I went to Watford Technical College and after further education became a civil engineer. For my first job I came up on a supposedly nine months’ contract and eighteen months later was still here. Travelling back to London each week to be with my wife was expensive so we stayed here and I looked around for something to do. I got a job as a rep for Hoover and was with them for several years during which time we bought this house; that was fifty-six years ago. Eventually Hoover changed their policy for reps and that’s how I came to be looking for another job. I got a job as a salesman in a shop in Norwich in the carpet department; that was fascinating and I was there for four or five years. Then I got a job as a buyer of floor coverings with the Debenhams group in the wholesale warehouse in the city; I used to go on buying trips to the carpet mills and learnt a lot about weaving. Eventually I left there and started working for myself. Having trained originally in all the various professions: bricklaying, roofing, carpentry I settled on painting and decorating and did that for about eleven or twelve years until they changed the taxes: you had to do your own tax returns and eventually it was so confusing that I thought I’ve had enough so I retired.
In the interim after about twenty-five years of married life my wife suddenly said “I’ve always wanted to learn to spin” so I bought her a spinning wheel. At that time there was a shop on Timber Hill in the city where you could go and learn to spin so she did. At the same time the BBC had a programme, on each week for about half an hour of a different craft and this particular week they were doing weaving. I was watching this bloke weave, it was fascinating and I was fascinated not so much by the weaving but by the loom. I thought I would like to make one of those but you don’t make a machine unless you know how it works so I went to Wensum Lodge which is still going in the city and I learnt weaving. That was thirty-five years ago.
Also at that time I was a very keen fisherman and I used to do the casting demonstrations at the Royal Norfolk Show. My wife worked for a company that also had a stand on the show and we did the Norfolk Show I think twenty-two years. At lunchtime when we walked around there was a stand being run by the mid Norfolk Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers; they used to meet at New Dereham and we got invited to their meeting so we went. Then, at the Millennium 2000 the Worstead Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers had an idea that on one particular day they would see how many spinners they could get together and spin; they got forty or fifty. I got talked to about it and went and whilst I was spinning there I had the pleasure of teaching North Walsham’s mayoress and it got into the Eastern Daily Press; I joined them as well. From there other people invited us to the Norfolk and Suffolk Guild of Weavers, Spinner and Dyers which met at Beccles; I’m still a member there, I’ll be there tomorrow in fact. During this time, I was chairman at mid Norfolk for a couple of years and at the Norfolk and Suffolk Guild for a year.
In the weaving shed there are two looms and indoors there’s another one. The Worstead Guild used to meet in an upstairs room at the back of the church at Meeting Hill. They had lots of looms set out there and we each used one of them. I got a fascination with weaving rugs as opposed to just cloth; this came back from the time when I was working but also I’m a bit ham fisted sometimes and with weaving rugs, the beater is not a light weight thing. The reed pushes the material up to the piece of wood and locks it in. The warps are threads that run this way backwards and forwards, front and back, they just keep coming and coming and coming and you go over and under them and across this way and across this way depending on the pattern. You create a cloth but I wanted to build my own loom and that was the start of all this. I was earning x pounds a week painting and decorating and I thought well I can afford to take a couple of weeks off to build a loom for about £500 but I was talking to a dear old gentleman who was also a weaver at Worstead and he had just bought one from Scandinavia. I had worked out a design which was very similar so instead of making one I got him to import one for me too. Weaving rugs on this one is not very clever because it’s a light machine and it leaps about a lot.
This dear old gentleman also had another loom in his house which was a big tank of a thing, heavy and he had imported that from Scandinavia too. He said “when I bought it I got one for a lady in Lowestoft, exactly the same and she wants shot of it cos it’s too much for her, I’ll give her a ring” which he did. I had a van in those days for business so he and I went to Lowestoft and walked into this lady’s house and there was this loom; it was immaculate, not a scratch on it. I said “I can’t afford this”. She said “how much can you afford?” and I said “well, I was thinking in terms of five hundred”. She says “it’s yours……. you do a lot of weaving and you would use it and that’s what I wanted” so I got that one for five hundred as well. It’s enormous, a huge loom as you can see and this is the sort for weaving of rugs. Its thick, solid, hard wearing stuff.
Regrettably neither of these looms have warps on at the moment. That one is in the process of being threaded up, this one I’ve just taken some cloth off.
The weaving shed
The weavery used to be a fruit cage but because we were at work and didn’t have a lot of time we decided to scrap it and at the same time we were looking for somewhere to put various looms so we thought we would build a shed. I was still working for myself then and I used to do a lot of business with a timber yard in the city. They had a lot of new timber but damaged and
I bought the whole lot for about a hundred quid; it took me a day to transport it back and forth. Ross Foods, the frozen food people, had a big depot there and at that time they were doing an extension and this is some of the cladding from the original building; it’s polystyrene about five inches thick with aluminium on each side and for a tenner I got all this: the roof and the floor and the walls and the insulation. That’s an old shed on three sides and in the construction of the shed there’s slabs of polystyrene and then ply on the inside so it’s extremely well insulated and therefore keeps very dry. The doors and windows came from the April sale for twenty-five quid.
The Worstead people always do a display for Worstead festival. Before I joined them the Guild itself had actually met in the church at Worstead but they had to leave and moved to this other church at Meeting Hill. The incumbent said it really ought to have a loom in the church because Worstead would never have had a church that size except that that was where the big weaving business started in this part of the world and the boss man built a church to show off basically. Anyway we got an old loom, we did a lot of work on it and we set it up and then I think for five years at Worstead festival I wove for two days on that loom and the cloth which eventually came off was displayed at the Worstead Guild’s meeting place.
Worstead is very well known for a particular type of cloth. Worsted cloth originated from Holland, from the low countries. People were persecuted for religious reasons and a lot of them came across from Holland and settled here and they started doing their weaving; it spread across the country and that is why it’s called “worstead” originally. It refers not to the cloth; it is actually the yarn from which it’s made. It’s a type of spinning which produces a smooth yarn rather than a hairy yarn and that’s what they make the worsted cloth from.
From Worstead we used to do and still do a lot of the shows: Holkham Country Fair and Aylsham Country Fair; we do Southwold for a whole week every year and so it goes on. We had to move again out of the church at Meeting Hill so we became somewhat peripatetic again. During this time, because the guild had at least six or seven or maybe eight looms this sort of size, Lord and Lady Walpole allowed us to store them in their stables at Wolterton Hall. We moved from this hall to that hall and then we went to the parish hall at Dilham and we were there one evening every week. The village were very happy with us and welcomed us with open arms. The parish did an open day in the hall; people had stands and they asked us if we would do something so I took this loom that folds. I put a cloth on that loom then to make a cloth to reupholster my dining room chair seats; that was six years ago and I took the cloth off ready to use about a week or ten days ago. On this I’ve woven and I’ve made rugs.
So weaving goes on and on. I teach it. I teach people spinning also because you can get about two hundred warp threads across and if you put about five or six yards long on that’s a hell of a lot of yarn needed so I learnt to spin. The man who taught me weaving had been in the farming business, more particularly with animals and he used to go each year at shearing time. A lot of the spinners and weavers in the county keep a few sheep, not as a trade but just for their fleece. He used to go around and do the shearing, and I was fascinated so I said “can you show me how to do it?” and I learnt to shear. I’ve only done it a couple of times but I did go with him one time out to Potter Heigham. I sheared a whole sheep all on my own and I spun the yarn and I wove a cloth with it and somewhere indoors there’s a couple of cushions made with it so I have sheared, spun and woven them. I’m rather pleased with that.
Yarn’s expensive stuff but if you’re a commercial producer with a big factory, vast number of looms and you’re going to make a run of cloth five thousand metres by two metres wide, you need x thousands of kilos of yarn of a particular colour. You order that from the dyers and you get a couple or three percent extra in case of problems. You run your cloth, you finish and you’ve got 50/60 kilos left. It’s totally useless because you can’t match the colour so you get rid of it by flogging it cheap and then there are various places which buy and then sell. There’s one at Uppingham just the other side of Peterborough and I go there probably a couple of times a year. It’s a hundred miles each way and I usually spend a couple of hundred quid each time. You’ve got to buy what’s there you can’t repeat it again because that’s it, finished but at a reasonable price it maintains the skills of a weaver.
The other thing that I do is make things. There’s all sorts of bits of equipment that are simple to make but trying to buy them is not. Also I give talks: tomorrow at the Norfolk and Suffolk Guild I’m doing a chat, a lecture whatever you like to call it which I call “Weird Weaving”. It’s not weird, actually it’s just unusual in as much as it doesn’t use any warps only weaves. If people are keen and interested and haven’t got a lot of money, we’ve got some yarn. A lot of spinners sit and spin but then they don’t know what to do with the yarn and these simple little things make it easy to weave for couple of quid. It keeps the skill alive then they get the bug and like me, they get on with the weaving.
Stanley Appleton interviewed for WISEArchive at Blofield on 20th July 2016