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The Wardle Pattern Books at the Whitworth Art Gallery The group of Wardle pattern books in the Whitworth Art Gallery are famed for their association with the designs of William Morris (Thomas Wardle and William Morris) and Liberty’s (Wardle & Co. and Liberty).

But they also contain abundant information about

Wardle’s own work, and about English printed textile design in general during the Arts and Crafts period. There are eleven books in the group, of which ten relate to Hencroft Works in Leek, where Thomas Wardle set up textile printing in 1875, continuing until its closure in 1908. The remaining book covers work carried on by the subsequent family firm at Pale Meadow in Bridgnorth from 1908 to 1930 (Wardle Family Companies). When these books, along with related textile samples, were presented to the Gallery in 1962, they were the only such design records remaining with the successor firm. However, they are not a complete set, but only about half of the original sequence for Hencroft Works. Nonetheless, they provide a broad sampling of production that can be supplemented by other documentary records.

The pattern books can be classed under four headings:

1. Trials and work commissioned by Morris & Company between 1875 and 1884 This is a group of five books that cover much of the developmental work for William Morris’s first fifteen printed textile patterns and their colourings. Volume Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Vol. 3 Vol. 4 Vol. 5 Vol. 6 Vol. 7

Pattern book sequence ~900-1067 1068-1319 1320-1576 1577-1738 1736-1973 [1974-1988] 1989-2355 2356-2498

Dates covered July-October 1875 November 1875-May 1876 June-December 1876 January-August 1877 August 1877-October 1878 [November 1878 missing] Dec 1878-Nov 1882 November 1882-May 1884

Whitworth reference number Volume missing T.14003 Volume missing T.14004 T.14005 T.14006




--119 --92 118 187

These books hold samples taken from ‘fents’, which were the ends saved from printed or dyed cloth to be used for comparing with subsequent work. The fents include trials of new colours and cloths, approved standards used for matching, and samples kept as a record of each separate batch or order filled. The pattern books functioned both as a method of communication, and a system of quality control. Morris would have held the corresponding fents from which the samples were cut. Thus he could order a particular colour and pattern by reference to Block printed golding from John Welsh, Clayton Vale

its number, and when the new batch arrived, he could compare it to his fent to see that it was sufficiently close to the standard. This system of

working was common throughout the British textile industry and is still used today.

Included in Volume 6 are a few items produced by other manufacturers that might have formed part of a discussion between Morris and Wardle, or may have been simply haphazardly filed. Clayton Vale printworks in Manchester, then run by Wood & Wright, is identified as the source of one sample (T.14006, p.83).

2. Commissioned and in-house block prints between 1880 and 1907 This group includes a pair of books that detail the earliest block-printed patterns of Thomas Wardle and Company in the 1880s, alongside important commissions, such as work for Liberty’s (Thomas Wardle and Liberty).

A third book records hand-blocked, and some

machine-printed, patterns dated 1903 to 1907 when Bernard Wardle and Thomas Wardle junior managed the firm. This includes work for Liberty’s, Donald Brothers and Morris & Company. Volume Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Vol. 8

Pattern sequence 1-107 108-202 701-785 763A-785A

Dates covered 1880-1883 1884-1889 1903-1907

Whitworth reference number T.14007 T.14008 T.14010

Pages 216 192 169

These books were used to record information about hand-blocks held by the company, in a readily accessible format. Wooden printing blocks were usually stored on racks adjoining the printing workshop, where the humidity of the working atmosphere kept them from cracking. The sets needed for each pattern were stacked together identified by the pattern number painted on the side of each block. The block record books allowed the manager to have at hand all the information needed about any particular pattern, particularly the current pattern name and number, how many blocks were in the set, who owned the blocks, and if the pattern was contracted to a particular company. The books could be used to check the stock from time to time, to note any blocks returned or those no longer useful; the marks of several inventories can be seen in the Wardle block books.

The books

from the 1880s often give additional specifications of how the blocks were to be printed, and the range of cloths suitable (The research value of textile business archives).

Block-printed patterns were typically recorded by prints proofed on paper. Using





Renish Border, block print proof on paper with notes on blocks and fabrics on adjacent page

quicker than sampling on cloth, while also providing a format more easily stored in a book. Proofs showing the full repeat were made for registering copyright in a pattern, or for recording how a complex set of blocks was intended to fit together. However, for the record books, only a portion of the proof was used, enough to visually identify the design and the number of colours.

3. Machine-printed patterns from Hencroft Works, 1892 to 1908 This group is complete, consisting of two books used to detail a range of work printed with engraved rollers by machine from the time of the introduction of machine printing at Hencroft to the close of the works. Volume No.1 ‘M’

Pattern sequence 209-882 255-1007

Dates covered 1892-1906 1906-1908

Whitworth reference number T.14009 T.14012

Pages 200 96

Wardle’s machine printing operation was small, but this allowed the firm to offer an expanded range to customers, including silk garment fabrics. Machine printing on silk was a specialist process practised by only a few printers. Printing rollers, because of their heavy weight, were stored near the workshop, but pattern books allowed the manager to keep track of the stock of patterns available. Since printing rollers contained a valuable quantity of copper, they were recycled if further orders of a particular pattern were not expected, and the corresponding pages of the book annotated. The first machine-printing book contains 115 numbered patterns. The second book was begun when the first book was filled up, carrying over the records of around thirty patterns still in Roller-print on silk. A note below the sample states that the roller was ‘returned to Mr Welch’

stock, with seven new patterns added in the course of use.

Proofing of printing rollers had to be done on cloth, but cotton was used to save the expensive silk for production itself. Thus the books may contain either a piece of the proofed fabric or a printed silk sample. Both hand-block and machine patterns were numbered by Wardle’s in one sequence.


A notebook of print paste recipes for hand-block work undertaken by Bernard

Wardle and Company, mainly for Morris & Company, between 1909 and 1930 Volume Vol. 1

Pattern sequence By pattern name

Dates covered September 1909-1915 plus additions to 1930

Whitworth reference number T.14011

Pages 66

Bernard Wardle introduced to the company more accurate methods of colour mixing learned during his apprenticeship in Alsace, including metric measurements. This notebook logs the recipes used to colour Morris patterns in the period when the original collaborators were no longer alive. Changes of recipe could be occasioned by the availability of new dyestuffs, the decision to re-colour a pattern, shortages of supply (during the First World War), or the varying strength of colour thickeners. New recipes were noted in the book, sometimes on slips of paper pinned to the appropriate page.

by Dr Philip Sykas

Wardle Pattern Books at The Whitworth Art Gallery  
Wardle Pattern Books at The Whitworth Art Gallery  

The Wardle Pattern Books were presented to the Whitworth Art Gallery in 1962. There are eleven books in the group containing more than 1700...