Wardle Heritage Website.
This website was set up to promote the history of the Wardle family and its heritage. There is an obvious duty, therefore, to put the record straight whenever misleading information is brought to our attention. If alternative facts are not challenged by experts, using evidence, then there is a danger that they become accepted as correct. This is more likely if an accredited museum has issued wrong information and, moreover, has been given public funds to support a project, which adds a perceived endorsement.
It is likely that journalists and researchers will repeat misinformation without question so that it is likely to recur in future exhibitors, publications, tweets and Facebook etc. As this has happened this summer (2017) it is essential to counteract repeated errors to ensure that Leek’s unique history, with its strong links to India, is not marginalised or misrepresented.
To that end we have a devised a fact-based guide to correct recent faults so that the famous Wardle family, and the town of Leek, is accurately portrayed. It is also important to know that omissions of historic details are just as relevant as wrong information and could easily distort a visitor’s exhibition experience.
We hope that you find the following ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ helpful.
It will be updated as often as necessary.
The Biggest Stitch up Since the Bayeux Tapestry.[i]
Summer 2017, Corrections and Clarifications.
We will start by focusing on embroidered items in one recent exhibition. Leek has a distinctive embroidery history and the Leek Embroidery Society, founded by the Wardle family, is regularly misrepresented as you will see.
EMBROIDERY ONE. Indian Poppy or Papaver
Silk threads on tusser silk. Private collection.
A recent publicly-funded project, (Summer 2017) which focused attention on the Wardle family, featured this particular, popular design as a major attraction in print, website and on-line publicity.
The embroidery was promoted as follows: ‘A star item in the exhibition will be Indian Poppy, a Morris design on cream velveteen embroidered with silk floss in stem and satin stitch embroidered by the Leek Embroidery School’. The exhibition label repeats this.
Many visitors to the exhibition would reasonably assume the details are correct. After all the exhibition was held in a specialised textile museum and Morris is widely acknowledged as one of the best known designers in textile history. Surely no one would get this wrong would they? Even so this confident statement is packed with errors. ‘Indian Poppy’ was not designed by Morris. As there must be more books published about Morris than any other textile designer in history there is no excuse to wrongly attribute this to him. A quick check was all that was needed to establish that he did not design this pattern.
What do we know about this design? In 2007 the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, conducted a project which focused on the series of Wardle pattern books in its collections. Textile historians made a thorough survey and ‘Indian Poppy’, also known as ‘Papaver’ was recorded as block-printed by Thomas Wardle in ‘Sample Book. Block Records’, T.14008.6. Pages 5 and 6 record the details, along with a ‘strike-off’ image taken from the printer’s block. Evidence confirms that it was based on an historic design in Fischbach’s publication Ornamente der Gewebe, Plate no 118. The design was registered by Wardle in 1884.
Not only is there is no connection with Morris there is no connection with the ‘Leek Embroidery School’ either. (‘Society’ not school). The stitching is not of the standard expected of the Leek Society, which, I might add, did not use ‘satin stich’ as described. As it was possible for anyone to purchase a length of this printed pattern from a number of retailers and stitch it at home, we just do not know who did this work.
We can only speculate about the number of people who were disappointed not to find that much hyped Morris embroidery. And what about those visitors who went away thinking that this was typical of work produced by the Leek Society when, as evidence proves, it was known for finer techniques.
Of course William Morris’ name has all too often been used as a heavyweight ‘brand’ to entice visitors into museums. In this same project his name is linked with Thomas Wardle’s research into the wild silks of India. This, despite the fact that Wardle did not work with Morris on Indian silks nor was Morris involved with the Indian silk trade, as stated in a bid for public funding for this project.
One small embroidery has resulted in exaggerations, obscure descriptions and a number of seriously misleading alternative facts that serve to undermine the high status of one of Leek’s famous institutions.
EMBROIDERY NUMBER TWO
Next to the first embroidery mentioned there was another, much larger piece, in the exhibition. It too was wall-mounted. Its relevance to the exhibition must have confused a number of visitors as the project was prominently promoted as having an Indian silks theme. As anyone can see this piece was stitched with wool yarn and its theme is clearly a medieval battle in Europe. The title ‘Bayeux Tapestry Elizabeth Wardle’ suggests that it was stitched by her. But, like the previous item, there is no provenance for this. Although it cannot be attributed to the Wardle family someone tried hard to link it with Leek in the interpretive material. In the process the text wrongly named a daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Wardle as Lydia when it should be her sister Elizabeth Leeke.
Nowhere is there a reference to the many embroiderers, mainly from Leek, who produced the famous facsimile of the Bayeux Tapestry, although a few Macclesfield women are disproportionately singled out for attention. Significantly, there is no mention of the hundreds of skilled craft workers of Leek, the dyers, printers and weavers, who made the cloth and yarn, for the famous Leek-based embroidery society.
In a nearby display case was an unnamed printed design, with a small stitched portion, described as by the Leek Embroidery Society. There is no evidence for this attribution either. The floral pattern was produced by Leek’s block printers and sold through numerous retailers to be stitched at home. The small amount of stitching on the exhibit does not conform to the high standard of the Leek Society. To attribute it to that celebrated institution is to undermine its fine reputation.
Another version of the unnamed design (detail). Private collection.
Visitors to an accredited museum should be able to rely on accurate interpretations. We are aware, however, of a number of errors in the texts in this summer’s exhibition, which misrepresented Leek’s unique history. As the following statements reveal we have to rebalanced the narrative so that the correct version is available to the wider public.
Text panel: The Leek Embroidery School.
This panel has a number of serious errors which distort what we know about Leek’s embroidery heritage, some of which is regularly on view in the town’s churches.
The statement the ‘Society’ ‘received commissions from Arts and Crafts architects’ is incorrect: they were Gothic Revivalists. It claims ‘Many of their patterns show an Indian influence.’ It too is incorrect: the architects influences were medieval and European.
Embroidery design by G.G. Scott Jnr. Ipstones church
It also states that ‘William Morris developed ‘close links’ with the Society and developed a ‘number of pieces’ for it’. This is misleading. Morris had distant links with the Society through T Wardle, as many authoritative publications indicate. Although he may have planned to design an item for Mrs Wardle no evidence for this has emerged.
Text panel: Thomas Wardle India and Tussah.
This panel combines two silk histories and describes them as though they were one; the result is confusing. To clarify: India’s widespread, cultivated silk industry is quite different to the smaller, fragmented, wild silk production.
Paragraph one is wrong. Cultivated silk production declined due to poor skills and disease.
Paragraph two is repetitive and combines two separate histories; the result is muddled.
Paragraph three. Tussah silk was not used in its natural state as described here. It was processed as otherwise it would be unusable.
Paragraph four refers to wild silk production only and not ‘the Indian silk trade’ as stated.
Text panel: ‘Thomas Wardle Inspired by India’
Sir Thomas Wardle in Kashmir. 1903
Thomas Wardle did not visit India ‘several times collecting sample fabric’ as stated. He visited India once to assemble a collection, mainly items of traditional dress, for a major exhibition. He visited Kashmir once, but not to collect ‘sample fabric’. Wardle was not ‘put in charge of the ‘Indian Silk Section’ at ‘many international exhibitions’. He was Chairman of the ‘Silk Section’, (Colonial and Indian Exhibition, 1886) which included silks from across the globe. In 1887 he ‘Chaired the ‘Silk Section’ of the Manchester Royal Jubilee Exhibition. This included contemporary and historic British and European silks, with silks and embroideries from Leek, along with Indian silks.
Text panel: ‘Macclesfield School of Art’
The first paragraph of this panel suggests, through a juxtaposition of statements, that Thomas Wardle was involved with technical instruction at Macclesfield School of Art in. This was not the case.
The phrase ‘Arts and Crafts motifs and Colour’ is not clear. The Arts and Crafts Movement was an ethically driven movement not a style.
Publicity in print, on websites and in twitter feeds constantly reinforced the same errors, suggestions and omissions as those discussed above.
[i] With apologies to Boris Johnson