The William Liddell Collection

Revealing the skilled craftmanship of the Liddell workforce

The Collection

The William Liddell Collection is an archive of 1600 photographic glass plates that were discovered during the dismantling of the Ewart-Liddell weaving factory in Donacloney, County Down, Northern Ireland in 2007. On first viewing the faint monochromatic images on the glass plate’s look like ghosts from bygone days of refined domesticity [Figure 1–5]. However it became clear that these traces of linen splendour are but a hint of the unique and extensive record of an era of craftsmanship in both the design and production of Irish linen hidden within the William Liddell Collection. The discovery of the photographic plates has provided a rare opportunity to uncover and celebrate the often-understated artistic, design and technical skills of the generations of individuals working in the design offices of the textile industries in Ireland.

The photographic plate preceded film and was used to capture images on a light-sensitive emulsion of silver salts that coated the glass plate. The use of glass plates for photography declined after the 1910's yet this method of photography appears to have been used to record design work produced in the Liddell design office throughout seven decades of the twentieth century. The earliest recorded date of 1919 can be found on an image of a design for the Hans Crescent Hotel. The latest date recorded is 1972 on a design for South African Railways. This documentary practice appears to have effectively ceased after the William Liddell Company’s merger with the William Ewart Company in 1973 to form Ewart Liddell. It is extraordinary that this form of photographic record was kept and perhaps more astonishing that the observation of everyday affairs of a textile manufacturing design office were the subjects of such an extensive and persistent documentary endeavour.

Earliest & Latest

The earliest recorded date of 1919 can be found on an image of a design for the Hans Crescent Hotel. The latest date recorded is 1972 on a design for South African Railways.

A design brief

The archive provides not only a rich and extensive collection of patterns but also the paperwork generated for all stages of design development through to technical instructions for manufacture. Kensington Palace Hotel Scrap of paper with logo with handwritten hotel name and ‘55’ sketched on logo design.

A design brief

The beginning of the process can be described as the design brief and was frequently captured on scraps of letter headed paper, envelops or business cards with the companies logo and hand written instructions concerning changes, placement or measurements.

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Traces of design

The photographic plates document various stages in the design-weave production process all of which are essential to understanding the decisions, which needed to be made by designers and technicians in the design-production process. In summary these are:  The client’s brief, artist’s sketch, development sketch, repeat layout, point paper design, proof cloth.

The client’s brief

Often captured on a scrap of paper such as a coaster, envelop, business card or letter headed paper.

The artist’s sketch

Could be in the form of a rough pencil outline or a more carefully painted drawing.

The development sketch

This provides an accurately drafted pattern usually painted on graph paper with evidence of trial and error

The repeat layout

This provides a motif as an all over repeating pattern in one of the standard textile repeat configurations: brick, block or half-drop

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Artwork

The William Liddell Collection uncovers the quiet, diligent and patient work of artistic endeavour, and provides us with a unique opportunity to celebrate the talent and dedication of the individuals who laboured long hours with their sharpened pencils and fine bristled paint brushes to produce the amazing body of artwork captured in the collection.

Fuschia

Detail of design sketch – pencil drawing – 5-17-012

Lilly

Detail of point paper design – 6-01-006

Calla lillies

Detail of design sketch – pencil drawing – 3-10-003

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Logistics – Artwork and designs for trains, planes and ships

This Logistics themed chapter focuses on artwork, design sketches and drawings generated for Liddell’s clients in the transport industries. There are 123 plates that record designs and sketches for 33 different shipping lines, 15 train lines and 7 airlines located in countries across the world; Australia, Canada, Greece, Japan, Jamaica, New Zealand, Norway, Puerto Rico, Rhodesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States of America. The collection provides a significant record of evolving shipping branding throughout the first seven decades of the twentieth century reflecting the fortunes and misfortunes of major shipping lines. The artwork and technical skill of the individuals who worked on the development and refinement of these designs is highly skilled and creative. The William Liddell Collection provides a unique and fascinating insight not only into the ever‑changing fortunes of the great shipping lines of the world but also into the working practices of designers, technicians and weavers of the Irish linen industry.

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Organisations – Artwork and designs for clubs, societies and institutions

This Organisations themed chapter focuses on artwork, design sketches and drawings generated for worldwide elite establishments that sought the finest Irish linen to don their dining tables. There are hundreds of plates that record napkin and tablecloth designs for the dining rooms of clubs, societies, hospitals and universities, military organisations and governments. The gallery of designs provides a fascinating record of emblems, crests and logos. The diverse range of organisations that were customers of the Liddell Company demonstrates the prestige and esteem that their linen was held. The artwork and technical skill of the individuals who worked on the development and refinement of these designs is highly skilled. The William Liddell Collection provides a unique and fascinating insight not only into the world of prestigious clubs and societies but also into the working practices of designers, technicians and weavers of the Irish linen industry.

Cunard White Star Line

Within the archive a collection of eight plates of artwork and designs for Cunard, White Star and Cunard White Star cover the transition period from these shipping lines operating as single companies to their merger in 1934.

Union Castle Line

Union Castle Line was a British Shipping Line that operated a fleet of passenger liners and cargo ships between Europe and Africa from 1900 to 1977.

Shipping companies

The Pacific Steam Navigation Company Headquarters Liverpool, UK Founded in 1838. A commercial shipping company that operated in the Pacific coast of South America. It was the first company to use steam ships for commercial traffic in the Pacific. In 1965 the company was ended and remaining vessels rebranded.

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Hospitality – Artwork and designs for hotels, cafés and restaurants

This Hospitality themed chapter focuses on artwork, design sketches and drawings generated for the hospitality market. There are hundreds of plates that record patterns for napkins and tablecloths for hotels, cafés and restaurants across the globe. The collection provides a noteworthy record of evolving hotel branding throughout the first seven decades of the twentieth century. Some of the hotels documented, although prestigious in their heyday, are no longer in business whilst famous contemporary hotel groups and hotels are also well represented in the collection. The artwork and technical skill of the individuals who worked on the development and refinement of these designs is highly skilled and creative. The William Liddell Collection provides a unique and fascinating insight not only into world of hotel branding but also the working practices of designers, technicians and weavers of the Irish linen industry.

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Domestic – Artwork and designs for napkins and tablecloths

This Domestic themed chapter focuses on artwork, design sketches and drawings generated for the domestic market. There are hundreds of plates that record patterns for tablecloths and napkins in square, rectangular, oval and circular layouts. The diverse range of patterns provides insights into the artistic styles and visual themes that were popular over the period 1910s to 1970s. The artistic talent and design skill of the individuals who produced the sketches, paintings and technical drawings for these household artefacts is remarkable. The William Liddell Collection provides a unique and fascinating insight not only into domestic tastes and trends but also the working practices of designers, technicians and weavers of the Irish linen industry.

Damask Dignity

The William Liddell Collection holds a stunning range of designs for napkin squares. Most designs show a section of the square that includes the corner, border and partial centre piece. Napkins that would eventually be folded and placed on dining tables across the world. In 1926 American home economist Ethel R. Peyser, wrote a booklet for the William Liddell Company for the American domestic market that provides interesting insights into how Irish linen was regarded in the 1920s. The booklet was called Damask for Dignity and provides advice concerning etiquette in the use of Irish linen for entertaining and everyday use, place settings for breakfast, lunch and dinner, how to care for linen and also insights into the esteem in which the William Liddell Company itself was held.

Lily of the Valley

Floral patterns drawn in an accurate botanical illustrative style are perhaps the most common in the domestic pattern category. Lily of the valley, convallaria majalis, is amongst one of the more popular motifs. A series of the photographic plates records various aspects of the development of designs using the lily of the valley motif. A simple and elegant line drawing of the motif resonates throughout the collection of lily of the valley designs [1‑09‑011]. There are several plates that show the development of the motif from this initial line sketch to design sketches experimenting with placement and repeat [1‑09‑014]. Two designs use the combination of the lily of the valley and fleur-de-lis motifs, one incorporated into the logo for a hotel [5‑06‑003] and the other a detailed technical point paper drawing for production [5‑09‑008].

Chrysanthemum

Designs using various forms of the chrysanthemum motif are by far the most plentiful. The chrysanthemum morifolium also known as ‘florist’s daisy’ or ‘hardy garden mum’ with its deeply lobed upright leaves and large compact clump-forming flower heads is one of the more popular designs [3‑01‑006]. Another motif based on the more tightly packed chrysanthemum pom-pom [4‑09‑003] makes several appearances in napkin and tablecloth designs. The more open headed variety of the chrysanthemum species reminiscent of dendranthema lavandulifolium makes a few appearances [1‑01‑026]. The daisy-like chrysanthemum variety, such as japonense chrysanthemum, also features in several designs [3‑0‑4‑011] accompanied by the distinctive chrysanthemum leaf.

Landscapes

Amongst designs for domestic tableware are those with various landscape or waterscape themes. The realistic depiction of fields, ponds, hedgerows, agriculture and wildlife are recurrent subjects for design development.

Flowers & Leaves

Constructivist

Constructivist

Lattice Floral

Lattice Floral

Patterns

Patterns

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