Volunteers from the Crayford Manor House Historical Society researched and wrote a portable Fabric of Our Town exhibition to celebrate the bi-centenery of Swaisland’s. The exhibition covered several themes including; Swaisland and Lord Shaftesbury, The Great Exhibition, The Swaisland Block Printers dispute and Chartism, G. P. and J Baker and the Diamond Jubilee, David Evans and the Swaisland Design School.

The exhibition banners will be displayed at various venues throughout 2013 and 2014, including Crayford Library and the Haberdashers Hall.

The text and images used in the portable exhibition is available to view on this site by clicking on the links on the left hand side.

The Swaisland Factory and Lord Shaftesbury

In 1844 Lord Ashley, later The Earl of Shaftesbury put forward an act of parliament that would limit the hours worked by a child in a factory to 10 hours a day. It was during the debate that Ashley used evidence gathered from the textile printers in Crayford that helped pushed Ashley's bill through parliament.

“At the works of Mr Charles Swaisland the inspector found ‘only two girls and five boys under thirteen years of age’, a remarkable exception to all others in the United Kingdom”.

Quote from Hansard report 1845

“at Mr Swaislands works in Kent, there is a different report; the whole of the premises, particularly the room where the teerers work, are clean, spacious, lofty, and well ventilated, heated in winter by warm-water pipes, and thoroughly drained”. Excerpt from the inspector Major J. G. Burns 8th April 1842 COTTON PRINTING WORKS of Mr. Swaisland at Crayford

I inspected and took evidence at the cotton and silk printing works of Mr. Swaisland. In these works numbers of young people of both sexes are employed.
In the wash- house the goods are put into a large wheel closed in and turned by machinery;there are three lads at this work, which must be a very cold one in winter as they are constantly wet from the splashing of water.

“ In winter very cold; goods almost frozen; can hardly feel our fingers” -Friend Sawyer.
“Very trying for the hands when at work; I don’t think the health suffers; mine did-not when a teerer” -W Whitehead.

The Great Exhibition

In 1851 The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations was organised by Prince Albert and other eminent men as a celebration of modern industrial technology and design. It was possibly a response to the highly successful French Industrial Exposition of 1844, and its prime motive was for Great Britain to make clear to the world its role as an industrial leader.

The exhibition was held at Hyde Park in London, inside the Crystal Palace, a building which was itself a wonder. Inside were the most amazing exhibits for the time, attracting six million visitors – equivalent to a third of the entire population of Britain at the time.

From Crayford David Evans and Charles Swaisland entered samples of their work; Evans exhibited “some very superior specimens of printed handkerchiefs in which, as things go, there is more than ordinary taste displayed” as well as some table covers which were “of the highest character of their kind”.

Swaisland sent, among other items, a particularly fine woollen shawl. The pattern for the shawl had been designed as something extra special in the hope of bringing a Prize Medal back to Crayford. The design that was produced took 550 block impressions to print and did indeed win a Prize Medal for Swaisland's.

“Beginning with the display of Mr. Charles Swaisland, of Crayford, in Kent, as the most appropriate name to head our list, the printed shawls exhibited by him and others for whom he prints, require primary attention. The barege shawls exhibited by this veteran English printer are above all ordinary praise.”

Charles Swaisland paid for twenty-eight children from the Sunday school at St. Paulinus Church to see the exhibition, an excursion that probably stayed in their minds for a very long time.

The Swaisland Block Printers Dispute and the Chartist Campaign for the Vote.

Lose nearly half of your wages or lose your job! This was the ultimatum which faced the employees of Swaisland and Evans more than once in the 1840s and 1850s - due to several bad harvests and a downturn in trade. Membership of any trade union was also threatened. Trade improved a little in 1844 but there were still concerns among the men, so Edmund Stallwood, of The Northern Star, was invited to come to The One Bell in Crayford where “the large clubroom was exceedingly crowded”, to explain the need for The People's Charter.

A terrible trade depression through 1846 led to Swaisland and Evans asking the workers to take pay cuts to keep both firms going. A further cut in June 1847 was too much and a strike was called. After a bleak Christmas, the men were forced back to work but still participated in the mass Chartist demonstration at Kennington in April 1848.

During the bitter strike of 1852 strike breakers were sent down from Lancashire by Charles Swaisland's friend and fellow factory owner Richard Cobden. These new men were required to sign a contract. Some attempted to return home and were brought back for trial at Dartford Magistrates Court where they were convicted under the Master and Servant Act and sentenced to hard labour in Maidstone Prison.

The Chartist's spirit carried on and eventually all but one of the six points were secured.

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G. P. and J. Baker and the Diamond Jubilee.

In 1851 the Queen had been at the Great Exhibition where she took great interest in the award winning barège shawl design of Charles Swaisland.

George Percival Baker(right) purchased the bankrupt Swaisland company in 1893 and together with his brother James he was to restore the factory to the prominence it had enjoyed in the mid nineteenth century .

George Baker was a very keen horticulturist and this was reflected in many of the designs the company printed. The illustration on the left shows preparation work for the design of a special print to mark the Diamond Jubilee.

On Sunday 20th June 1897 Queen Victoria celebrated 60 years as Queen. A selection of names were suggested for the event and it was decided that a combination of ‘Jubilee’ and ‘Diamond’ from the 60th wedding anniversary commemoration would be a suitable title.

A public holiday was declared on Tuesday 22nd June here, in India, and “at all Foreign Places where British subjects were resident”.

In Crayford 1300 children from all the local schools were treated to a sumptuous party at Martens Grove. Each child was presented with a commemorative badge in the form of a Maltese Cross pinned on with a pink and blue ribbon. They were given tea in an enormous marquee on 21 long tables resplendent with white cloths, loaded with cake and bread and butter. They were all presented with a newly minted shiny penny. At the end of a very busy, enjoyable day the children were all given a bun and a box of sweets containing a surprise packet as they went home. Those from Slade Green went home in horse drawn carts.

David Evans - The Last of the London Fabric Printers.

With the setting up of bleaching grounds (to whiten cloth) from the late 17th century, Crayford was seen as an ideal site for textile work, as it was within easy reach of the main markets of Central London and the Thames ports of North Kent, and there was abundant clean water from the River Cray. About 120 acres (c48.5 hectares) of Crayford were used for this activity, continuing until the late 19th century.

However, from the early 18th century several fabric printing businesses also started or changed hands in Crayford, Swaisland's being a good example, having taken on two printing sites in 1814 and then building larger premises.

David Evans & Co. was almost the last to set up a textile printing business in 1843 and was the last remaining when operation ceased in Crayford in 2001. Already an established silk merchant in London, Evans took on the site on the Crayford/Bexley border from Augustus Applegath, also a printer but an inventor as well. Evans additionally bought nearby Shenstone, the large house which Applegath had had built in extensive grounds.

Evans produced good quality printed silks, and gained an international reputation for their Real Ancient Madder Silks, a special process involving secret recipes! It did initially, however, include the use of cow dung, and herds of cattle were kept for the purpose. The cow sheds along London Road still exist (2012). Block printing was the way of production at first but then screen and automated printing were introduced. Quality was always the watch word and clients included, among others, Liberty's, Holland & Holland, Christian Dior and Elizabeth Emanuel.

The last silk square was printed in Crayford on 4th July 2001, and the closure of the firm was a great loss to Crayford's industrial heritage.

The Swaisland Design School: William Hubbard and George Haite's Crayford.

Swaisland's was well-known not only for the quality of the printed textiles produced, but also for having a design school on the premises. The majority of early and mid-Victorian designers “were unknown and it was the custom and object of manufacturers to keep their names secret” . Two, however, can be named:

William Hubbard, born in Crayford in 1804, was apprenticed to a papier-mache manufacturer in London making attractive and fashionable items such as trays and inkstands inlaid with mother-of-pearl and painted with delicate flower designs. According to family history, he worked in textiles in Staffordshire but returned to work for Swaisland's as a designer. He also taught drawing and painting at the boys' school in nearby Bexley, at Hall Place where his father had been Estate & Farm Bailiff. He was a keen watercolourist, exhibiting in the Grosvenor Gallery in London, and his paintings of Swaisland's print works still exist, along with many other of his local scenes. William died in 1870 in Islington.

George Haite (1825-1871) is known largely due to his son G.C. Haite presenting sixty of his father's designs to the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1911. George Haite was born in Mitcham, Surrey, into a family of textile workers, his father being a calico printer and his uncle, John, a textile designer. G.C. notes that “it was at Swaisland's that most, if not all, of the good old-fashioned designers matriculated in the good old-fashioned manner of apprenticeship” so we may surmise that George was an apprentice at Swaisland's. A connection with Swaisland's can be proven as a volume of their designs (now owned by G.P. & J. Baker, who took over the Swaisland site) has 'G. Haite 1847' on the cover.

Charles Swaisland

Charles was born December 1780, son of Amos and Anne Swaisland who resided and owned a butcher's shop in Crayford High Street. Little is known of Charles's early life but we believe he went to Mitcham to study design.  Returning to Crayford to set up his textile printing business in 1814, he became very successful, gaining a reputation for the top quality prints produced at his factory, and the fact that he would never try to palm off defective work. His success led to him owning Crayford House, typical of the late Georgian period. As well as the usual domestic accommodation, it also had a brew house, bake house, extensive stables and kennels for hounds. Charles died on 24th February 1865, and his tomb is to be found in the churchyard of St. Paulinus.

There was a strong philanthropic side to Charles's nature. For example, he gave land and money towards the enlargement of local schools, and at Christmas 1840

"...Dec. 24. the lady of J.F. Fassett-Burnett, Esq. of May Place, in the parish of Crayford, gave 13 bullocks away to 75 poor families. On the same day Mr. Chas. Swaisland (who might justly be called the Kentish Philanthropist), gave 120 stone of beef to his men working in the factory".¹

He carried off some of the leading prizes at Cattle Shows, notably for 'Oakbud'

"a roan of three years and eleven months, ...She came with a high reputation from Birmingham, where she won £40, the gold medal as the best cow or heifer in all the classes, and the Hotel Innkeepers' Prize. At Smithfield she was again first in her class, and was adjudged the silver cup as the best of all the cows and heifers".²

¹. West Kent Guardian Saturday 13th January 1841.
². Illustrated London News 19th December 1863.

Project Activities

In 1814 in Crayford, Charles Swaisland set up his textile printing works, which became known as “the Mecca of calico printing”. To mark the bicentenary, Crayford Manor House Historical Society led an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and were successful in June 2012 in being awarded £64,300. A very wide range of activities followed - such as research, conservation work on original Swaisland pattern books, education - involving partners:

  • Bexley Local Studies and Archive Centre
  • The Royal College of Art
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • G.P.&J. Baker
  • Camberwell College of Arts
  • Greenwich University
  • Crayford Town Archive

As well as four schools in Crayford:

  • Haberdashers' Aske's Crayford Academy
  • Shenstone School
  • St. Paulinus CE Primary School
  • St. Joseph's Catholic Primary School

Aspects of Crayford's rich history which had largely gone unnoticed were re-discovered and given greater prominence, e.g. the role which local workers played in the politic unrest of the mid-19th century.

A beautifully illustrated book “The Fabric of Our Town” was published. With the inclusion of worksheets, this can continue as a learning resource for years to come.