Cryséde

23 Mar

Alec Walker's 1920s 'Ding Dong Mine' textile design.

Last night I went to a wonderful talk at my local public library on the subject of Cryséde, the 1920s-’30s St. Ives-based textile company.

Cryséde was really the work of two men: Alec Walker, the artist, and Tom Heron, the businessman. The two together created a hugely popular enterprise that produced printed silk and linen fabric and clothing. I was particularly interested in Heron who was a Fabian, a pacifist, a socialist and a supporter of the suffrage movement – certainly not typical of a Yorkshire industrialist of this age. He was also the father of artist Patrick Heron.

Walker had been to Paris and met with Raoul Dufy who taught him how to recreate his artwork as design. Back in Newlyn in the mid-’20s, Walker set up shop in his home, Myrtle Cottage. The business later moved to St. Ives, into larger premises in a vacated pilchard works building.

Walker's designs were cut into blocks which were then hand-stamped onto Cryséde's silk and linen.

Tom Heron came on board as manager and the business thrived with, at one point, 28 shops nationwide and thousands of mail-order customers. Many of the designs were based on Cornish places and scenery, with patterns named Godrevy, Mount’s Bay, Cornish Farm, St. Hilary, Isles of Scilly, Lelant Flowers, and Zennor.

A 1936 linen Cryséde coat in the 'Godrevy' pattern.

A 1930s Cryséde silk dress.

Cryséde’s 1931 summer catalogue read:

Printed by hand in original and very distinctive designs, Cryséde have again taken and kept the lead in these wonderful Linen Coats and Frocks.  So very different and so unlike anything seen elsewhere, they have captured even the imagination of the French.

Seen last year in other designs along every water’s edge from Le Touquet to the Lido, they are proving more popular than ever in 1931.

For obvious reasons, I’d love to own this dress:

A 1928 Cryséde linen dress in the design 'Lelant Flowers'.

Some of my friends who are readers of Persephone Books might recognise a Cryséde design as the endpaper for Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages:

Walker ultimately suffered from marital problems and a nervous breakdown and had a falling out with Heron and with the Cryséde board. What had been a promising venture ended. The company continued to struggle along under various guises until it was ultimately sold to Debenham’s and eventually ceased to exist entirely. It’s believed that most of the blocks used in making Cryséde designs were destroyed by Debenham’s.

Cryséde textiles can be seen at Penzance’s Penlee House, and are also part of the collections at The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and at the V&A in London.

Cryséde 'Lobster Supper' design, printed on linen.

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