Friday, 28 January 2011

Newton, Jones and Willis Embroidery Work

Illustration: Newton, Jones and Willis. Embroidered section of an Archbishop's cape, 1851.

The largely ecclesiastical suppliers Newton, Jones and Willis exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. This Birmingham based company was by no means the only ecclesiastically based company at the Exhibition. While in today's world it may appear to be somewhat of a niche market, in the mid-nineteenth century companies like Newton, Jones and Willis were much more mainstream and supplied a healthy ecclesiastical market, with a number of companies also branching out into the then fashionable and gothically inspired domestic interior market.

Newton, Jones and Willis supplied work in a number of disciplines including metalwork, stained glass and textiles. Textiles have always formed a substantial element in church furnishings and ceremonies whether they be altar cloths, hangings or costumes. Embroidery has long dominated the genre and English ecclesiastical history has a long connection with embroidery both professional and amateur that goes back to the pre-Norman Anglo-Saxon period. Although the Church of England after the Reformation toned down the number of ceremonies and furnishings in the mid-sixteenth century, by the time of Catholic emancipation in 1829 and the subsequent Catholic church building projects that followed, the Church of England had become much more ornamental and decorative in its furnishings and ceremonies. Although the re-emergence of the Catholic Church in England was by no means a catalyst for nineteenth century decoration and ornamentation within the Church of England, it could well have been a factor at least within ecclesiastical textiles.

By the mid nineteenth century, companies such as Newton, Jones and Willis were able to supply a decoratively extensive range of ceremonial costumes and furnishings for ecclesiastical use. Both illustrations shown here were hand embroidered examples using silk and gold thread. The first illustration shows an orphrey or heavily embroidered area of an Archbishop's cape. This was specifically designed for the Church of England, other denominations having their own costumes and accessories. The second illustration shows a portion of an Altar Cloth, also for the Church of England. Both are highly stylised though well within the parameters of the fashionable gothic revival and lend a certain amount to the decorative and design work of A W N Pugin for example.

Illustration: Newton, Jones and Willis. Embroidered Altar Cloth, 1851.

The company used a number of designers and architects work throughout their history, which went well into the twentieth century. They were known to have used design work supplied by E. W. Godwin, G. E. Street, F. E. Howard and William Burges. Although based in Birmingham, the company eventually had workshops in both London and Liverpool, as well as Birmingham. They also had an all important flagship showroom in London where some of their best ecclesiastical fair was on show. However, much of their merchandise was sold through their numerous and regularly updated catalogues, as well as through wide scaling advertising through various ecclesiastical circles, whether that be national or localised.

The 1851 Great Exhibition was not the only international venue for Newton, Jones and Willis; they also appeared at the 1862 exhibition also held in London, as well as the 1873 exhibition in Vienna and the 1878 exhibition in Paris. Many companies found these venues, although expensive, often worth the fee as both domestic and foreign orders could be gained through the exhibition of prestigious decorative work. Although the examples were often not for sale, but had been produced as a guide showing either the flexibility or more usually the stature and standing of the company, these examples were often of such extraordinary skill, many having been painstakingly hand produced. They were in fact often textile art pieces in their own right and were supreme examples of handcraft production of the nineteenth century. Where most of these 'show' examples are now, if any indeed survive, would make for an interesting project.

Reference links:
Ecclesiastical Embroidery (Batsford Embroidery Paperback)
Butterick Art & Ecclesiastical Embroidery c.1898 (Metropolitan Handy Series)
Ideas for Church Embroidery.
Embroidery in the Church
Clothed in Majesty: European Ecclesiastical Textiles from the Detroit Institute of Arts
Traditional Icelandic embroidery
Ancient Russian Ecclesiastical Embroideries
Needlecraft Practical Journal #85 c.1910 - Ecclesiastical Embroidery
English Ecclesiastical Embroideries of the XIII to XVI Centuries with 33 Illustrations [Victoria & Albert Museum Catalogues]
Book of Byzantine-Ukrainian Ecclesiastical Embroidery
New Ecclesiastical Embroidery
Stitches for God: The Story of Washington Cathedral Needlepoint
Parament Patterns: Counted Cross-Stitch for Altar, Lectern, and Pulpit Hangings
Ecclesiastical sewing guild, St. Luke's student wives
High Fashion in the Church
Church needlework ;: A manual of practical instruction
The work-table magazine of church and decorative needlework, embroidery, tambour, crochet, knitting, netting, etc

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