Thursday, 26 February 2015

Wallpaper, the Whitworth and William Henry Arnott...



We recently noticed on a lower shelf in the library, an attractive, if slightly shabby, blue daisy patterned box. The pattern on both the box, and the jacket of the book inside it, is a single colour version of William Morris's 1862 design 'The Daisy', the first Morris wallpaper to be put on the market. The book inside the box is  'A history of British wallpaper 1509-1914' which was published by Batsford in 1926.

There is a letter ‘tipped in’ to the front flyleaf from the Assistant Secretary of The Wallpaper Manufacturers Limited, Manchester Office, King Street West which indicates that the Chetham's Librarian, Charles T.E. Phillips, had approached them for a copy of the book shortly after it was published.

By the mid-nineteenth century Britain was considered to be the world leader in the industrial production of wallpaper both in terms of design and technology, and Manchester was arguably at the heart of this industry. The book is illustrated with both black and white images of historic wallpapers and with tipped-in colour plates and the introduction claims that it is the first to offer a comprehensive account of the British wallpaper industry. Chapter headings include 'Chinese papers and English imitations' and 'The coming of William Morris' .



Skimming through the pages of the penultimate section, 'Mill Records', one of the library volunteers was startled to see the name of what she realised was a family firm – Mitchell, Arnott and Co. She was aware that the Arnott family had owned a 'paper staining' business in Golborne but knew little of its origins. The company was formed when expansion by the East Midland Railway forced the block printers Mitchell and Hammond  to move from their Manchester premises (at Jackson Street, off London Road). In 1863 they found a suitable temporary mill in Golborne and by 1865 had built a completely new factory there, Brookside Mills, where shortly after they were joined by a new partner, W.H. Arnott – Great, Great Grandfather to our volunteer.


William Henry Arnott was previously employed by the well-known Manchester paper stainers Heywood, Higginbotham and Smith, and he and William Mitchell went on to build a very successful business in Golborne, specialising in the production of 'sanitary goods' or washable wallpapers. A visit by reporters from the Leigh Chronicle in the 1880's, describes how the mill covered one and a half acres and employed more than 200 people from the village. So, when fire broke out at the mill in December 1886, and the entire complex burned down, the Chronicle described it as '..the greatest disaster that has ever befallen Golborne’. However, the business must have risen from the ashes, as the book records that it was taken over by The Wallpaper Manufacturers Ltd in 1899.

Interestingly, in 1967,  The Wallpaper Manufacturers donated a huge collection of samples to the Whitworth Art Gallery which formed the bulk of its renowned collections. These should be accessible again very soon at the newly re-opened gallery.

This is the only family photograph of William Henry (in top hat and impressive facial hair) standing next to a gentleman cyclist and a penny farthing bicycle, outside a house which is probably 'The Laurels' in Lowton.  


He died quite suddenly in 1900 at the age of 72 and had clearly become the proverbial pillar of the community. His obituary lists at some length all the positions he held - magistrate, chair of Leigh Rural District Council and of the School Attendance Committee, overseer of the poor, and eventually County Councillor. However, our volunteer is not sure whether she and her ancestor would have got on well, as the obituary also records that ‘in politics he was a strong and unbending Conservative and for some time was chairman of the Golborne Conservative Club...' Strangely, William Henry died intestate, which might explain why there has been no trace of any family fortune...