RSN History

The early history of the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) is inextricably linked with the social, cultural and political history of Victorian and Edwardian Britain.  Founded in 1872 by Princess Helena, Queen Victoria’s third daughter and a small group of aristocratic ladies, the Royal School of Art Needlework’s (as it was then called) main objectives were artistic and philanthropic: ‘first, to revive a beautiful Art which had fallen into decay…and, secondly, through its revival, to provide employment for educated women who were without the means of a suitable livelihood and who would otherwise find themselves compelled to live in poverty, or be reduced to absolute destitution.’ Under the initial guidance of Lord Leighton, the RSN commissioned designs from leading figures in the Aesthetics and Arts and Crafts Movement including the founding members of the Century Guild and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society: William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Walter and Thomas Crane, GF Bodley, Fairfax Wade, Selwyn Image, Gertrude Jekyll and others.

The Royal School of Needlework opened in a small apartment above a bonnet shop in Sloane Street, London, initially employing 20 ladies. By 1903 it had a staff of some 150 and moved to larger premises in Exhibition Road, near to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The RSN has always maintained a strong royal connection, being commissioned to embroider for many important state occasions.  Past commissions have included Queen Victoria’s funeral pall, the coronation robes for the late Queen Mother in 1937 and for Her Majesty The Queen in 1953. In 2002 the Commonwealth Balcony Hanging for Buckingham Palace was created by the RSN to celebrate The Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

The RSN been based in ‘grace and favour’ apartments at Hampton Court Palace in Surrey since 1987 where the classrooms and Studio overlook the elegant formal gardens of the East Front.