Warner Textile Archive and the University of Essex join forces to unlock archive potential

A Warner & Sons employee hand-prints the ‘Directorie’ fabric at the Dartford Print Works c.1930. Image courtesy Warner Textile Archive


EIRA are supporting a collaborative project between the Warner Textile Archive and the University of Essex, enabling the exploration of key objects within the collection.

The Warner Textile Archive (WTA) is the largest publicly owned collection from a luxury textile manufacturer in the UK. The Archive is housed in the original Warner & Sons mill in Braintree that was refurbished in 2004 to hold the significant collection.

The collection comprises over 100,000 items, including designs on paper, hand woven textiles, printed textiles, business records, photographs and manufacturing equipment. At its height, Warner & Sons were producing fabric for royal weddings and funerals, and decorating palaces. The family business pioneered several textile manufacturing techniques that have never again been replicated.

PhD student Samantha Woodward has joined the Warner Textile Archive to work alongside the team for three months (January – March 2021) in order to develop a framework for further research into core parts of the collection, and outline the direction for how the Archive will engage with users in the future.

The project, funded through EIRA’s Innovation Voucher scheme, will explore and prioritise which parts of the collection would benefit being researched more fully, and which sections could successfully tell the story of the Warner Textile Archive. This will inform the archive’s digital engagement plans and help gain a better understanding of the history of the collection. The team will also work with a peer review group of related professionals and organisations who can advise on working digitally with similar collections. The project aims to identify a pathway to improved digital working with a clear agenda linked to enhanced research and business results.

The EIRA grant has enabled the Warner Textile Archive to enhance the specialised knowledge of the team in this planning and scoping stage with the introduction of Samantha Woodward as the University of Essex PhD placement student. Samantha Woodward’s work on her PhD entitled; ‘From an Experiment in Industrial Democracy to Driving the Difference: The John Lewis Partnership Co-ownership model 1964-2014’ provides an excellent comparison with the business history of Warner & Sons and enables the Warner Textile Archive to reach out to another significant textile business archive.

Sophie Jemma, Archivist at Warner Textile Archive, commented that:

“being able to access professional academic support from the University of Essex at this stage of formulating a wider digital transformation at Warner Textile Archive is invaluable.”

Sheila Charrington, Chairman of Trustees, Braintree District Museum Trust said:

“We are so pleased to have Samantha working with us to identify the hidden gems in the Archive collection for further research and development. We hope that our partnership with the University of Essex will strengthen our ability to increase access and diversify engagement with the Archive.”

Dr Andrew Priest, History Head of Department, University of Essex added:

“The Department of History at Essex is delighted to be able to participate in this EIRA funded project, the second in the last few months to involve one of our doctoral students. Samantha Woodward’s work with the Warner Textile Archive will help to show the importance of using historical research and technology to help museums bring their holdings to wider audiences and increase commercial opportunities. It goes without saying that this work is even more vital during the present crisis, and we are very proud that one of our outstanding PhD candidates can help us to contribute to this process.”

Finally, Dr Jeremy Davenport, EIRA Knowledge Exchange Lead said:

“The Warner Textile Archive represents an extraordinary chapter in the history of textile manufacturing in Essex, reflecting exceptional creative skills and business innovation. This collaboration with the University of Essex will support the WTA explore new and novel ways of engaging the public with this archive to share and inspire and generate real value for our wider community.”

We are excited to update you with progress on this important collaborative project, so keep an eye on our social media channels and website for further news.