Jute's literary debut

Jute's fifteen minutes

The Nutscene twine dolly

"I'm a bit foggy as to what jute is, but it's apparently something the populace is pretty keen on, for Mr. Worple had made quite an indecently large stack of it." So spake Bertram Wilberforce Wooster in Carry On, Jeeves. And might well he wonder.

Jute was and still is the second most popular fabric after cotton but it is also the most modest. Generally employed behind the scenes as a backing to linoleum and carpets, the underpinnings of an upholstered chair, or quite literally a doormat, jute's job is to make the finer materials of life look even better. One could say that much as Jeeves is the gentleman's gentleman, jute is the cloth's cloth.

Our story once again takes us back up north, back to the Industrial Revolution and back to Scotland. Half way up on the east coast lies Dundee, a city with a very fine port with links to the Far East. There were oranges and there was whale oil, but the most valued import was jute. This was a leafy plant grown in India and Bangladesh which could be processed in Dundee with the help of female hands and later, whale oil, into a strong fibre. So many uses were found for jute that Dundee employed 50,000 workers to process little else.

Strong winds play an important part in Scotland's weather and out in the garden, plants sometimes require help from stakes and twine to remain upright. One of the many jute companies decided to dye some twine green and, so willing was the modest jute to camouflage itself in the garden that Robertson Ireland decided to patent this discovery. They needed a name, so "not seen" became Nutscene.

Although modest by name, Nutscene twine was soon given its place in the sun by the royal gardeners at Windsor Castle and Buck House. It was used throughout the Empire because the Empire was very fond of gardening. Today Nutscene is a company run by women, though not the downtrodden mill-working kind, and they have found all sorts of new uses for garden twine, which is now exported beyond the dwindling reaches of the Empire. Ancient Industries is very pleased to be part of this jute story, and are now carrying a variety of Nutscene products in the US shop and UK shop.

Because this is an American ancient industry the history is rather short and not terribly ancient. The story of Bauer Pottery is not unlike that of Clark Gable; it was born somewhere in the middle of nowhere, with a funny face and no prospects. After a rigorous makeover (in Clark's case: new teeth, new voice and pots of brilliantine) it was passionately embraced by the public, and became symbolic of a new age of seductive modern beauty in America.

In 1885 J. Andy Bauer began a pottery in Paducah, Kentucky. His pottery was not original or beautiful; he answered a local need by making whiskey jugs and other bits of humble crockery. Asthma and the transcontinental railroad lured him to Los Angeles in 1909, where the locals eschewed whiskey jugs in favour of the growing Arts and Crafts movement.

Here, J. Andy Bauer and his asthma leave our story. When the company had enjoyed some success with aesthetically minded people, a new designer called Louis Ipsen was hired and in 1929 he was joined by Victor Houser, a ceramics engineer. They were inspired by the citrus groves, palm trees and Pacific Ocean. Houser experimented with glazes in solid bright colours and Ipsen created the California Colored Pottery range, followed by the famed Ring-Ware line, and thus Bauer as we know it was established.

Bauer thrived during the Depression as it swiftly replaced granny's chipped flowered china with something streamlined and bright at affordable prices. The idea of mix and match colours was introduced which was entirely new. Bauer was widely imitated and its reputation was eventually eclipsed by Fiesta, which responded with its own bright concentric ring patterned tableware in 1936. During the post war boom, instead of flourishing as it should have done, the company faltered and closed in 1962.

But Potted Histories is only concerned with the happy ending, so here it is. Ninety years after the first factory opened in Los Angeles, Bauer Pottery was re-launched by an enterprising Englishman in a factory just around the corner. Ancient Industries is very proud to sell Bauer which, like Clark Gable, could only have been made in California.

Fitzwilliam cave men

Wentworth Woodhouse

Emma Woodhouse

The history of British pottery is long and tortuous, complicated by unsuitable marriages, bastard sons and poor business management. Yet out of this conflict was born some of the most sublime achievements of domestic history. The very same can be said for the British aristocracy and this is where our story begins, with the Rockingham family, who had ties to William the Conquerer plus a couple of castles and a very big house. Our Rockinghams were known as the Fitzwilliams and lived in Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire. The local industries there included pottery, coal, and iron.

The earls of Fitzwilliam lent their name and money to the local pottery which specialized in gilt edged porcelain rococo. At the time this was not considered gaudy but was all the rage and Rockingham Pottery was the very thing from 1745 well into the next century. A side line for Rockingham was earthenware which had a distinctive and very glossy brown glaze, and was developed from a chemical formula consisting partly of iron and manganese. This was called Rockingham glaze.

About this time in Stoke-on-Trent, a new type of tea pot was created out of the local red clay. Rockingham glaze was employed and with the help of the great tea craze that began at this time and never ended, the Brown Betty was born. Queen Victoria's fondness for the pot only helped to establish the Brown Betty as an essential component in making the "best cup of tea". As Potted Histories only concerns itself with happy endings, we are pleased to announce that the Brown Betty is alive and well, and hopping off the shelves at Ancient Industries.

But on a parting note, we have a mystery. It is a little known fact that Jane Austen named some her most evocative characters after the Rockingham family: Captain Wentworth, Emma Woodhouse and who can forget Fitzwilliam Darcy. Was she beguiled by the poetry of these ancient English names or was she extremely fond of the Brown Betty?

The mills

The weavers
The cloth

When Ian Mankin, purveyor of natural fabrics, opened his shop in Primrose Hill in 1984, the trade was already second nature to him. His father had a fabric shop in Soho, which was listed as "an old fashioned shop with an original wooden counter . . . The shop is a source of cheap heavy-duty denim, unbleached calico and hessian, shirting and butcher's stripes."

All of these fabrics were incorporated into the younger Mankin aesthetic but it was his response to stripes that led him to ticking. From the Latin "theca" as in case or covering, this very tightly woven utility fabric was often dipped in starch to make it impenetrable to the feathers and quills it encased. It came in any colour as long as it was black and white, so Mankin set about changing the colour as well as the texture. Through trial and error he came up with a ticking that was soft enough for other uses, whilst introducing many more (but still very traditional) colours.

At the turn of the 18th century when William Blake referred to "those dark Satanic mills" in his poem Jerusalem, he was referring to the Industrial Revolution which had begun in the Midlands only a decade earlier. Lancashire was the centre of the textile industry and the town of Burnley, with its 79,000 looms, was the largest producer of cotton in the world.

Today only 22 looms remain, all owned by John Spencer Textiles, a family run business now in its sixth generation. They thrived by manufacturing nurse and Army uniforms, parachute fabric and shirting for Jermyn Street. When Ian Mankin first visited the mill he was impressed by the antique looms still in use and the variety of traditional fabric produced. "While I was there I spotted a roll of cream flannelette with a red stripe through it that I recognized from my National Service days as a cloth that was cut into squares and used to clean the barrel of a rifle. I persuaded them to make it as a check as well and we called it Rifle check and stripe." And so a partnership was born.

Because the Potted Histories are only concerned with happy endings, it must be added that when Ian Mankin decided to sell his business in 2009, he sold it to John Spencer Textiles Ltd., who are doing a bang up job in expanding the range of products available in the Ian Mankin fabrics. Several of which Ancient Industries are exceptionally proud to sell in America.

Mulberry tree silk worms and moths

Design for silk by Anna Maria Garthwaite

The Mulberry silk worm has been hard at it since at least 3,500 BC. Initially discovered by the Chinese, silk weaving eventually spread to Italy and then to France. The Hugeonots took it up in Lyons and Tours, but because of religious disagreements they took their trade with them to England in 1685, and thence to Spitalfields. This spot was chosen because it was outside the City walls, where restrictions from the City Guilds could be well dodged.

The Hugeonots were supported by their new country and thrived, teaching their skills to the natives and soon rivalling France in quality of production. But our story is not about peace and understanding. By 1719, fashions had already started changing and some trendsetters preferred to wear imported calico and linen. These unfortunate women were set upon by 4,000 weavers and, when not stripped of their wraps, were drenched in ink, acid and "other fluids".

About this time, Anna Maria Garthwaite set up house in Princelet Street and became the premiere silk weave designer of her day. Her day lasted for three decades and a selection of her designs can be seen at the V & A. But our story does not concern successful women designers. The unrest caused by imported fabric continued to cause great disquiet and, in 1765, Parliament banned a few sundries (like imported silk ribbon) which they hoped might suffice. Instead, 5,000 weavers armed with bludgeons and pickaxes marched on a cabinet minister's house in Bloomsbury Square and riots in that area were launched which lasted nearly a month.

The English would press on in their hankering for French fashion, and the fortunes of the weavers began to decline in earnest. By 1860, all bans on fabric imports were lifted and Spitalfields quickly became famous for other things. And yet our story does not end on a sad note. Ancient Industries are proud to be the purveyors of Sudbury Silk Ties, made from silk woven by a family who were those very Hugeonots before they quitted the city and moved to Suffolk in 1894. The ties are designed and made by Old Town, in Norfolk. All are law-abiding citizens.

The place

The family (with granny Johnston, knitting)

In 1797 it was thought prudent to start a mill on the River Lossie, which is right at the top of Scotland. The local town was Elgin, which had a ready work force and was situated by the North Sea, allowing for easy transportation. The man with the idea was barely more than a lad; his name was Alexander Johnston and he was twenty three. For the first few years, the mill produced linen, flax, tobacco and oatmeal until it was all replaced by wool in 1801. By 1810 Johnstons had become a major force in all things wool. Alexander's son James took over in 1846 and with the industrial revolution, Johnstons became the first company in Scotland to weave cashmere. Charles came next in 1868, and he brought more new innovations and expanded foreign markets. His son, Ernest, was killed in the trenches so ownership was then passed on to the Harrison family.

Johnstons is known as the last "vertical" mill in Britain, meaning that it is the only mill to transform raw fibre to finished article. The reason is simple: consistent quality is thus ensured.

Despite having suffered major floods and fire, the mill has grown into one of the most sophisticated weaving and knitting plants in the world. Johnstons is now the manufacturer of wool and cashmere for Hermes, Burberry, Paul Smith, Chanel, Luis Vuitton, Brora and more. They are proud to have remained true to their motto "only the best is good enough".

This is all by way of saying that Ancient Industries are very honoured to be the purveyors of Johnstons of Elgin lambswool tartan throws and scarves.