Still on a roll

Some of the fab­rics and wall­pa­pers that fur­nished the homes of COUN­TRY LIFE’S ear­li­est read­ers are still in pro­duc­tion to­day. Ara­bella Youens iden­ti­fies the pat­terns that sur­vive from the great flour­ish­ing of 19th-cen­tury dec­o­ra­tion

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Ara­bella Youens iden­ti­fies the most en­dur­ing wall­pa­pers

TO­DAY, it’s a busy thor­ough­fare that’s be­ing ex­ca­vated in the name of Cross­rail, but, in the 1860s and 1870s, Tot­ten­ham Court Road was the beat­ing heart of Vic­to­rian Lon­don’s bur­geon­ing in­te­ri­ors in­dus­try. Heal’s, the sole sur­vivor from that era, rubbed shoul­ders with now long-lost names such as Oet­z­mann, Shool­bred and Maple & Co, which all had their flag­ship stores here. The lat­ter boasted a shopfront that stretched the equiv­a­lent of 25 houses. By the time COUN­TRY

LIFE was launched, home fur­nish­ing was big busi­ness: in 1897, Maple gen­er­ated a profit of £284,000 and went on to open shops in Buenos Aires and Mon­te­v­ideo.

The in­ter­est in, and af­ford­abil­ity of, do­mes­tic dec­o­rat­ing was rel­a­tively new: both were by-prod­ucts of wealth gen­er­ated by the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion and the me­chan­ics that made the cost of el­e­ments such as wall­pa­per more af­ford­able. At the time of Queen Vic­to­ria’s as­cen­sion to the throne, do­mes­tic in­te­ri­ors were dom­i­nated by a dark, brood­ing pal­ette of colours, swathes of vel­vet and sou­venirs from trav­els on ev­ery avail­able sur­face. By the twi­light years of her reign, how­ever, at­ti­tudes were chang­ing fast. In 1868, Charles L. East­lake pub­lished his Hints on

House­hold Taste, which was to be­come one of the era’s most in­flu­en­tial vol­umes on all as­pects of the do­mes­tic in­te­rior, call­ing for peo­ple to buy well-crafted pieces to cre­ate sim­pler, pared-back schemes.

An­other ma­jor in­flu­ence was the ad­vent of elec­tric light, which shone an un­flat­ter­ing glare on the in­grained dirt in Vic­to­rian houses, lead­ing to the pop­u­lar­ity of ma­chine-printed fab­rics and wall­pa­pers that were rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive and easy to re­place.

Per­haps a back­lash was in­evitable. The birth of the Arts-and-crafts move­ment, un­der the in­flu­ence of which COUN­TRY LIFE was born, saw a re­ac­tion against tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances and set out to re­vive the crafts­man­ship and sim­pler styles of the Mid­dle Ages. It seems no ac­ci­dent that most of the fab­ric and wall­pa­per firms that sur­vived are those that em­braced and cham­pi­oned crafts­man­ship.

Warn­ers

Es­tab­lished by the de­scen­dent of a Spi­tal­fields-based Huguenot scar­let dyer, this fam­ily-run firm be­came one of the most im­por­tant silk-weav­ing com­pa­nies of the 19th and 20th cen­turies. By the early 1890s, and af­ter buy­ing up sev­eral (some­times older) com­peti­tors, what had then be­come Warner & Sons moved to Brain­tree in Es­sex and went on to weave silk and vel­vet for English Coro­na­tions as well as sup­ply­ing palaces, ocean lin­ers (among them Lusi­ta­nia) and large coun­try houses. By 1971, how­ever, pro­duc­tion had stopped al­to­gether in Brain­tree due to the pro­hib­i­tive cost of hand weav­ing and greater com­pe­ti­tion, but the sub­stan­tial archive of de­signs, which date back to 1752 (many in­her­ited dur­ing its pe­riod of ac­qui­si­tion in the early days), was bought by Brain­tree District Mu­seum in 2004, with grants from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund and oth­ers.

Last year, the archive cel­e­brated the launch of its first tex­tile range at the Lon­don show­room of Clare­mont Fur­nish­ing Fab­rics, based on 12 de­signs se­lected to re­flect the di­ver­sity and qual­ity of the col­lec­tion. Printed by the French mill Tis­sus d’aves­nières, the col­lec­tion re­vived a num­ber of de­signs, in­clud­ing sev­eral that would have been avail­able to COUN­TRY LIFE’S first read­ers, such as Co­ral, taken from an orig­i­nal hand-printed chintz dat­ing from the 1870s, and an ex­quis­ite, age­less flo­ral chintz called Eleanor, which dates from the 1860s and has been reprinted us­ing the tra­di­tional hand screen-printed method in the orig­i­nal doc­u­ment colours. Above: Doc­u­ment fab­rics in the Warner archive (01376 557741; www.warn­er­tex­tilearchive.co.uk) in­clud­ing Joanna Palm, £148 per me­tre, from the Warner Tex­tile Archive Col­lec­tion (020–7581 9575; www.clare­mont­fur­nish­ing.com)

‘The firms that sur­vived are those that em­braced and cham­pi­oned crafts­man­ship’

Watts of West­min­ster 1874

In the year that COUN­TRY LIFE launched, Ge­orge Gil­bert Scott (known as ‘Mid­dle Scott’) died in the St Pan­cras Ho­tel, which had been de­signed by his fa­ther, the pro­lific English Gothic re­vival ar­chi­tect Sir Ge­orge Gil­bert Scott. Mid­dle Scott, to­gether with two other prac­tis­ing architects, founded Watts in 1874 to sup­ply the en­tire range of in­te­rior fur­nish­ings for both houses and churches; more than 140 years later, one of the firm’s di­rec­tors is Mid­dle Scott’s great-great-great-grand­daugh­ter, Marie-séver­ine de Car­man Chimay.

The suc­cess of the com­pany was boosted by a se­ries of im­por­tant com­mis­sions for church, state and civil cer­e­mo­nial pur­poses, much of which was thanks to the work of Elizabeth Hoare (née Scott), whose charm, tenac­ity and in­stinct steered the com­pany through the highs and lows of the post-sec­ond World War pe­riod and who never thought that Watts would give in, as Ilse Craw­ford wrote in the World of In­te­ri­ors, ‘to the de­mands of wash ’n’ wear’.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, lux­u­ri­ous in­te­ri­ors around the world were dressed by Watts (now Watts of West­min­ster), from the Man­darin Ori­en­tal in Hong Kong to the homes of Bryan Ferry and An­drew Lloyd Web­ber. In 2014, the orig­i­nal hand-carved pear­wood blocks were re­stored in or­der to re­turn to the com­pany's pro­duc­ing all wall­pa­per as hand-block print­ing. Right and above: Mr and Mrs Ge­orge Gil­bert Scott (known as ‘Mid­dle Scott’), one of the founders of Watts & Co. Among the com­pany’s late-19th-cen­tury de­signs are Ge­noese wall­pa­per, from £420 a roll for a min­i­mum of eight rolls (020–7376 4486; www.watts1874.co.uk)

San­der­son

The old­est sur­viv­ing brand name in its field was es­tab­lished in 1860 by Arthur San­der­son in Is­ling­ton, Lon­don. Orig­i­nally an im­porter of French wall­pa­pers, he later moved to Bern­ers Street in Soho (where the show­room re­mained un­til 1992). He be­gan to com­mis­sion de­signs by block print­ers in Eng­land. Arthur’s sons, who in­her­ited the firm, were early adopters of in­no­va­tion and in­tro­duced print­ing ma­chines to their fac­tory in Chiswick and the com­pany was awarded a Royal War­rant in 1923 and again in 1955, to sup­ply wall­pa­pers, paints and fab­rics to Elizabeth II.

The com­pany, now based in Denham, Mid­dle­sex, con­tin­ues to up­hold many of the tenets set out by its founders. Wall­cov­er­ings are man­u­fac­tured in An­stey, Le­ices­ter­shire, where mod­ern ma­chine-print­ing presses work along­side hand­block and silkscreen print­ing pro­duc­tion—it’s one of the few re­main­ing com­pa­nies still pro­duc­ing hand-printed wall­cov­er­ings.

As part of the com­pany’s 150th an­niver­sary in 2010, a de­sign by the ar­chi­tect and tex­tile de­signer Charles Voy­sey, Squir­rel & Dove, which was first pro­duced in the 1890s, was brought back into the range as both a fab­ric and a wall­pa­per. Above: San­der­son’s premises on Bern­ers Street in Lon­don. Squir­rel & Dove, £54 a roll (0844 543 9500; www.san­der­son-uk.com)

Cole & Son

Founded by John Perry in 1875, the com­pany has pro­vided wall­pa­pers for a num­ber of notable houses, in­clud­ing Buck­ing­ham Palace and the Houses of Par­lia­ment, where A. W. N. Pu­gin’s Gothic Lily pa­per still hangs. Orig­i­nally based in Is­ling­ton, a cen­tre for block print­ing in Lon­don, John Perry and his suc­ces­sors spent the lat­ter part of the 19th cen­tury print­ing for more es­tab­lished firms such as Jeffrey & Co and Shand Kydd.

When the com­pany was bought by A. P. Cole in 1941, then adopt­ing the name Cole & Son, it in­her­ited the largest archive of his­tor­i­cal wooden print­ing blocks in the coun­try and the show­rooms and of­fices moved to Mor­timer Street—not far from Tot­ten­ham Court Road. To­day, as part of its be­spoke ser­vice, clients are able to delve into the for­mi­da­ble archive to pro­duce faith­ful re­pro­duc­tions of a his­toric de­sign. The com­pany has also launched its Archive Tra­di­tional col­lec­tion of 12 de­signs—some of which hadn’t seen the light of day for many decades. These in­clude Lud­low, which is an 18th-cen­tury de­sign taken from a fab­ric cre­ated for the Wil­liams­burg Colony, and Di­a­ly­tra, a flow­ing leaf de­sign from the early Vic­to­rian pe­riod. Be­low and right: Orig­i­nal wood blocks at Cole & Son and Egerton wall­pa­per, £85 a roll (020–8442 7186; www.cole­and-son.com)

Lib­erty & Co

Arthur Lib­erty be­gan his ca­reer as an ap­pren­tice to a draper and opened his busi­ness in 1875, which he named East In­dia House, where he sold Ori­en­tal fab­rics that quickly be­came pop­u­lar for their soft tex­ture and vi­brant colours. As de­mand for the fab­rics grew, Lib­erty made the de­ci­sion to im­port undyed fab­rics and have them hand-printed in Eng­land. It was dur­ing the late 19th cen­tury that the de­signs fo­cused less on East Asian el­e­ments and more on the quintessen­tially English flo­ral prints for which it was to be­come known.

Lib­erty’s clien­tele al­ways erred on the side of bo­hemian: ‘Lib­erty is the cho­sen re­sort of the artis­tic shop­per,’ quipped Os­car Wilde (who is cred­ited for in­tro­duc­ing the brand to the Amer­i­cans dur­ing a visit in 1882). Classic de­signs by Wil­liam Mor­ris were suc­cess­fully res­ur­rected in the 1950s and oth­ers from the Art Nou­veau pe­riod were re­drawn and coloured to form the Lo­tus Col­lec­tion in the 1960s. Above and right: Lib­erty’s Lon­don store and its Hera linen union, £75 per me­tre (020–7734 1234; www. lib­erty­lon­don.com)

Mor­ris & Co

Wil­liam Mor­ris and the Arts-and-crafts and Aes­thetic move­ments trail­blazed sim­plic­ity, crafts­man­ship and de­sign in­spired by Na­ture, but it was af­ter build­ing and dec­o­rat­ing his first home, Red House in Bex­ley­heath, which was de­signed by his friend the ar­chi­tect Philip Webb, that Mor­ris de­cided to turn what had hith­erto been a do­mes­tic hobby into a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise. Al­though, in their early days, the group set about mak­ing a col­lec­tion of stained glass, fur­ni­ture and ta­pes­tries, it was the ‘wall­pa­per hang­ings’ that were the most pop­u­lar.

In the late 1860s, Mor­ris con­cen­trated on wall­pa­per and tex­tile de­signs; his first three re­peat­ing wall­pa­per pat­terns were Trel­lis, Daisy and Fruit—their pop­u­lar­ity con­tin­ues to this day. By the 1880s, and af­ter buy­ing the com­pany out, Mor­ris & Co’s chintzes, damasks and cot­ton prints were be­ing sold through­out the world. Mor­ris died the year be­fore COUN­TRY LIFE was founded and his com­pany’s for­tunes sub­se­quently went through good years and bad un­til San­der­son bought it in May 1940 (some­what im­prob­a­bly dur­ing the evac­u­a­tion of Dunkirk), un­der whose pa­tron­age it re­mains to­day. Above left and right: Pat­tern books from the Mor­ris & Co archive and Fruit, £72 a roll (01323 430886; www.wall­pa­perdi­rect.com)

G. P. & J. Baker

Founded in 1884 by broth­ers Ge­orge Per­ci­val and James Baker, whose fa­ther de­signed the Bri­tish Em­bassy gar­dens out­side Con­stantino­ple, the busi­ness ini­tially fo­cused on im­port­ing Per­sian, Turk­ish and Turko­man car­pets, be­fore ex­pand­ing into tex­tiles. Af­ter buy­ing the renowned Swais­land Fab­ric Print­ing Com­pany and gain­ing its archive, which dated back to the 18th cen­tury, the com­pany em­ployed lead­ing Art­sand-crafts de­sign­ers to build on the col­lec­tion. Some of the most pop­u­lar de­signs were printed in the early 1900s show­ing English gar­den flow­ers—a style for which the com­pany is still known to­day. The Baker Archive is the world’s largest pri­vately owned tex­tile archive, rang­ing from Chi­nese wall­pa­pers to Ital­ian vel­vets, French toiles and In­done­sian batiks. To­day, the de­sign stu­dio reg­u­larly dips into the archive for in­spi­ra­tion and the Baker Orig­i­nals col­lec­tion fea­tures long-es­tab­lished clas­sics, dat­ing back to the 18th cen­tury, such as Ferns, Nym­pheus and Mag­no­lia, which have been re­worked and re­coloured in a mod­ern pal­ette. Left and above: Ge­orge Per­ci­val and James Baker with their broth­ers and their Tulip & Jas­mine fab­ric, £65 per me­tre (01202 266700; www.gpjbaker.com)

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