On 20 January the Master of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, Sue Kent, opened the new exhibition about the Company at Guildhall Library. The exhibition celebrates 350 years since the Company was granted its Royal Charter by Charles II and features treasures from their past and objects illustrating the history of needlemaking.
We worked closely with members of the Company, who brought us a very wide range of unusual and interesting objects!
Amongst our favourite items were two examples of children’s clothes from the Forge Mill Needle Museum. By the 18th century needlemaking was expanding in the Midlands; Redditch in particular. At one time it produced 90% of the world’s needles. Major needle manufacturers were founded here, such as Henry Milward and Sons in 1730. These clothes were made in 1870 for a competition run by this company and are a beautiful example of the work that can be done with a needle. They were obviously meant to be an advert for the company – you can see the embroidered Milward logo on the silk garment’s bodice, and the text reads ‘Hand made with Milward’s best registered needles.’ The cotton item’s left sleeve says ‘Milward needles are the best’!
We were interested to learn how many different uses there were for needles, including surgery and embroidery. The demand for surgical needles and sutures (materials used to close wounds) began to grow in the 19th century following developments in medicine. Throughout history many different materials have been used. Examples range from ants and intestinal tissue, to gold and wire. Our exhibition contains suture made from human hair!
There are also lots of intriguing objects from the Company’s own history, including beautiful silver, – like ‘Dorcas’ (pictured below) – an embroidery of the Company’s Arms by the Master herself, and a letter from Princess Elizabeth (now Elizabeth II), thanking them for a case of needles. There is also a facsimile of the Royal Charter, which is held in Guildhall Library, and which inspired the whole exhibition!
We hope you enjoy the exhibition and learn a lot of things you didn’t know about needles – we certainly have! You can view it until 29 March.
Amy Randall, Events and Exhibitions Officer