SEA chests have always held a flavour of mystery, a salty air of
yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum. But few can match the contents of the
one owned by the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Cuckfield, the Revd Michael
Maine. His contains 1600 feet of tapestry illustrating the Narnia
Chronicles, embroidered for him as a boy by an extraordinary
Cornishwoman, Margaret Pollard, who died in 1996 at the age of
She was a great-niece of Gladstone, a Cornish-language bard, an
organist and harpist, and the first woman to get a Double First in
Oriental Languages, Sanskrit and Pali, when she went up to Newnham
College, Cambridge, in 1920, at the age of 17.
An intellectual and romantic idealist, passionate about
preserving the Cornish coastline, she was among a group of friends
who formed Ferguson's Gang, a group of anonymous benefactors to the
National Trust. Using pseudonyms - hers was Bill Stickers - they
revelled in the fun and mischief of simply dropping bags of money
into the Trust's headquarters, and leaving.
MARGARET POLLARD had a privileged upbringing in a largely
atheistic household, and was converted to Christianity in the 1940s
after reading C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. She
corresponded with Lewis for years, but had never read the Narnia
books until she met Michael Maine, then a boy chorister at Truro
Cathedral, in the 1970s.
Ferguson's Gang had helped to fund and build a new Roman
Catholic church in Truro. Mrs Pollard had worked for a spell as
secretary to the Bishop of Truro, Dr Joseph Hunkin, but had become
a Roman Catholic after his death in 1950, and was organist at the
Because the boy was learning to play the organ, his godparents
took him to the consecration of the church, where Mrs Pollard let
him play the instrument. A rapport was struck, and the two became
firm friends. Mr Maine (a late ordinand) was to go on to become
organist and director of music at All Saints', Hove. He was
instrumental in saving the great organ of the Dome at Brighton, and
a regular on BBC Radio 2's The Organist Entertains.
At this stage, though, he was a young teenager with a passion
for music. He remembers being invited to Mrs Pollard's house, a
cheerfully cluttered two-up, two-down dwelling in Truro. A woman
with no regard for material possessions, she had been giving them
away even before the death of her naval-captain husband, Frank
Pollard, in 1968.
THE house was extraordinary, Mr Maine remembers. "She had painted
all her favourite sayings on the wall, in English, Latin, and
Sanskrit. Things like, 'If things are worth doing, they're worth
"I thought it was all amazing. There are people who transform
lives, and she transformed mine and enlarged my vision, for which I
am ever grateful. She had spent 20 years playing patience, she told
me, and said I had fired her to do things."
Mrs Pollard had created earlier embroideries: Mr Maine remembers
seeing one of them in the cathedral, which she had made in the '40s
for one of the side altars. The boy enthused about his beloved
Narnia books, and suggested: "Why don't you embroider them?" And
that's how it started, he says.
"I drew up a list of titles, rather like a cartoon sequence, and
she would draw a picture and say, 'What do you think?' Then she'd
draw the picture on to the material - at first, linen crush, but
then the much cheaper curtain-lining - and embroider over it." He
reflects, "She hemmed all the pieces of fabric in tiny stitches.
The hours she must have taken!"
HE REMAINS staggered by the amount of work and the imagination
that Mrs Pollard, whom he considers a good artist with a good eye,
brought to the pictures. Pauline Baynes's original illustrations
were her inspiration, but the rest were "a product of her fertile
imagination, and my suggestions", he says.
"I put the organ of Birmingham Town Hall in the banquet hall of
The Silver Chair." Pieces of text - tiny letters sewn with
a single thread - were incorporated into the pictures, of which Mrs
Pollard did one a day. "Some are very elaborate, and some are more
basic. But she captures this movement in them, which is
extraordinary," Mr Maine says.
"There's a sequence in The Silver Chair where the Lady
of the Green Kirtle turns into a serpent. It's an amazing sequence
of five or six pictures of her doing that, full of movement and
He loves, too, the sequence in The Lion, the Witch and the
Wardrobein which Aslan comes back to life. "There's a
wonderful sunrise. The two girls are watching, the stone table
cracks, and it's simply beautiful the way she catches it with the
sun just coming up above the landscape."
When the project was started, the pair envisaged the end result
to be something just in excess, perhaps, of the 230 feet of the
Bayeux tapestry. "The stories were quite truncated at the start, a
fairly broad sequence," Mr Maine remembers.
"But then I made it more and more detailed, until we got to
The Last Battle. And that was a huge roll at the end."
He was in his twenties by then, and had moved from Cornwall to
Sussex. Reflecting together that it was a shame they had been
"skimpy" over the earlier books, particularly The Magician's
Nephew, Mrs Pollard started again, reworking much of that book
in much greater detail, despite her deteriorating sight.
They remained close friends, although Mr Maine was able to get
to Cornwall less frequently towards the end of Mrs Pollard's life.
He remembers her, even at that stage, as a woman of encyclopaedic
knowledge, who kept up with all kinds of people and sent money out
to convents in Africa. She could recite from memory whole chunks of
the Lays of Ancient Rome.
THE tapestry, which has always belonged to Mr Maine, has not been
seen in its entirety since being unrolled, many years ago, in the
corridors of the BBC TV Centre, "for either Blue Peter or
Record Breakers", he recalls. "I have occasionally shown
bits of it through the years, and the whole of it once at Hove
Parish Church, where people were staggered at the scale of it
"But it needs to be cared for properly, and that exercises my
mind. People should be able to see this and the other embroideries
-most on religious themes - and be enriched by them. They are such
The National Trust has offered, in the past, to take them on,
and that is something that he will consider, especially given Mrs
Pollard's unique connections with the Trust.
The story of the tapestry surfaced again when Mr Maine was
interviewed by the Mid Sussex Times on his recent arrival
at Holy Trinity, Cuckfield, and the reporter asked whether there
was anything he could tell the paper that might be of particular
"I said I'd been told off for playing the organ too loud in
Westminster Abbey; and I also mentioned the Narnia tapestry," he
"It's been with me for years and years, and now it's wonderful
seeing people's reactions to it again."