Unsung heroine of Sheffield gave hope to wounded WW1 soldiers

Annie Bindon Carter with 'her men' at the Painted Factory workshop. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.
Annie Bindon Carter with 'her men' at the Painted Factory workshop. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.
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The thousands of young soldiers who lost limbs in World War One returned home with little hope, few prospects of work and no money.

But a petite yet feisty lady gave hope and pride to hundreds of wounded servicemen in Sheffield – and sparked an international art revolution at the same time.

A soldier who losy his legs in the war in the Painted Fabrics workshop. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

A soldier who losy his legs in the war in the Painted Fabrics workshop. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Despite this, the inspirational tale of Annie Bindon Carter and her company Painted Fabrics Ltd is little told. Author Malcolm Leary is on a mission to change this, though, with a new book paying homage to the ‘unsung heroine’.

Born in Nottingham in 1884, Annie obtained a scholarship at the Sheffield School of Art as a teenager and received numerous awards for her work.

By her early 20s, she was an accomplished painter and began to forge a career as a professional artist.

But in 1914, everything changed. With the outbreak of World War One, Annie could not ignore the plight of thousands of servicemen returning home with severe injuries and disabilities and began volunteering at Wharncliffe War Hospital, in Middlewood, Sheffield.

Soldiers in the Painted Factory workshop. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives

Soldiers in the Painted Factory workshop. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives

Initially offering informal painting classes for patients, Annie had an epiphany following an encounter with one young man in the hospital gardens. Malcolm said: “Annie met a disabled soldier in the gardens and asked him to join the art classes. He held up his bandaged, bloodied stumps in despair and asked: ‘What can I do with these?’

“That’s when Annie came up with the idea of fastening brushes to the soldier’s stumps so they could paint.”

Using stencils, the soldier’s were able to paint fabulous designs. In 1923 Annie leased a disused Army camp between Norton Woodseats at Meadowhead. The huts were converted into workshops for screen and block printing, as well as areas for hand painting and stencilling designs. Four years later they moved to Little Norton Lane, Meadowhead – and the name survives in retirement housing there.

The stencils were designed by Annie’s sister Dorothy and friends Phyllis Lawton and Edith Jagger, sister of artist Charles Sergeant Jagger, whose sculptures are in London’s Hyde Park.

Men at work in the Painted Fabric factory. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Men at work in the Painted Fabric factory. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

The camp was opened by Princess Mary in 1925, who became the company’s Royal Patron. Annie set ‘her men’ to work creating colourfully-designed clothing and upholstery. As Painted Fabrics Ltd’s reputation grew, these designs were soon being snapped-up by fashionable high society.

They even caught the eye of royalty – the Duke of Windsor was a particular fan of the company’s silk handkerchiefs.

But, Malcolm said, Painted Fabrics certainly was not a charity and it quickly became a limited company.

In the 36 years the firm operated for, the designs were sold all over the world, including to royalty and the super-rich.

Empire Day in Sheffield. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Empire Day in Sheffield. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Malcolm, aged 73, said: “The reason she started Painted Fabrics as a proper company is because she had a motto right from the start: work, not charity. This was absolutely vital because the soldiers did not want charity – they wanted real work.

“Producing things that were sold and worn by people gave the soldiers an immense sense of pride.

“That’s the reason I named the book ‘Painted with Pride’. This work gave them renewed hope and a sense of worth.

“Looking at letters and diary entries by the soldiers, it’s clear they absolutely worshipped Annie. They thought she was a wonderful woman. Which, of course, she was.”

Not only was the camp a workplace but it became a home in which a community developed. Huts were converted into homes, for employees and their families, living self-sufficiently, growing vegetables and keeping animals.

Annie married Freemason Geoffrey Cecil Carter, who owned a chemist company, in her mid-20s and the couple had two daughters. They lived in the Ecclesall Road area for most of their lives. Annie died in 1967, aged 83.

Wharncliffe War Hospital. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Wharncliffe War Hospital. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Former business consultant Malcolm said he was compelled to write the book, his first, after being ‘astonished’ that hardly anybody knew of Annie Bindon Carter’s story.

He said: “I want Sheffield to recognise what a fantastic person Annie was.

“She helped so many soldiers through the First and Second World War.

“She gave hope to those who had none, gave work to those unable to do a job.

“I think Annie deserves to be celebrated more than she is presently. She gave her life to helping others and Sheffield should be very proud of everything she achieved.”

Malcolm, who grew up on the Flower Estate in Wincobank, but now lives in the Hope Valley, said he started researching Annie Bindon Carter in city archives three years ago.

Initially he was not intending to write a book. But as he delved deep into Annie’s undiscovered history, he could not resist telling the ‘amazing tale’.

Proceeds from the book, which is planned for release next month, are being donated to Help for Heroes.

Malcolm said: “Given the subject of the book and all the great work Annie did, it seemed the obvious choice to donate the money to help today’s injured soldiers.”

n Painted with Pride is available from Amazon, £9.95. For more information, visit: www.rmcbooks.co.uk

World War One soldiers parade through the streets of Sheffield

World War One soldiers parade through the streets of Sheffield

Painted Fabrics poster. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Painted Fabrics poster. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

An example of a Painted Fabrics design. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

An example of a Painted Fabrics design. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

High society women sampling some of the garments made by wounded soldiers in the Painted fabrics workship, in Sheffield. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

High society women sampling some of the garments made by wounded soldiers in the Painted fabrics workship, in Sheffield. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Wounded soldiers in the Painted Factory workshops. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.

Wounded soldiers in the Painted Factory workshops. Image courtesy of Sheffield Archives.