Heritage Lottery Fund shines a light on the textile heritage of Merton

The London Borough of Merton has been awarded a grant of £143,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the River and Cloth Project, which is set to explore the diverse textile heritage of Merton.

The project will last three years and will involve schools and community groups to help highlight Merton’s heritage as a place of textile innovation from the 16th century until the 1950’s. Participants will learn how the water and the power from the river Wandle was key to the production of quality textiles; they will visit the site and museum collections and handle some of the original tools used. The project will also focus on one famous technique each year.

There will also be the opportunity for participants to try “hands-on”, the original techniques used by the Huguenots, Morris and Liberty’s. There will also be a touring exhibition each year.

The fast flowing and clean water of the Wandle River along with innovative techniques of bleaching and dyeing brought to Merton by Huguenot refugees established Merton as a leader in the calico and chintz trade. This continued until the early 1800’s when William Morris established his company in Merton, using techniques, material and designs from India to influence his now world famous designs. Liberty’s textiles were also produced in Merton, including the famous cone design, which is based on traditional patterns from Kashmir.

Maureen Pepper, Arts Development Manager for Merton, said:

“Chintz, Morris, and Liberty’s are textile terms that are world famous and recognised as hugely influential in the development of fashion. What is not so well know is the important role that the Huguenot refugees, Chinese and Indians in Merton played developing this as well as the importance of the Wandle River. This project will help redress that balance.”

Heritage Lottery Fund regional manager Sue Bowers, said:

“This project provides opportunities for a wide range of Merton’s residents to engage with their local heritage ensuring the river Wandle’s historic textile industry is understood and appreciated across the borough.”