1830s

6. Page from a Swaisland album of engaged designs, 1838-1841
This design album re-uses an old account book of the 1820s by pasting designs on top of the redundant accounts. This page holds two painted designs.

The upper design is a trailing pattern of fuchsia. Alterations have been made to change the original abstract representation of buds to a more naturalistic depiction of the flower. Typical of such alterations, they are painted on small pieces of paper glued on top of the original. Clients often requested small changes to designs. Here the change seems to mark a transition in style from the non-naturalistic motifs of the beginning of the 1830s, to a softer look marking the start of the Victorian era.
The small rectangle cut out of the design at the bottom right would have been given to the block cutter as a “match piece” to check scale and colour separation, and to assist in keeping track of the pattern as it passed through the different workshops that made blocks or rollers for printing.
The other design is marked as engaged to Nash & Webber. Here the designer has drawn out two possible variations, and the client has selected the one “without the oval.” Henry John Nash and John Webber were London shawl warehouseman in Cheapside. The firm was one of Swaisland’s major clients at this period, purchasing dozens of patterns each year. However, the partnership broke up in 1840, with Nash continuing on his own (London Gazette, 3 January 1840, p.9). The business ran into trouble in 1854 when Nash filed for bankruptcy (London Gazette, 22 December 1854, p.4211). However, other members of the Nash family remained active in the woollen warehousing trade.

7. Opening from a Swaisland album of engaged designs, 1838-1841
At the left are two designs engaged to Lindsay & Pattinson in June and July 1838. On the later design, there is an instruction to the block maker that it must be “ready to work in 14 days.” Selling prints depended on good timing, either to meet seasonal fashions, or the demands of shipping abroad.
James Lindsay and Joseph Pattinson were warehousemen whose business was located at St Paul’s Churchyard, close to the Cheapside warehousing district. The firm was one of Swaisland’s larger customers in the 1830s. The partnership was dissolved in 1843 (London Gazette, 31 March 1843, p.1081).
Here we see how modern -looking design was at the start of Victoria’s reign. The use of rectangular grids, visual layering of motifs, and abstraction of forms were fully employed. In the stylised “paisley” motifs on the right-hand page we can see another design convention. Here the designer has provided the customer with two choices on the same sheet of paper: either with the banded forms or stems shown on the right of the sheet, or in the plainer look on the left. This was quicker than painting out two separate designs and gave the customer the attraction of more options.

8. Detail of apprentice work in an album of Swaisland engaged designs, 1838-1839
Having begun as a designer himself, Charles Swaisland had great sympathy for the profession. As he expanded the works at Crayford, space for the study of art and science was set aside for the training of apprentices. The sales prospectus of 1865 lists the “Designing School” as a separate building, 14 x 26 ft., in addition to the “Drawing Shop” (studio) of 15 x 55 ft. George C. Haite, writing in 1897, said that most of the designers of the first half of the century received their training through an apprenticeship at Swaisland’s (Architectural Review, 2: 89)
Almost none of Swaisland’s designers had formal art education outside the works. In a summary submitted to the Select Committee on Schools of Design in 1849, Swaisland wrote that only one out of his thirteen designers had attended a school of design. This was Francis Whitehead who had attended the Government School of Design at Somerset House for nine months, but Swaisland notes that Whitehead was a “designer before he attended a school of design.” The rest arrived with apprenticeship training or received such training at Swaisland’s.
Designs were painted on paper with opaque watercolours using fine brushes. A great deal of manual dexterity was needed to brush the colour neatly and evenly within small and detailed motifs. Apprentices began by copying the work of others, learning how to enlarge or reduce designs in scale, or to finish designs begun by others. Once they had reached a certain level of adeptness, apprentices would be given work of a relatively simple nature in order to perfect their skill, and begin to invent their own patterns. It took from five to seven years to become a fully-fledged designer. Those who had skill but lacked in creativity might become “putters on”, that is workers who transferred designs to the surface of blocks for the block cutters.
Here we see the work of an apprentice who shows some talent but has not yet reached the required level of control and proficiency. “Rather clumsy in parts/ wants redrawing neater” is the assessment of the first design, and “These rings are rather too distant from each other” is the comment on the other. There is a glimpse here of the polite and gentle tone with which Swaisland’s apprentices were encouraged to reach their goal. It is possible that these designs were painted by William Wykes who began at Swaisland’s in 1838, or by his brother John Alfred Wykes who began in 1834; both started out aged 14.

 “Dr. Philip A. Sykas is acknowledged as the copyright owner of the captions included here. As such any re-use of material which includes direct quotation or extensive paraphrasing should name Dr. Sykas as the author.”