My father, Valentine, was born in 1897 in Bradford. On leaving school, he was apprenticed to the silk dyeing firm, George Armitage Ltd, with which there was a family connection. His apprenticeship was interrupted by the First World War, during which time he served as a Royal Navy signalman.
On his return he became restless and, having fallen under the influence of the writings of William Morris, Cobbett, Belloc and Chesterton, decided he must turn his back on the industrial textile world. In 1922 he met Ethel Mairet, who had already established a workshop at ‘Gospels’ in Ditchling where she was intent on rediscovering the tradition of hand-weaving.
In 1924 he moved to Ditchling and embarked on a second apprenticeship at ‘Gospels’. As a Catholic he was already aware of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, the association of craftsmen founded by Eric Gill and Hilary Pepler on Ditchling Common and he was soon a regular visitor there.
In 1925, his apprenticeship being at an end, he joined the Guild and was married to Cecilia McHardy a year later.
Over the following 57 years he built up a business specialising in silk weaving and church vestment making. His interest was in reviving traditional, Gothic, plain silk woven vestments cut in a conical or bell shape in reaction against the elaborately decorated ‘fiddleback’ vestments in common use throughout the Catholic Church.
At times five of his six children worked with him and, after his death, I continued to run the workshop for a further 7 years until the Guild closed in 1989.
The work was continued by my brother, Gilbert, who moved the looms to South Wales and as ‘KilBride Weavers’ continued the tradition of vestment making until his death in 2010.