self-expression on the part of the volunteers. The kneeler collection has a rich and varied iconography that ranges from expected Christian symbolism to representations of modern technology and nuclear weaponry. What emerged over the length of the project was a complex expression of the worldview of post-war England, and particularly the England and Englishness of the Home Counties. This worldview attempted to combine faith in God with faith in technological progress, and to reconcile internationalism with confidence in British military power. The Guildford kneelers are best understood as a distinctive form of conservative modernity, an attempt to place the changes of the mid twentieth century into longer traditions of Christian worship and Englishness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-133
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Early online date4 Nov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Nov 2023


  • religion
  • modernity
  • creativity
  • embroidery
  • crafting
  • community art
  • gender
  • Anglicanism
  • Christianity
  • englishness
  • Guildford Cathedral
  • nuclear weapons
  • Edward Maufe
  • Prudence Maufe

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