Wardle & Co. was founded in 1872 at the Hencroft Works on the banks of the river Churnet. At first it was a commission dyers until William Morris worked at the site with Thomas Wardle, when textile printing was introduced. The company was flexible and organised to accommodate both small-scale orders and large commissions.
It converted skeins of yarn and ‘grey’ cloth using natural dyes and hand block-printed patterns. William Morris had 14 designs successfully and continuously printed there while the site was active. Patterns were skilfully transferred to silk, linen, cotton, wool and velveteen using traditional skills which had almost disappeared elsewhere.
The techniques attracted many influential designers from the Arts and Crafts movement to Wardle, who could turn their concepts on paper into beautiful textiles. Roller printing and aniline dyes were used if clients wished it. The client list included major retailers such as Liberty & Co. Harrods, Heals and Storeys along with other textile companies like G. P. & J Baker, Donald Bros.
The company produced its own fabric collections, including printed velveteen for ecclesiastical and domestic interiors and a popular range of hand-block printed ‘Mysore Silks’ for clothing; some of the Indian and Persian inspired patterns were also produced as wallpapers. Liberty’s Regent Street store displayed ‘Art Colours’ by Wardle which became a trademark product for the retailer and printer alike. Wardle & Co. products were frequently exhibited and received many prizes. Bernard and Tom Wardle Jnr. continued to run the business on the Hencroft site until 1908, when it proved to be too small for the expanding order book.