The Four Kings Altar Frontal, by Thomas Wardle and the Leek School of Embroidery, 1888, in the church of St Edward the Confessor, Leek, which underwent two restorations in the Victorian period. "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" is embroidered along the top, and "Kings shall be thy nursing fathers" along the bottom. [Click on this and the following images to enlarge them.]

Left: Close-up of King Edward. Right: Close-up of King David, next to him.

Wardle himself was a textile magnate and Arts and Crafts designer, and his wife Elizabeth (1834-1902), who would become Lady Elizabeth when her husband was knighted in 1897, was an expert needlewoman. She was known for the brilliant way she could interpret architects' designs for church needlework: her particular skills were in devising "subtle colour combinations" and "stitching flesh work, a demanding aspect of figurative compositions" ("Elizabeth Wardle"). In 1879-80 she founded the Leek School of Embroidery and the Embroidery Society — to give it its full name — with her husband, and was then able to pass on these abilities to local women. The society's work achieved an international reputation through its exhibition entries.

Close-up of King Solomon.

The kings are identified by their attributes as well as by their names. Edward the Confessor, the eleventh-century Wessex saint to whom the church is dedicated, naturally comes first. In one hand he holds the ring that he was reputed to have given to a beggar. The psalmist David is easily identified by his harp, and the sword with which he cut off Goliath's head. Similarly, King Solomon holds a model of his wonderful temple. Lastly there is King Ethelbert of Kent, on the far right, holding a model of a church: the first English king to become a Christian, in the late sixth/ early seventh century he built churches and gave the land for Canterbury Cathedral. Thus the two great Old Testament kings are flanked by two important homegrown exemplars of the faith.

Photographs by Michael Critchlow, and text by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.


"Lady Elizabeth Wardle." The Wardle Heritage. Web. 17 January 2016.

St Edward the Confessor, Leek". British Listed Buildings. Web. 17 January 2016.

"Wardle Elizabeth (née Wardle), Lady Wardle." National Portrait Gallery. Web. 17 January 2016.

Created 17 January 2016; last modified 31 October 2023