Gulbenkian Prize 2007 Longlist - The Warner Archive At Braintree Museum

By Melina Greenfield | 05 February 2007
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image of fabric sample in a museum

Warner commissioned major artists to design fabrics - this sample is by Graham Sutherland. Courtesy Braintree District Museum Trust

The voting for the 2007 Readers' Poll for the Gulbenkian Prize is now closed

24 Hour Museum begins its alphabetical roundup of the museums on this year's longlist for the Gulbenkian Prize with a look at the Warner Textile Archive.

Braintree District Museum in Essex has been shortlisted for this year's prestigious £100,000 Gulbenkian Prize for its impressive Warner Textile Archive.

The Warner Archive, which records the design and manufacture of textiles over the past 200 years, is housed in Warner's Mill, part of the Braintree District Museum.

Collections of cloth, woven textiles, printed fabric, and paper designs are all on show in the gallery, which was once a working mill and produced many of the 19th century textiles it now displays.

close up picture of fabric sample

Detail, Sutherland fabric. Courtesy Braintree District Museum Trust

The museum receives over 40,000 visitors per year eager to see one of the biggest textile collections in public ownership in the UK (the largest being the V&A). The collection includes works by Owen Jones, Lynton Lamb, and Howard Hodgkin.

Warner and Sons set up their textile business at New Mills in 1895, but after takeover bids were accepted the firm relocated to Milton Keynes in the 1970s. In 2005, however, Braintree and its residents decided to shift the archive back to its original home, which was then called New Mills, and subsequently renamed Warner's Mill. This was a process that involved help from the Heritage Lottery Fund plus other major charities and the backing of Braintree District Council.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century the firm's directors participated at major international trade shows to promote Braintree and the local people who were working and designing inside the mill. On their travels they would collect fabric and paper designs from all parts of the world for inspiration for their own designs on their return. During the 1880s they bought out rival companies and used their designs and fabrics; this pooling of resources would eventually become the Archive.

The Warner Textile Archive Gallery is used for the study of 19th and 20th century fabrics and design, and a centre for inspiration for anyone who is interested or involved in the textile industry.

a photograph of the interior of a gallery with glass cases and panels

The Warner Textile Archive is housed in the original mill where many of the textiles were created. © Braintree District Museum Trust

Warner commissioned major artists to design fabric for stately homes, palaces, and liners, as well as the ordinary home, and these designs are also displayed within the archive. Some of the influential designers include Vanessa Bell, Alec Hunter, John Aldridge and Bruce Talbot.

There are also photographs and documents about the history of Warner and his company in Braintree that encapsulate the memories and atmosphere of the original working mill.

The Braintree District Museum opened in 1993 and has been expanding ever since; it seeks to involve the community and holds tradition and value for their textile heritage very highly.

Should the Warner Archive win the 2007 Gulbenkian Prize? Go to the 24 Hour Museum's vote page to vote for the Warner Archive or any of the other longlisted museums in the 24 Hour Museum's Gulbenkian 2007 People's Vote.

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