The Ickleford Industries of Applied Arts
Olney & Newbury
The Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd
The Witter Family
The Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd
Tapestry cartoon from which a tapestry would be woven
actual size of each panel 26in wide x 78in tall
| On January 4th 1900,
Walter and Marian (Marie) married and went to lodge in Freewaters Cottage in
Ickleford, Herts. Walter took up a teaching post in Hitchin - probably at the
Literary and Mechanics Institute whilst Marie Witter, who was an expert
needlewoman, carried out orders for embroidered trousseaux. She started
teaching embroidery and needlework to the village schoolgirls at weekends and
during holidays. As the girls left school they went to work with Marie Witter
full time. During this time Walter interested local boys in the art of making
beaten brass and copper work.
Their son Carr was born in 1902 and gradually the cottage began to bulge with school-leavers, needlecraft and metalwork so, in 1904, a workroom was put up in the meadow beside the cottage to house the 25 - 30 men and women employed in the business. A second building was then built in 1906 to create a workshop for the brass and copper work and a forge for the wrought iron.
|The tapestry workroom
was built with a platform at one end dressed with large curtains. Examples of
the tapestry work was hung on the wall of the workroom. An article in 'the
Bedford Guardian' dated 1909 described one item as a "Jacobean quilt for a
state bed - 9ft x 7ft in size, made of stone coloured velvet and worked with an
elaborate floral design in red and blue".
||Every year an exhibition of students'
work was held at the workshops and items were sold to friends, family and
In 1908 a number of embroidery items were entered into the Franco-British exhibition and 5 bronze medals were won by the girls at the Ickleford Industries.(The Bedford Guardian, 1909)
| The Gobelins Tapestry
Workshop, (a world famous tapestry company) also exhibited at the
Franco-British exhibition in 1908 and sometime between 1911 and the outbreak of
World War 1 the Witter's were visited by Monsieur Gonnet, head of the Gobelins
tapestry workshop in France. He came with his wife and two daughters and, as a
result, two of Gobelin's most experienced weavers were sent over from France
for six months to teach the Ickleford girls the art of hand-loom weaving and
restoration. This provided another avenue for the weavers in Ickleford.
The earliest tapestries coming for repair in Ickleford were first washed in the nearby river Hiz. The repairs became the most skilled of all the work done by the girls at Ickleford and these were carried out to a very high standard. Local gentry frequently came to visit The Industries, which soon became widely known.
|1915 brought an increase in business
in Ickleford, but now female labour was in short supply and so was large loom
space. As a result, in 1916, the Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd was founded,
with four directors, including Frank Tibbenham who Walter Witter had worked
with during the lean times just before the First World War and the company
moved to Cambridge.
The company bought the big house in Thompson's Lane, Cambridge, (No. 30) which had 'very adequate' outbuildings at the back for tapestry workrooms. At this time there was little work for girls in Cambridge so the Cambridge Tapestry Company was a welcome addition to the area although supervisors were brought from Ickleford to maintain standards.
The company remained at Thompson's Lane until it ceased trading in the early 1940s. However, during the economic slump of the late 1920s Thompson's Lane was sold to Magdelene College. Part of the building was then rented back from the college. This enabled the company to continue trading at a difficult time.
Curiously, in 1943 part of the garage premises at the rear of Thompson's Lane Cambridge with entrance to Quay side, was sublet to the 'the Secretary of State for air' as part of the war effort!
In the 1920s much of the work done by the Cambridge Tapestry Company consisted of repair and restoration work on tapestries from many of the great houses around the UK and Ireland.
Amongst the records is a letter to the Castle Office in Kilkenny, Ireland discussing the restoration of 4 panels from the Castle. Unfortunately the panels are not described and no records remain to confirm what was being repaired.
In addition to restoration work, upholstery design and manufacture accounted for a signficant proportion of the work undertaken by the girls of the Cambridge Tapestry Company.
Click here for more examples of the tapestry work of The Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd
Carr Witter in Cambridge
|Sadly in 1928, Walter Witter died
after a long illness and Carr Witter, Walter's son took over the business as
Managing Director. Although Carr was not an artist, he had grown up in the
atmosphere of the business and his knowledge of tapestry and tapestry
restoration was far ranging.
Almost immediately Carr faced a crisis at the Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd. In 1929 the world slump began. By this time approximately half of the company's trade was with America. The directors were faced with a very serious problem, whether to make their workers redundant, or, as they were trained and skilled in the craft, to try and retain them and hope for a revival of trade.
In 1930 it was decided to try to keep the work force going by making stock (needlework upholstery for Tibbenhams reproduction furniture) but a big cut had to come in the Cambridge staff and Ickleford dwindled to nothing.
|In 1931 a major commission from Lord
Fairhaven of Anglesey Abbey, Lode, Cambridgeshire provided welcome business for
the company. He ordered a tapestry panel to be designed and woven picturing an
aerial view of his country house and the surrounding countryside, with a border
of flowers, birds and animals all to be found in the grounds.
| Also, in 1931, the
Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd, was employed to restore some of the Castleboro
panels created by Lady Carew and hung in Girton College Cambridge. These were
originally worked on a satin ground, but within a few years of their
installation in the Reception Room the natural fibres in the fine silk warp
must have perished, partly as a result of the varying levels of temperature and
humidity and partly under the force of gravity, compounded in no small measure
by the weight of the densely embroidered areas. The Cambridge Tapestry Company
Ltd cut out the needlework and skilfully applied it to a cotton or linen twill
with such success that "...it is difficult to tell without close
inspection that the embroidery has been transferred." (Girton College Annual Review 2011, p28)
Bedfordshire Guides County Standard
| In 1932 The Cambridge Tapestry
Company Ltd was approached by the Bedfordshire Girl Guides to make their County
Standard. This appeared for the first time at the Jamborally in Ampthill Park
at Whitsun, 1933 when it was dedicated by the Bishop of St. Albans. This was
used until 2004 when a new standard was introduced.
The design cost five guineas and the materials and embroidery £26. The Coat of Arms those of Bedford, the wavy lines are the River Ouse and the silver circles the Guide County badge. The lace bobbins represent an old Bedfordshire industry. (source: Girlguiding Bedfordshire)
The following people were involved in the production of the Silver Jubilee tapestry.
|Iin January 1934, H.M. Queen Mary
honoured the company with a visit. She was impressed with the panel created for
Lord Fairhaven and by the restoration work undertaken by the weavers of the
Cambridge Tapestry Company. In February of the following year a panel was
commisioned by Queen Mary and friends of King George V to celebrate the Silver
Jubilee of his reign. Visits were made by Carr Witter to Windsor Great Park and
Belvedere Castle to take photographs and make sketches of key landmarks to be
included in the tapestry.
A cartoon was created from the sketches and photos by Clifford Barber, who joined The Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd as a young artist, there he was trained in the drawing-office, in the techniques of painting for tapestry weaving. Professor Wace, Deputy Keeper in the Department of Textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum (1924-1934), and the College of Heralds provided advice on the heraldic aspects of the design and verified the authenticity of the design.
Unfortunately King George V died just before the tapestry was completed but Queen Mary took a keen interest in its production and on completion it was hung in the Guards Chamber Appartments of Windsor Castle in a position specified by the King before his death.
Before taking its place in the Guards Chamber at Windsor Castle, the tapestry was exhibited for a week at Messrs. Spink & Son Ltd at Kings Street, St James' London.
In 1936 Clifford Barber wrote two articles which appeared in 'The Master Key' magazine. The first provides a detailed descripition of the elements that make up the Silver Jubilee Tapestry:
(click here to see a copy of the article).
The second provides a detailed description of the processes involved in the design and production of any large scale tapestry using the Silver Jubilee tapestry as an example. This article also describes the type of loom used by The Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd
(click here to see a copy of the article).
|After the death of King George V in
1935, The Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd was commissioned to embroider the
coronation thrones for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
(Elizabeth the Queen Mother).
More detailed pictures of the designs, taken at the time the chairs were commissioned, can be found here
|Even though the Coronation helped to
stimulate trade the tapestry and needlework business did not pay its way and
Carr Witter had to resort to drastic measures in 1939. All of the canvases and
designs together with a stock of wools and silks were donated to Lady
Smith-Dorrien, of the Royal School of Needlework who had been a great supporter
of the company.
This effectively marked the end of The Cambridge Tapestry Company Ltd, but Lord Fairhaven and Louis Clark (of the FitzWilliam) were anxious to keep the nucleus of weavers together.
They did this under the direction of Arthur Baldrey and they renamed the company, The Tapestry Company. Clifford Barber also remained and designed another smaller panel for Lord Fairhaven, which can also be found in Anglesey Abbey. This could be the Fairhaven coat of arms created by the 'Cambridge Tapestry Weavers' in 1939 currently in Anglesey Abbey but not sure!
A further panel was started of Glamis Castle, but only about one foot was woven by 1942 - materials were non existent and the company was disbanded. Another casualty of War!
|Staff at The Cambridge
Unfortunately, details of people who worked for The Ickleford Industries and the Cambridge Tapestry Company are few and far between. Some of the staff who worked in the design office are detailed below.
Arthur Baldrey was one of the key members of staff who remained with the company throughout it's existance. He joined the office staff as a school leaver but rose through the ranks. By 1934 Arthur was a Director of the Cambridge Tapestry Company and he was still there when the company was wound up in the early 1940s.
Clifford Barber was another key member of staff. He joined the Cambridge Tapestry Company as a young artist, where he was trained in the drawing-office, in the techniques of painting for tapestry weaving. Clifford went on to play a major role in the design of several of the major original works created by the Cambridge Tapestry Company: The Anglesey Abbey tapestry designed for Lord Fairhaven; The Windsor Castle tapestry, commisioned to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George V and a third tapestry commisioned for Glamis Castle, which unfortunately was never completed due to the demise of the company.
Kenneth Baldwin-Smith was another designer who worked for the Cambridge Tapestry Company for a period of time. He was also involved in the design of the Anglesey Abbey tapestry. (source: Ashley Baldwin-Smith - great grandson of Kenneth)
|Weavers of the Ickleford
Industries and The Cambridge Tapestry Company
At its height some newspapers reported that the Cambridge Tapestry Company employed up to 160 girls and 40 designers (Birmingham Mail 20/11/1934).
These are the names of staff known to have worked at either the Ickleford Industries of Applied Arts or the Cambridge Tapestry Company
It is not known whether all those who took part in the Concert and Tableaux held at the Ickleford Industries worked for the Industries but it seems likely that many were employed by the Witters. Those who took part included:
Copyright: M J S Price 2012 - 2015