July Guest Speaker: Peter Clark

Peter Clark came to the July general meeting of the Guild to tell us about his father’s role in the establishment of guilds in Sydney in the 1930s. At the end of the article are links to some historic documents.


My Journey into the World of Spinning, Weaving and Dyeing in the 1930s and 40s

Good afternoon Guild members. Thank you Jenny for your kind invitation to address members of the guild today. I have termed the talk as my journey into the world of spinning, weaving and dyeing in the 1930s and 40s.

Five months ago I was clearing out some old books and documents when I came across some of my late father’s on hand-weaving and dyeing. Although I was well aware of his activity in these crafts as a youngster in the mid to late 1940s and early 50s I had no knowledge of his involvement in the years prior. This got me to thinking, what was his connection to these crafts in the 1930s and early 40s. From my past experience in genealogical research I decided to commence my exploration on the National Library of Australia website, Trove, which provides search facilities to digitised Australian newspapers by name as well as by words such as hand weaving and spinning. I was delighted when I came across a number of newspaper articles relating to my father and many other personalities and organisations on hand weaving and spinning in that era.

One of the first articles I came across which included my father’s name appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald dated Friday 19 January, 1940, titled, Spinner’s Guild, which read in part:

A guild of spinners, weavers and dyers has been formed in Sydney, and efforts will be made to secure support throughout the State.

The aim of the guild is to form an open association for the study and practice of spinning, weaving and dyeing.

Membership will be composed of those actively engaged in spinning, weaving, and dyeing and any person interested in the activities of the guild is eligible for associate membership.

And further on: Mr HE Clark (my father) has been elected president and other officers elected were: Hon Secretary, Miss E Tarplee: Hon Treasurer, Miss J Booth: patroness, Mrs Toby Browne.

I had no previously knowledge of this Guild or my father’s involvement in its establishment until I read this article. I came across a number of other articles relating to the formation of the Guild and my father’s activity with spinning, weaving and dyeing as well as several other organisations and individuals involved in the craft more of which I will cover later.

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday 18 January 1940 under the heading Spinners and Weavers Guild Formed in Sydney they reported that

Quarterly publication of the Guild

Quarterly publication of the Guild

following the example set by London, a New South Wales Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers has recently been formed, with the hope that this guild will later become affiliated with the London Guild. I have ascertained that my father was a member of the guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers in London in the mid to late 1930s and it is interesting that in this copy of the quarterly news of the guild of May 1937, which was amongst his documents, he has marked sections relating to the aims of that guild, branch notes, schools sub-committee reports and more specifically a report on the operation of the guild since its founding in 1931 beneath which he has pencilled a date of 15/12/39. These items were obviously discussed at the formation of the New South Wales Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers.

Following this line I contacted the Secretary of the Association of the current Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers in London, Sarah Williams, who advised the current London guild was formed in 1955 and that the London Guild, of which my father was a member, pre-dates their Association and was closed in the early 1950s and that they passed on their logo to the new guild. The secretary also advised that she noticed that the current Association had a member Guild in Australia, which seemed to be based in New South Wales, from 1961 to 1990, but she doesn’t have any information about it other than the secretary’s address. In 1961 that was Miss M Pitt, 15 Parklands Avenue, Lane Cove. Your President has confirmed that Miss Pitt was an early member of your guild and was on committee for many years and seems to have slotted into various roles.

According to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald dated Wed 4th December, 1940 the Guild had their first birthday luncheon, at the Carlton Hotel, yesterday, the 3rd of December. This I believe confirms that the guild was established in December 1939 and possibly on the 15th of that month.

Prior to the formation of this earlier NSW Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers the Sydney Hand Loom Weaving School was established in the early 1930s by Miss Jessica Booth, the Guild’s foundation treasure, and a Miss Marie Moneypenny which I found was operating in Margaret Street in the city in 1936. The school later moved to 249 George Street near Grosvenor Street. However according to a Government Gazette notice in 1939, a partnership between Jessica Booth and a Marjorie Bruce Boyd carrying on business as teachers at the Sydney Hand Loom Weaving School has been dissolved as from the 31st of January 1939. Marjorie Boyd continued on with the operation of the business and I have established that the school was listed in the 1949 Sydney telephone directory and was still located at the George Street address.

Mrs Toby Browne (the patroness described as the moving spirit of the guild), was the wife of a Yass pastoralist and an active member of the Country Women’s Association. She was very keen to encourage spinning and weaving amongst its members and also the establishment of spinning and weaving as a Cottage Industry. She offered her town home at Kirribilli in 1940 for a summer school for imparting tuition in these ancient handicrafts.

From my research I believe it was my father, in conjunction with Miss Jessica Booth and Mrs Toby Browne and possibly Marie Moneypenny, who were the principal instigators behind the formation of this earlier Guild.

So it now comes to the point as to what had originally inspired my father to take up weaving in the first place? In order to do that I think it is necessary for me to indulge in a bit of family history which is an interesting story in itself.

My father, Henry Ernest Clark, was born in London in 1905 and around 1918 attended Cleobury College, as a boarder, in Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire. The College opened in 1890 as an agricultural college forming a recognised Secondary School. It was during this time that sadly his mother passed away from cancer when he was just 14 years of age.

When he finished school he decided to partake in a scheme known as the Dreadnaught Training Scheme which was established to train young boys in agriculture in Australia, and in 1923 at age 17, he migrated to Australia with a large number of other teenage boys and commenced his training at Cowra Agriculture Collage that year.

A year later he found himself work in Singleton, in the Hunter Valley, where, in due course, he met his future wife to be, my mother Kathleen Knodler, the daughter of a sheep and dairy farmer in the district. In late 1929 due to family circumstances back home in England my father reluctantly returned to London. Two and a half years later, after much correspondence between the two of them my father proposed to my mother and after obtaining approval from my grandfather and following some negotiation on the payment of her fare to London my mother set sail and duly arrived there in July, 1932 where they were married a short time later.

Two years later in 1934 my grandparents visited London on their around the world journey. My grandmother kept a detailed diary of their travels which I have inherited and I located an entry for 1st July 1934 which read as follows: We went to Harry’s uncles today on the borders of Cambridge. He is an artist, spins, dyes and weaves the raw wool and makes beautiful things. Also spins silk and weaves with it, and cotton.

Diploma for H E Clark

Diploma for H E Clark

I believe this is where my father acquired his motivation to learn the craft as he was quite close to his uncle, his late mother’s brother. My father subsequently undertook training at the Hand Loom Centre in London, and graduated with a diploma in all branches of hand weaving in 1937.

Later that year in September my parents, my three year old sister and myself, a babe in arms, returned to Australia and took up residence in Dee Why on the northern beaches of Sydney. Soon after arrival my father obtained employment with the Department of Education in 1938 and by all accounts was responsible for establishing classes in spinning, weaving and dyeing in the Applied Arts department at the East Sydney Technical College located in the old Darlinghurst gaol. This is borne out by part of an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 17 November, 1938: Mr Clark is particularly pleased with the development of his classes at the Technical College, where hand weaving is now part of the diploma course in the applied arts department. He has 12 students at present and a waiting list for next year, the numbers being limited for the lack of accommodation.

My father specialised in making dyes for printing his woven materials and I have several of his notes on the preparation of the dyes and in their usage which he prepared for his classes at East Sydney Technical College.

The Country Women’s Association were also strong supporters of the craft in New South Wales. In the mid to late 1930’s permission was given by the Royal Agricultural Society for a stand at the Royal Easter Show for the CWA to give demonstrations of the art of spinning, weaving and dyeing and of their works, to encourage country women to take up the craft. The CWA were conducting schools in weaving and spinning at Keera House, the CWA seaside holiday house located at Dee Why directly opposite St. Johns, Church of England, where our family worshipped. Mrs J Inglis was one of the instructors in hand weaving for the CWA at Keera House and according to your long term member Warril Evans later became a member of your Guild.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28 July, 1938 headed A Remarkable Success, Keera House Winter School recorded in part: One weekend the party went to the home of Mr HE Clark, a hand weaver and dyer recently from England and he gave an exhibition of dyeing and a demonstration of fabric printing using a potato to cut the blocks.

My sister vividly recalls my father using these potato blocks and I can remember him later making printing blocks made from carved linoleum glued to a block of timber. I can also recall making visits with him to the local bushland to collect black and grey lichen which grows on rocks and the whitish green hairy lichen which grows mostly on dead tree trunks to produce dyes. I have reproduced his articles on vegetable dyes which some of you might be interested in trying.

Based on newspaper articles dating back to 1930 The Society of Arts and Crafts were also early participants in the promotion of the craft of hand weaving with exhibitions in the Department of Education gallery in Sydney and at their depot in Rowe Street in the city. It was interesting to find in the articles that several members of the Society later became members of the earlier Guild, namely Miss Jessica Booth, Miss Joan Mackenzie and Miss Marie Moneypenny.

As mentioned earlier Marie Moneypenny in partnership with Jessica Booth started the Sydney Hand Loom Weaving School in the early 1930s. She was also a member of the Society of Arts and Crafts in 1936, the Industrial Arts Society in 1938 and later became a foundation member of your guild in July 1947. Another member of the original Guild, Mrs Faith Box also later became a member of your Guild around 1949.

The Industrial Arts Club was another organisation where hand weaving was encouraged in the latter part of the 1930s and exhibitions were also held at the Education Department galleries. The Sydney Morning Herald of 17 November, 1938 has an article titled Hand-weaving at Home – Cottage Industry at Dee Why which read in part:

There will be on view at the Industrial Arts Exhibition to be opened tomorrow, by Professor Leslie Wilkinson, in the Education Department Gallery, an example of artistic craftsmanship behind which there is a most interesting story. The exhibit is a dress, fashioned of handwoven material, in black woollen yarn and silver metal thread. It was specially woven for Mrs Toby Browne by Mr HE Clark, an Englishman who is building up on a very promising basis a cottage industry at his home at Dee Why. For his material he followed the Rosengong Design, a traditional pattern woven on two shuttles. The article further stated that my father had five looms at his home of varying sizes and that my mother was very interested and was abetting him in his desire to make weaving a real home industry by undertaking the making up of the materials he was weaving for his clients. Explaining the type of work he does, tweeds and dress materials, curtain stuffs and upholstery and rugs. Mr Clark mentioned the name of many well-known men and women in Sydney who buy their tweeds from him for suits and coats. He designs all his own patterns, and uses Australian yarns almost exclusively, and he never makes two pieces alike.

In early 1939 my father received an order from the wife of the then Governor General, Lady Gowrie, for material for an evening gown of green and silver cloth and

Cloth being woven by H E Clark for Lady Gowrie, wife of the Governor of South Australia (1939)

Cloth being woven by H E Clark for Lady Gowrie, wife of the Governor of South Australia (1939)

there was a picture published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 23 March, 1939 showing him weaving the material. Lady Gowrie even made a visit to our home in Dee Why to inspect the progress of its manufacture.

An article in the Newcastle Sun of Wednesday 21 June 1939 carried a heading Woven Warmth With Glamor. It went on to say:

Slinky debutantes and shivering hostesses will turn a welcoming eye on the latest product of Australian craftsmanship.

At his cottage industry at Dee Why, where Cotswold fabrics have already excited considerable interest, Mr HE Clark has perfected a new woollen material which answers the call for comfort plus fashionable effect.

Lady Gowrie is already a possessor of a gown made from a development of the material, but the latest product, which is of hand-woven white wool and silver, by far surpasses any of Mr Clark’s previous efforts. The new Cotswold Lama is the product of months of patient work.

The new material provides unlimited scope in its uses. It may well provide the exciting beach-wear for next year, as well as intriguing gowns, with its scintillating brilliance. It is expected to create a furore in fashion circles in Europe.

I suspect this is possibly a quote from Professor Ian Clunies Ross chairman of the International Wool Secretariat in London more of which later.

In November 1939, remembering that this was the early stages of WW2, my six year-old sister made the newspapers with three articles one of which included a photograph of her weaving bandages on a small four-shaft loom at a meeting of the Kirribilli branch of the Red Cross Society to show how easy weaving is. The article also mentioned Her two-year old brother is already beginning to learn this ancient craft. I’m afraid that I have no memory of this.

On Friday 1st March 1940 The Sydney Morning Herald featured an article TO GO TO AMERICA, Hand Woven Dress Length.

Among the many beautiful examples of Australian art and handicraft which Mrs RG Casey (who was the wife of Richard Casey, the first Ambassador to the United States and later Lord Casey, Governor General of Australia 1965) is taking with her to her new home in Washington, is a length of five yards of exquisite dress material woven in two-ply Tasmanian wool and gold thread, which has been made for her on his loom at his cottage workroom at Dee Why by Mr HE Clark. The Material, which is literally as light as a feather, is woven from less than three-quarters of a pound of gold thread and one pound of ivory wool. It is woven in an old traditional American honeysuckle design, and was chosen by Mrs Casey herself. The order came from Mrs Casey last week, and Mr Clark commenced work on it on Monday, completing it last night for Mrs Casey.

H E Clark's daughter weaving.

H E Clark’s daughter weaving.

The Farmer and Settler (Sydney) newspaper on 21 March 1940 featured an article that the Australian Wool Board had organised a display of hand woven materials at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney. It went on to say that Mr Clark made by hand a length of exquisite wool lame which was later fashioned into an evening gown and sent to Dr Clunies Ross, chairman of the International Wool Secretariat in London. Dr Clunies Ross found in this gown all that was needed to convince him that wool could be quite as fashionable as any other fabric, provided the necessary pains were taken with it.

The Telegraph newspaper in Brisbane featured an article on 22 November 1940 which stated:

The guild is making considerable progress, and the craft of hand-weaving is being well established. Mr Clark is the first person in this part of the world to commercialise (or industrialise) this industry. (He employs labour and pays sales tax—surely necessary qualifications.)

At present he is doing a most unusual thing for he is assisting certain manufacturers of woollen goods here by making their travellers samples, lengths of about 30 yards, scarf widths. Machine looms are now being driven at such high pressure that hundreds of yards of material cannot be taken off to make samples.

In September 1940 The Australian Women’s Weekly featured an article on spinning wheels which were being used at the Red Cross spinning depot in Sydney where volunteers are at work six days a week spinning wool for knitting to supply garments needed by the Red Cross for military hospitals. Each week 10lb of wool is spun and dispatched. A second spinning depot has been established at Bebarfold’s where members of the Spinners and Weavers Guild are instructing women.

The guest of honour at the Guild’s first birthday luncheon on the 3rd December 1940 was Professor Ian Clunies Ross who had recently returned from London as chairman of the International Wool Secretariat. He stated he would like members to devise a woollen stocking with a certain aesthetic appeal. Woollen stockings collected in England were too ghastly for words. I couldn’t blame women for not wearing them and suggested that the guild might experiment with woollen yarn to produce really attractive stockings. I’m sure the women of England would be glad to wear them. He went on to say that the future of the wool industry would bring challenging problems. The link between the research worker and the wool grower was inadequate in every State of the Commonwealth. Manufacturers should show enterprise, imagination, and courage in placing wool before the public in new and attractive forms. This was a field in which organisations such as the guild could play an important part, also in fostering handicrafts, as the aftermath of war would probably bring about a surplus of wool.

I have been unable to locate any further reference to the Guild after December 1940 and it is possible that due to the increasing severity of the Second World War particularly in the Pacific region the Guild was unable to continue. It was not until after the war in July 1947 when your Guild of Weavers and Spinners was established.

I have located the existence of another organisation trading as The Weaving School and textile business located at 717 Military Road, Mosman next door to Hoyts Cinema in the 1940s operated by Mrs Colleen Granger who came to Australia in 1938 from Ireland. I located an article in the South Western Advertiser in Perth WA, of all places, dated 31 May 1946 stating On Australian-built looms, designed by her husband, John, an English weaver, she makes tapestries, suit lengths, damask and draperies to her own designs.

My father went on to establish his own company, Cotswold Cottage Industries about 1941 in premises in Dee Why where he employed three staff, had three large hand looms fitted with flying shuttles in addition to smaller looms, a large electrically driven warping mill and electric bobbin winders. Besides weaving textiles to order his primary product later became hand woven woollen travel rugs such as that one on display which measures 4foot 6inches wide and 5foot 6inches long which when completed were dispatched to a textile company in the city, by the name of Webster’s, who washed, brushed the rugs and twisted the tassels. He also specialised in reproducing authentic Scottish tartan patterned material and was most particular that he used the exact thread count in the warp and weft of the different clans which he obtained from this book The Setts of the Scottish Tartans recorded by Donald Calder Stewart. Included in the display is a sample of his work, a knee rug featuring the Montgomery tartan which is an end piece of a number of rugs of the same pattern. He also supplied light weight hand woven baby shawls like that blue and white one to The Misses Bonney store, purveyors of the finest handmade babies and children’s wear then located in the St James Building in Elizabeth Street, next door to David Jones, in the 1940s. The business still exists today trading as Adrienne & The Misses Bonney and have outlets in Double Bay and St Ives.

In 1949 with the reopening of the old Berrima Gaol in the Southern Highlands as a minimum security correctional centre for the rehabilitation of male inmates, known as the Berrima Training Centre, my father was engaged by the Government to teach the inmates the art of hand weaving and spinning and I can remember him spending up to a week at a time while carrying out this task.

Unfortunately due to frequent electricity blackouts and heightened competition from the large mechanised factories in the late 1940’s and early 50’s his business was forced to close.

In the following years both my mother and father regularly set up their spinning wheel of an evening using super fine merino fleece from my grandfather’s farm at Singleton. My father still maintained three looms at their home, one large, one mid-size and a small table loom, and frequently used them in his spare time while he was employed by Qantas in the sales department for 15 years and then later well into his retirement years.

I have compiled a record of all the newspaper articles on the subject which I have been able to locate as well as documents of my father’s relating to the craft, which I have included in this book and am happy to leave it with you to explore. Also it gives me much pleasure, and I’m sure my late father would agree, to donate his books on hand weaving and dyeing to your Guild’s library.

I hope this has given you an insight into the early days of development of the craft in this state and my father’s involvement in the formation of the first Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers in New South Wales. Thank you.

Peter Clark


Articles by Henry Clark

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