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At Anna Maria Garthwaite’s House

April 5, 2013
by the gentle author

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

A Dress of Spitalfields Silk

Stanley Rondeau at the V&A

13 Responses leave one →
  1. April 5, 2013

    What a gorgeous, lovely, gracious, and HOMEY home! The love shines through.

  2. andreas permalink
    April 5, 2013

    what a stunningly beautiful house! that would be my absolute dream house. is it possible to visit it some other days as I won`t be in london in april?

  3. April 5, 2013

    Very interesting and a trip to the V&A is needed to find out more and see her work.

  4. April 5, 2013

    Thank goodness someone has preserved this beautiful house for our modern eyes. The cat looks like a ghost from the past waiting for her mistress to return home. Thank you for a very beautiful post and an excellent history lesson.

    Debs

  5. joan permalink
    April 5, 2013

    Really looking forward to the V&A Clothworkers Centre opening up at Blythe House, Kensington Olympia later this year.
    http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/textile-study-rooms,-95-100-and-the-clothworkers-centre/
    This means that it should be easier to get to see the Garthwaite designs up close – even if you will have to make an appointment. It’s been a long two years for many people since the Textile Study Rooms closed down at the V&A.

    I always look at photos of houses like this and wonder where all the accumulated domestic stuff we all collect is!

    Best wishes,

    Joan

  6. Penelope Beaumont permalink
    April 5, 2013

    How I wish this was my home, it is beautiful in its simplicity.

  7. April 5, 2013

    A particularly interesting post for me, as I have lived so much of my life in areas where textiles of one sort or another were important, and now are no longer: in particular Yorkshire and the Pays d’Olmes, France. So glad this lovely home and its history is being preserved

  8. Sally permalink
    April 5, 2013

    How beautiful! – thank you.

  9. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    April 5, 2013

    What a lovely house.Wonder who the J.C.Cornwell was,( maybe a distant relative!)

  10. anne forster permalink
    April 5, 2013

    Beautiful house, so evocative of the past and completely timeless.

  11. Cherub permalink
    April 5, 2013

    What a lovely house, very tranquil and homely. I was lucky enought to get to Spitalfields on my visit to London last week – have to say, so much redevelopment has taken place since I worked there about 13 year ago that I did not recognise parts of her. I even nearly walked past the SPAB’s offices, despite the fact I had worked there for a while and my husband had to point them out as we were passing. However, it was late at night and dark!

    Still, it was worth it for memories (plus the brick Lane curry and the Beigel Bake ) – but next time I’ll be back in daylight and hopefully I won’t have to leave it another 10 years like this visit.

  12. jeannette permalink
    April 6, 2013

    so beautiful to see the old paint and finishes, the old floor, the perfume on the mantel, the pictures of the children, the beautiful leaves climbing the — candelabrum, was it? to think there were wildflower fields nearby. such a privilege to be invited inside, thank you.

  13. Gary permalink
    April 6, 2013

    It is interesting to see one of the old china counterpoise weights on the lit light over the table with the bowl of fruit.
    These weights were in common use when electric lighting came into use in the 1920′s/30′s.
    They consisted of a china pot with a screw lid to which was fitted to a pulley through which the light flex passed, the flex then went over a higher pulley, the pot was filled with lead shot to counter the weight of the light so that the light could be raised or lowered at a touch. They were widely used over work benches at the time.
    Gary

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