As part of my continuing exploration of the industrial heritage of Cheshire I decided to take in a visit to the Silk Museum at Macclesfield. I know it may not sound the most exciting of places to visit but sometimes it is the unlikely places that turn out to be the “little gems.”
The Silk Museum is housed in the original School of Art built in 1879 with land and funding granted by the council and public subscriptions. The School had been founded in 1851 and initially used rented rooms in the Useful Knowledge Society building. Its original aim was to educate practical designers for the manufacture of silk, but later it went on to offer more general art education and gained a reputation for producing high quality work.
It formed part of a complex of buildings linked to learning in this area of the town, including the Free Library, the Technical School and the Useful Knowledge Society. The School also established the town’s first museum which exhibited student’s work along with items loaned from museums in London.
Today The Silk Museum tells the silk heritage story, giving an introduction to its journey along the Silk Road and how Macclesfield is forever associated with this industry. It explores the work of some of the Art School students, from their initial ideas to their final exam pieces. It examines the properties of silk, how it is woven, printed and coloured. It introduces you to some of the well-known Macclesfield silk manufacturers and their looms. Highlights include 18th century silk buttons which were the start of the Macclesfield silk story, silk escape maps and parachutes which helped to win World War II and the loom used to make the famous Brocklehurst Whiston silk pictures.
I started with a tour of the Silk Museum which looks at the history of the industry and illustrates this with various machinery used in the production of silk plus examples of clothing and cloth that was produced. There are some beautiful ladies dresses on display and part rolls of lovely woven silk, the colours are breathtaking.
After this I made my way with our guide to Paradise Mill (next door to the museum) for a tour of the top floor which houses some working machinery and the history of workers and working conditions. We were shown the machinery in action and the various processes the silk has to go through from “raw material” to the finished product and it was both interesting and quite fascinating. It highlighted the extremely skilled nature of the work (but for little reward) and the extremely poor treatment of workers, particularly women and young children.
I should like to mention the gentleman who acted as our guide (unfortunately I have forgotten his name) who was extremely knowledgeable, receptive to any questions and made the tour both interesting and real, my thanks to him.
This museum and mill is part of our proud industrial heritage, if you are anywhere near Macclesfield then pop in, you will not be disappointed.
Photographs by Kindadukish 2018
Some source material from macclesfieldmuseums.co.uk