THE RURAL HISTORY CENTRE includes the Museum of English Rural Life
Museum of English Rural Life


The Festival of Britain
The Wall Hanging
Michael O’Connell
Stained Glass Panel
Susan Moxley
Click here to listen to Betty Sheridan talking about working on the Festival of Britain wall hanging (~ 4.5MB - mp3 file)

Index to Online Exhibitions


Michael O'Connell’s textile art produced for the Festival of Britain inspires Susan Moxley's Stained Glass window at MERL

The Festival of Britain Wall Hanging for the Country Pavilion, South Bank site, London

The commission given to Michael O'Connell was to produce a wall hanging to act as a background display for the upper gallery of the Country Pavilion. The hanging had to depict the versatility and variety of farming in Great Britain. After accepting the commission, Michael O'Connell began to tour the British Isles in search of inspiration. Much of what he saw is depicted in the panel scenes.

Fabric was still in short supply but with the help of Christopher Heal (Heal's, London), Michael O'Connell was able to buy a supply of very heavy rayon hopsack weave, woven in 1.7 metre (72") widths which were stitched together to make the eight main panels, the introductory panel and seven farming scenes. Once finished the individual panels were hand-stitched together at the Festival site by Betty Sheridan who was Michael O'Connell's assistant on the project. A large introductory panel (see Festival of Britain page) lead the way and two key panels explained which crops are depicted on the panels.

The panels showed farming in Rutlandshire (Grass and meat in the Welland Valley), Scotland and Wales (Upland Stock Farming), Cheshire (Grass and Milk in the Dee Valley), Northern Ireland (The Family Farm), Yorkshire (The Grain Belt), The Fens (Root Crops), Kent (Fruit and Hops).

You can listen to Betty Sheridan talking about her memories of working with Michael to create these panels. To listen Click Here

Wall hanging dimensions

Introductory panel: 3.5 by 1.8 metres

Key panels: 3.8 by 1.8 metres

Main panels: 7 by 3.8 metres

Overall size: 56 by 3.8 metres

Images of the Wall hanging

The wall hanging is now in separate panels; they were separated at the end of the Festival due to the enormous size and weight of the complete hanging. The images are shown in the order they were joined together, from left to right along the gallery. The first image in each section shows the complete main panel.

To view the images: Click the second image in each group to see an enlarged version with caption. To move to the next image, move the mouse over top right section to display the Next button. To move to the previous image move the mouse cursor over the top left section of the image to display the Previous (Prev) button.


The caption on the panel reads: The Glacial soil of the Welland Valley grows some of the finest grass in the world. On these rich pastures perfected by generations of expert graziers more beast are fattened to the single acre than is possible anywhere else in Britain.  




Scotland & Wales

The caption on the panel reads: From the Upland farms of Britain comes much of its hardier livestock bred on the toughening hills for fattening in the valleys. On the mountain tops graze the shaggy sheep: and the re-grassed slopes once a home for rabbits, now raize (sic) good stock for beef.



Northern Ireland

The caption on the panel reads: The Family Farm

Ulster is a land of family farms whose tiny fields, by careful husbandry, produce all kinds of food stuffs. From the farm shown here of 40 acres come oats and flax; milk, eggs and bacons; potatoes, kale and cabbage.





The caption on the panel reads: Across these wild chalk wolds are spread the large grain fields of Britain. Fields of wheat stand 500 acres broad and make good tractor country. The farms raise sheep and cattle too, for meat and milk and to keep the land in heart.



The Fens

The caption on the panel reads: The Fens are lands reclaimed from the sea and swamp where houses stood on concrete rafts around the Isle of Ely. A place of flat geometrical fields drained by straight dykes and ditches, with a light clean oil ideal for the growing of roots.




The caption on the panel reads: One of the kindliest of Britain 's landscapes, long devoted to the warmer things of life. Here grow the flowers of spring, the summer cherry, autumnal harvest of pear and apple. Here also climb the tawny hops that brew the nation's beer.  





The caption on the panel reads: To the famous cheese country of the Dee Valley new times have brought new techniques. With pasture – ploughing and silage making, and the careful breeding of stock, each farm aims to feed itself and flood the towns with milk.




The Key Panel

Only the main one is shown. It shows the symbols used to indicate the crops and animals shown on the panels. The second key simply listed the letter key for the crops.


The Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading, UK.
Email: Telephone: 0118 378 8660