Northern Society of Costume and Textiles
William and Beatrice
St Peter's and St Paul's Church Hall, Wakefield


St Peter's and St Paul's Church Hall, St George's Way, Standbridge Lane, Wakefield, WF2 7NR

Saturday, 23 November, 2019

Two talks were presented at this Meeting.  In the morning, John Wyles, Founder Member and current Membship Secretary, spoke on, “William Morris – Man of Many Talents”, an engaging presentation on the life of William Morris. Diverse in his talents, creative and brilliant in all he did, Morris left a formidable legacy to his nation and to the social and commercial life of his time.
We learned about the early influencers on Morris during his childhood, his subsequent education and the key individuals he met at Oxford University: Edmund Burne-Jones, Charles Falkner, Richard Dixon, William Fulford. Together they studied philosophy, poetry and religion, forming The Brotherhood, an important pioneering group of artists and intellectuals.
After inheriting his father’s money, Morris visited the Continent to study architecture, then took up an apprenticeship in London on his return. We learned about how he established his first company to produce hand-made goods and his commitment to producing beautiful artefacts, how he gradually built on his successes, expanding and developing his companies, producing eventually the wide range of craft goods such as wall hangings, tapestries, stained glass windows, exquisitely finished printed books, tiles, wallpaper, fabric and carpets for what became popular designs during the Victorian period, and were shown examples of these designs based on natural forms. Morris produced beautiful calligraphy, practical and beautiful furniture, pottery; it was endless!  John explained the techniques used to produce these products and the laborious and intricate processes involved such as the dyeing techniques, the colour mixes, and the woodblock printing process for fabrics and wallpapers.
We were gradually taken through the life of William Morris, learning of his tolerance in adversity in his own personal life, his commitment to socialism, his political activism and his support for working people, particularly during the period of terrible unemployment in London. John explained the significance of Morris’ writings, his poetry, and his many published works on a simply enormous range of subjects.  We were shown the different houses and premises Morris designed, The Red House which was “medieval in spirit,” Kelmscott Manor and Merton Abbey Works. In his concerns to protect historic buildings of interest, we learned how Morris established the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
This was a formidably wide topic, and John Wyles was successful in providing depth and insight into a man who had so many talents.

Following and exccellent buffet lunch,  current Chairman Michael Cullngworth presented his talk, “The Other Beatrix Potter”.
We were given a fascinating inside view of the life of Beatrix Potter by the speaker who had formerly been employed at Warne’s publishers, the firm involved with her books including the famous “Peter Rabbit,” this selling over an amazing 70,000,000 copies to date!
Michael described Beatrix’s early life, the family wealth being a result of her grandfather’s rise from poverty to huge financial success in the calico trade. The inherited wealth resulted in her father never needing to work again. However, despite this wealth, Beatrix’s childhood was unhappy. Emotionally neglected by her parents and confined for most of her time to an attic room, we learned about her inner private life and the development of her absorbing interests in the natural world and drawing and sketching from an early age, encouraged by her tutors.
The family’s holidays to Windermere, Hertfordshire and Scotland and their stimulating social contacts brought Beatrix into contact with artists and intellectuals such as Sir John Millais who commented on her great observation skills. Another important influence was Charles McIntosh who introduced Beatrix to mycology, and she subsequently became an expert. Michael showed us examples of the wonderful paintings Beatrix produced which are still regarded as the best in the world of their kind. It was staggering to learn that these were produced when she was still only 22 years of age.
We learned about Beatrix’s journal, written in code, her success in germinating fungi spores, her publication “Wayside and Woodland Fungi” and her particular financial success in the publication of her book “Peter Rabbit” in 1901. Beatrix painted continuously when visiting friends and places – room interiors, street and country scenes, even Roman sandals recently excavated. She particularly admired the work of other illustrators such as Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane and Leslie Brooke.
Beatrix’s personal life continued to be a challenge for her when her unsympathetic parents ruled against a prospective marriage with someone they regarded as inferior, but despite this, she rose above all such setbacks. Her single-mindedness and determination carried her through to accomplish so much in her life. We learned how she fought for national causes such as tariff reform and a Free Trade Policy, the fact that she carried out a financial rescue of her publisher’s firm following a destructive case of fraud, and that she established a trust providing midwifery service for the poor.
Eventually happily married at the age of 47 and financially wealthy and stable, Beatrix embarked on her interests in farming and the development of the Herdwick sheep, writing very little after this point in her life. At her death her wonderful gift of over 4000 acres of land and fifteen farms to the National Trust is well documented.
We were very grateful for Michael sharing this fascinating insight into her life with us.