The silk-weaving industry took root in Britain relatively late, founded in the 16th Century for the making of ribbons and trims - the so-called narrow branch of silk weaving. The influx of Huguenots into England in 1685 following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes greatly boosted English silk weaving. The industry was originally based around Spitalfields, Bow and Bethnal Green in London and among the weaving families were many Huguenots. In the early 19th Century some moved away from to avoid taxation imposed on London weavers and settled in towns such as Braintree, Halstead and Sudbury on the Essex and Suffolk Border.
In 1966 the 15 year old Richard Humphries began his design apprenticeship with Warners. Britain's leading silk weaving company at that time. Based in Braintree the company had 85 hand and 60 power looms, but believing that man-made fibres would before long completely replace silk, they had just three hand weavers. Five years later the entire weaving department closed down altogether, threatening the future of a 300 year old silk weaving tradition in Britain. Whilst the Warner firm had closed down its weaving at Braintree, Humphries at nearby Sudbury began his weaving operation making furnishing silks.
The young Humphries raised what capital he could and managed to save hand looms, some Jacquard cards and the Jacquard card punching machine to create new designs. Sadly the remaining looms and 3000 sets of Jacquard design cards were subsequently destroyed. With no where to set up his equipment Humphries faced an uncertain future. Eventually premises were found at Ashburton Lodge, Sudbury, Suffolk and he installed his looms and equipment, creating custom window blinds and textured furnishings.
From these small beginnings the business flourished and in 1975 he expanded and moved to Devere Mill, Castle Hedingham in Essex. This allowed him to reinstate Jacquard looms, and one of the firm's early orders was for the refurbishment of the Kings apartments at Hampton Court Palace.
In 1990 looms were reinstalled in the restored Warners New Mills at Braintree and silk throwstering and yarn dyeing were established at Castle Hedingham. However in 2000 Humphries began to consider modernising its manufacturing and began weaving its unique qualities on modern looms. Returning to Sudbury in 2004 to Sudbury Silk Mills where up-to-date weaving has been employed.
http://www.cs.arizona.edu/patterns/weaving/articles/wow_weav.pdf - is a really fascinating article about Warners production of luxury silks and brocades in Spitalfields, one year after the marriage of Princess Louise to the Duke of Fife, ie 1890..
http://www.19princeletstreet.org.uk/about.html is a new museum in Spitalfields about weaving.