The Alexandra Bedspread

19 September 2023

The Carillon is surely Loughborough’s most notable landmark and also a proud memorial to those who died in the First World War and subsequent conflicts.  But how did a small town pay for such a large monument?  The project was first proposed in 1919 and money and donations were secured towards the projected cost of up to £18,000.  However, as building continued, it was necessary to raise further sums from the public to ensure that it could be completed.  For our first indoor meeting of the autumn season, we welcomed Deborah Moxom to tell us about one of those fund-raising schemes: the so-called “Alexandra Bedspread”.

The Bedspread, measuring 8¾ x 7½ feet, has an embroidered picture of the Carillon at its centre, surrounded by hundreds of 4-inch-square panels, machine-stitched together.  Subscribers paid a shilling to sign their name on one of the panels, which was then embroidered over before adding it to the Bedspread.  The finished Bedspread was used to raise further funds at a Grand Bazaar held in June 1923, by offering it as the prize in a “Guess the weight of the Carillon” competition!  The winner was James Collins, landlord of the Volunteer Inn, who proudly added his own signature, along with the word “owner”.  Through the Bedspread, the Grand Bazaar and other measures, there were sufficient funds not only to pay for the Carillon itself but also a surplus to add the marble pavement that now surrounds it.

The Bedspread passed from James to his daughter Ivy, who gave it to Charnwood Borough Council.  Unfortunately, they have not been able to find anywhere suitable to display it, except during temporary exhibitions, so it has remained in storage for many years.  Prompted by one of those exhibitions, our speaker began to research the people who had signed their names and this became something of an obsession for her during lockdown!  The signatures range from royalty – Queen Alexandra and Princess Helena, whose names are outlined with boxes – and Winston Churchill, to family, friends and neighbours of the organizer.  Based on the latter, Deborah has been able to work out that this must have been Frances Bond, whose husband managed the Prudential Insurance office in the town.  Deborah has so far been able to identify the people behind 420 of the 510 signatures and she relayed interesting stories of some of the local men and women involved, as well as speculating about the colourful characters who might have pulled strings to obtain the more prestigious contributions.