At Anna Maria Garthwaite’s House
Anna Maria Garthwaite, the most celebrated texile designer of the eighteenth century, bought this house in Spitalfields when she was forty years old in 1728, just five years after it was built. Its purchase reflected the success she had already achieved but, living here at the very heart of the silk industry, she produced over one thousand patterns for damasks and brocades during the next thirty-five years.
The first owner of the house was a glover who used the ground floor as a shop with customers entering through the door upon the right, while the door on the left gave access to the rooms above where the family lived. For Anna Maria Garthwaite, the ground floor may also have been used to receive clients who would be led up to the first floor where commissions could be discussed and deals done. The corner room on the second floor receives the best light, uninterrupted by the surrounding buildings, and this is likely to have been the workroom, most suited to the creation of her superlative designs painted in watercolours – of which nearly nine hundred are preserved today at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Anna Maria Garthwaite contrived an enormous variety of sprigged patterns each with different permutations of naturalistically rendered flowers, both cultivated and wild species. Yet equally, her work demonstrates a full understanding of the technical process of silk weaving, conjuring designs that make elegant employment of the possibilities of the medium and the talents of skilled weavers. Many of her designs are labelled with the names of the weavers to whom they were sold and annotated with precise instructions, revealing the depth of her insight into the method as well as offering assistance to those whose job it was to realise her work. She was credited by Malachi Postlethwayt in The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce of 1751 as the one who “introduced the Principles of Painting into the loom.”
Born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, Garthwaite moved to York with her twice-widowed sister Mary in 1726, coming to down to London two years later - and it is tempting to imagine that the pair became a familiar sight, taking long walks eastwards from the newly built-up streets into the fields beyond, where they collected wild flowers to serve as inspiration for botanically-accurate designs.
In spite of its commanding corner position at the junction of Wilkes St and Princelet St (known as Princes St in Anna Maria Garthwaite’s time), this is a modest dwelling – just one room deep – and, nearly three centuries later, it retains the atmosphere of a domestic working environment. In common with many of the surrounding properties, the house bears witness to the waves of migration that have defined Spitalfields through the centuries, subdivided for Jewish residents in the nineteenth century – the Goldsteins, the Venicoffs, the Marks, the Hellers, who were superseded by Bengalis in the sixties and seventies, until restoration in 1985 revealed the interiors and unified the spaces again.
Apart from wear and tear of centuries, and the stucco rendering on the exterior from 1860, Anna Maria Garthwaite would recognise her old house as almost unchanged if she were to return today.
Christ Church seen through an old glass pane from Anna Maria’s Garthwaite’s workroom.
There will be an opportunity to visit Anna Maria Garthwaite’s House on Tuesday 16th April, further details and tickets from the Huguenots of Spitalfields Festival
You may also like to read more about Spitalfields silk