A century-old paper tapestry measuring more than 50 feet in length – and depicting two 17th-century naval battles – has been unveiled by Leeds Central Library.
The document was unfurled as part of research into a collection of more than 3,000 books, pamphlets, and periodicals donated to the library in the 1960s.
It comprehensively details the events at Solebay and Texel, two naval battles of the Third Anglo-Dutch War, which took place between 1672 and 1674.
Solebay was the first naval encounter of that war, and saw an estimated 190 warships involved in a fierce conflict at what is now Southwold Bay in Suffolk. A joint Anglo-French fleet anchored in the bay was surprised by Dutch ships on 7 June 1672, but the encounter ended inconclusively later the same day.
The Battle of Texel, off the coast of the Netherlands, on 21 August the following year, marked the final naval clash of the conflict. Some 3,000 men died in the battle, which ended in victory for what was then the Dutch Republic.
According to the library, the lengthy document is based on a series of live sketches that were made by an unknown artist at the time of the actual battles. It dates from 1908, and was among the collection of Leeds diplomat Sir Alvary Gascoigne (1893-1970), who was British ambassador to Russia in the early 1950s. Gascoigne bequeathed the collection to the city’s library in 1968 in memory of his father, Colonel Frederic Gascoigne (1851-1937).
The Sir Alvary Gascoigne Collection is currently being researched by Rhian Isaac, senior librarian at Leeds Central Library. Isaac has described her amazement at the ‘astonishing amount of detail’ included in the tapestry, comparing its step-by-step record of the events to an Instagram story of today.
‘That passion for creating a visual record of significant moments, even before the modern age of cameras and mobile phones, is something which is clearly a common thread that runs throughout our history,’ Isaac said. ‘It is a privilege to have such a superb example in our collection.’
‘The sheer scope and scale of the illustrations makes it a real challenge to piece it all together,’ Isaac added, ‘but it is fascinating to be able to connect so directly with the original artist’s enthusiasm for naval history and with their desire to capture every step of what were clearly important events.’
The collection also includes written accounts of the two battles, as well as army and navy lists from the early 19th century, and various regimental histories.