‘Work not charity’ – Painted Fabrics’ fascinating history

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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Her time spent volunteering at Wharncliffe War Hospital during World War I was to have quite an effect on Annie Bindon Carter.

So moved was she, by the injured soldiers she met there that the former art student - who won a scholarship to study at Sheffield Technical School of Art - decided something must be done, to help provide retraining and employment for these worthy men once the war was over.

Annie Bindon Carter

Annie Bindon Carter

Following through on this vow, in 1923, Annie, along with the three other former art students she’d volunteered at the hospital with - offering informal art classes as a form of rehabilitation therapy - made the bold move to establish Sheffield’s Painted Fabrics Company.

Annie leased a disused Army camp in Woodseats, and had the former army huts converted into workshops. The camp was officially opened in 1925.

And nearly a century on, the fascinating history of this Sheffield company is now being celebrated with a £98,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, which will enable The Workers’ Educational Association to deliver a two-year project, focusing on Sheffield’s Painted Fabrics Company.

The project will provide the opportunity for people to learn about Painted Fabrics, develop heritage skills and respond to the story through writing, painting, drama, textiles and other art forms.

Painted Fabrics

Painted Fabrics

Through exhibitions, publications and a dramatic performance, this unique part of Sheffield’s heritage will be brought to a wider audience.

The project will also carry out essential conservation work, creating a digitised photographic archive of the Painted Fabrics collection held by Museums Sheffield, allowing on-line public access to the collections for the first time.

Project manager Rob Hindle said: “After launching the company in 1925, Princess Mary went on to become the company’s Royal Patron, and would often take part in Painted Fabrics sales across England’s high-end fashion stores.

“The company provided an opportunity for these men, many of whom had worked in local heavy industry prior to the war, to regain meaningful employment as well as personal dignity.

“Individuals helped by the ground-breaking charitable organisation included severely disabled soldiers and sailors, double amputees and those suffering from shell shock.

“The ex-servicemen hand-printed designs on to various fabrics, using a wide variety of printing techniques.

“These fabrics were then made up into ‘Painted Fabrics products,’ which included dresses, table cloths, cushions and curtains, and the company sold these products through outlets in the UK and abroad, including Liberty’s of London, as well as at high-profile exhibitions at Claridge’s, Wentworth Woodhouse and Sheffield Cutler’s Hall, which became society fixtures during the inter-war years.”

Annie, one of the company’s five directors and honorary secretary, became affectionately known as ABC to the employees, and dealt with the day-to-day running of the company.

‘Thirty six men working at present with only 38 undamaged arms and 42 undamaged legs between them,’ read one of the company’s early publicity leaflets, written personally by Anne, and also featuring company’s bold motto - ‘work not charity.’

Rob said: “We’re delighted that we’ve received this support thanks to National Lottery players. The story of Painted Fabrics deserves to be better known and this project will give people with little experience of heritage learning an opportunity to discover this fascinating part of our history and to create an imaginative and enduring legacy of their own.

“It’s about bringing this incredible story to a wider audience and we want to involve as many people as we can in this process.

“To that effect, we would like to hear from anyone who has information or materials relating to Painted Fabrics to help us understand this fascinating story.”

Email yhsouthwest@wea.org.uk or call 0114 2423609 if you have any information to share, or would like more details about the project.