The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Meetings, announcements and notices for the Foxearth and District Local History Society, and associated organisations. For details of our activities, and for more information on recent events and current programme, please contact Clare Mathieson 01787 311337 or Lynda Rumble 01787 281434.

'What it takes to make a yard of cloth' - Richard Humphries (Oct 12th)

About 36 members and visitors were spellbound as Richard recounted his personal story of growing up in Braintree in the 1960s, through to the present day. As a left-handed child overshadowed by an academic sister, his practical and artistic talents were overlooked, but key ‘Fairy Godmother' figures: his Scout leader, an entrepreneurial uncle, and later Stephen Walters intervened to change the course of his life.

Richard left school in Braintree at 15 to begin his design apprenticeship at major silk weavers Warner & Sons, and made rapid progress. But this old firm was to close five years later and he was made redundant. Inspired by his uncle to begin on his own, he set aside his musical ambitions, saved some of the old machinery and patterns from the scrapheap, and started on his own. From this small beginning the business expanded firstly to Castle Hedingham and then also in Braintree, creating the most expensive and luxurious cloths for the Aristocracy of the world. When Royal palaces at Hampton Court and Windsor were damaged by fire, Richard was able to recreate the historic textiles, restoring the interiors to their former splendour. 

Richard's talk was illustrated with many samples of silk fabric designed and made for landmark orders. From the Harry Potter spider webs to The Lord Mayor of London’s robes, from the upholstery of the State Gold Carriage to the silk velvet in the Crown Jewels, the fabrics have one thing in common:- Richard Humphries was responsible for their creation in England’s last remaining home of the Silk Industry in Sudbury and North Essex. 

We could only marvel at Richard's unique achievements, drawing on his apprenticeship training, natural artistic abilities, and his obvious drive and charisma to set up his own business and thereby keep the tradition of silk weaving in our local area. This memorable detailed picture of his early life and career really helped us understand all the opportunities and setbacks he has faced. 

Fifty years on, Humphries Weaving Company continues to make beautiful custom woven silks at Sudbury Silk Mills. Richard is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and sits on the Court of the Worshipful Company of Weavers, London’s most ancient guild begun in 1133, and gives guidance in its charitable activities, helping textile students entering the industry. He was awarded an MBE for services to the Textile Industry in 1985. Most importantly Richard is married to Michelle, herself a narrow cloth weaver, and they have six children. 

Richard is an excellent speaker with a comedian’s flair. His humorous anecdotes, e.g: the celebration of future orders as Windsor Castle burned, and his impersonations of Royalty and politicians he had met, had his audience in stitches. We hope he will revisit Foxearth before too long!

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