[Hilda Carver and Lily Lee present the velvets woven for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II]
As Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on 2nd June 1953 at Westminster Abbey she was surrounded by fabrics created by Warner & Sons. By 1953, Warner & Sons already had more than 50 years’ experience supplying textiles for coronation ceremonies. From 1902, when Edward VII was crowned, Warner & Sons had been the primary supplier of the fabrics used in Westminster Abbey for the event. The most recognisable design that Warner & Sons produced for the Coronation in 1953 was a powerwoven pattern called ‘Queensway’. This design was made with silk and metallic thread. Robert Goodden, who was a lecturer at the Royal College of Art, designed ‘Queensway’ especially for the occasion which was woven by Warner & Sons at their mill in Braintree. ‘Queensway’ adorned the interior of Westminster Abbey, draped throughout the cathedral in both a blue silk in the nave, and a gold silk in the chancel – symbolising the transition into the most sacred space of the building.
The Warner & Sons factory was a hive of activity in the months preceding 2nd June 1953. The company tasked its most skilled workers with the responsibility of preparing and executing the pattern for ‘Queensway’. June Swindells translated the design onto point paper in order to set up the power looms to weave the fabric. Harry Spinks experimented extensively with handwoven trials of the design in order to get the correct layout of the silk and metallic thread. Expert power-weavers Jean Claydon and Joyce Pidgeon were part of the team weaving the final fabric. Warner & Sons presented the design to the Ministry of Works, who were in charge of the preparations of the event, shortly before it was due to take place. There was quite a buzz in Braintree in the weeks before the event; residents queued down the street to get a glimpse of the fabric when Warner & Sons opened the factory for people to take a look.
‘Queensway’ was not the only textile that Warner & Sons produced for the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. Having developed a method of weaving cloth of gold in 1902, Warner & Sons provided Queen Elizabeth II with a symbolic sword belt and pallium made from cloth of gold. The company also wove the silk used for the embroidered gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II during the event, along with the purple velvet used for her coronation robe. Warner & Sons expert weavers Hilda Carver and Lily Lee were responsible for the creation of the royal velvets. It wasn’t only the Queen who wore silk woven by Warner & Sons for the coronation. The Canons of Westminster wore copes in a design called ‘Milan’ for the event.
The majority of the furnishing fabrics within Westminster Abbey were also provided by Warner & Sons for the occasion. ‘Torcello’, a customer favourite already in the Warner & Sons range, was used for the Throne and Chair of Estate. The design was dyed to match the upholstery of the prie-dieu used by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Archbishop of Canterbury, that had already been covered in a Warner & Sons design called ‘Canterbury Rose’ in 1903.
[June Swindells prepares ‘Queensway’ onto point paper c.1952]
[Warner & Sons weaver Joyce Pidgeon, with designer Robert Goodden, and Alec Hunter, present ‘Queensway’ to David Eccles of the Ministry of Works prior to the Coronation in 1953]
[‘Queensway’ in gold and blue silk colourways]
[Harry Spinks prepares a handwoven sample of ‘Queensway’]
[‘Milan’ used for copes of the Canons of Westminster]
[‘Torcello’ used for the Throne and Chair of Estate]
[Braintree residents queue to see the royal fabrics being made by Warner & Sons March 1953]