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By the end of World War I, 700,000 British men had been killed, exacerbating an already unequal distribution of men to women in the population. The 1921 census revealed that there were 1.75 million more women than men in the United Kingdom. The press had a field day with these results:

“Two millions of surplus womanfolk create a question so immense and so far-reaching that few have yet realized its import” –The Times

“The superfluous women are a disaster to the human race.” –The Daily Mail

Responses by the public to the news of the 1921 Census ranged from “Send the surplus women to Canada” to this choice letter: “No need to be alarmed...the women probably filled in the Census forms wrong.”

Winchester is a small city about 65 miles SW of London. It was a seat of power for many Anglo-Saxon kings, and has had a place of worship there since the 7th century, enlarged to a cathedral in the 11th century.

Winchester Cathedral may have a short, stubby tower, but it has the longest nave (the main body of the building) in Europe. The remains of St Swithun were interred from the Cathedral’s inception, and it became an important place of pilgrimage, until Henry VIII had him and his elaborate shrine removed in 1538 during the Reformation.

In 1931 the Bishop of Winchester Cathedral asked the embroidery expert Louisa Pesel if she would design and sew cushions for the chapel attached to his residence. Impressed by her work, the Dean of the Cathedral then asked her to take on a much bigger project: designing and making cushions and kneelers for the Choir stalls and Presbytery seats.

Louisa Pesel was born in Bradford in 1870 and early on took up embroidery – not only doing it but becoming an expert in its history, styles and techniques. She worked on the Victoria and Albert Museum collection of embroidery, wrote books and articles, and unusually for a woman at that time, worked abroad, teaching embroidery to Greek school girls. She also travelled – to Egypt, to India – again, rare for a single woman. Back in the UK, she taught traumatised World War I soldiers to sew, reasoning that making beautiful things was therapeutic.

“...there is something in the tensely permutating atmosphere of the ringing chamber, the dozen or so reaching-out figures, the leaping ropes and the blindingly passionate clamour above, which suggests the climatic ascension of young blood. The ringers are utterly absorbed. Such a total absorption takes over their mortgaged, class-bound, year-measured lives that these conditions of existence are temporarily cancelled and the Self revels in noise, logic, arithmetic and a kind of intoxicating joy which accompanies the striking of one’s own particular bell in the deafening harmony.”

Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe (1969)

EBells of Winchester Cathedralnglish-style bellringing is a curious activity unique to the United Kingdom. Change ringing, as it is often called, takes place in church and cathedral towers throughout the country, on anywhere from 5-14 bells, though 6 or 8 are common in churches, 10 or 12 in cathedrals. The bells are tuned to a major scale, and their mouths face up rather than hang down. Ropes are attached via a wheel so that when pulled, the bell swings all the way around and up, then down and up the other way, almost full circle. The clappers inside the bell strike at the end of each swing. This method gives ringers more control over the sound, slowing down and speeding up to vary the order of the bells.