The Girl on the Wall – Jean Baggott

I read about this book on another blog ( and thought it sounded interesting. It’s fascintating for some many different reasons; the social history, the embroidery skills, etc.


Here’s the blurb …

Jean Baggott is ‘the girl on the wall’ – a 1948 photograph taken of her when she was eleven – whose life was never going to be remarkable and the pinnacle of whose achievements would come from being a wife and a mother. Almost 60 years later, with her children gone, dealing with the loss of the love of her life, Jean began the education denied to her as a girl. Inspired by ceilings of Lincolnshire’s Burghley House and by the History degree she had begun, Jean began to stitch a tapestry which looked back at her life and the changing world around her. It took sixteen months to complete. The tapestry consists of over 70 intersecting circles, each telling some aspect of her life. Some represent extraordinary events such as the moon landings or world historical news stories like the Cuban Missile Crisis; some circles comment on famous people and places she remembers, others about the music she loves – Pink Floyd – and the games she played as a child, and growing up during the second world war with her brothers. Each chapter of “The Girl on the Wall” features a circle from the tapestry and Jean’s accompanying narrative, exploring the circle and the memories it evokes. It reveals an ordinary life in extraordinary detail. The result is a truly unique, touching portrait of a seemingly average British woman’s life. To stand back and look at the tapestry is to be struck by the richness of one human journey – from 1940 to the present day. The girl on the wall would be proud. The book includes a full-colour pull-out of Jean’s tapestry inside the back cover.

This is an amazing memoir if only for the sheer ordinariness of Jean’s life. I really enjoyed reading about her childhood during the war, the rationing (and the fact that it continued for a long time after the war), the terrible winter, that you were expected to be a wife and mother by 21. It is the every day details that make this a great memoir – bits of every day life that historians would consider irrelevant.

I did find the book somewhat repeatitious, but I think this was because each chapter was designed to stand alone (and be about a circle) and some things were told twice.

I’m amazed that the entire tapestry was finished in 16  months! One circle would probably take me that long – what an amazing achievement and what a great legacy to leave for her grand children.

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