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The following has been made available in celebration of The Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
We are grateful to The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead for permission to reproduce here the text of their original publication of 1979.

This is the Introduction to the complete publication, featuring a short History of the Royal Windsor Tapestry Works.

"...The Windsor Tapestries at Tyntesfield, Somerset ... these magnificent tapestries"

Save Tyntesfield

In 2002 The National Trust was successful in raising sufficient funds to save Tyntesfield House, Somerset. Among the artefacts in the house were tapestries made at the Royal Windsor Tapestry Manufactory.

More info from the National Trust


The Royal Windsor Tapestry Manufactory Coat of Arms

The Royal Windsor
Tapestry Manufactory
Compiled by
G G Cullingham

Originally published in 1979 by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead as Volume 4 of The Historical Records Publications series

1. Introduction

See also

What is a Tapestry?

Index to the RWTM Tapestries

ALSO SEE (External Link)
Tapestries Direct
More about the History of Tapestry

Ye Merrie Wives Tapestry

'The Merry Wives of Windsor'
from the Gold Medal winning series exhibited in Paris, 1878
For a full description click here


The late Victorian period was a time when old craft skills using hand and eye rather than machines were being revived, notably by the artist William Morris. Tapestry weaving, considered by Morris to be the finest form of textile craft, was one of them, and he established his own tapestry works in 1881. Somewhat to his chagrin, however, he had been pre-empted by a firm based in Old Windsor.
The Old Windsor Tapestry Manufactory was founded in 1876 by two Frenchmen, Marcel Brignolas, as Manager, and Henri C. J. Henry
as its first Director. Henry was Art Director of Gillows, Oxford Street, London. They brought weavers over from the famous French Aubusson works, and set up their looms in Manor Lodge in Straight Road, Old Windsor, a building since demolished. The 1881 census shows a large number of families from Aubusson or Paris living in the village. Wives worked as tapestry repairers and children received some education at a school held at the Lord Nelson public house where the wool dyeing works were first set up.
The Old Windsor Tapestry Manufactory was one of only two tapestry works to be established in England in the 19th Century, the other being that of William Morrisat Merton Abbey, The Manufactory enjoyed royal patronage as Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the youngest son of Queen Victoria, enthusiastically supported the project, becoming its President.
Perhaps the first tapestry completed at Windsor bore the names of Michel Brignolas, the first Manager of the manufactory, and Henri C. J. Henry, the RWTM Director. It was a bust size picture of Queen Victoria and was woven from a design after the painting by Baron Heinrich von Angeli, adapted by Phoebus Levin.

Queen Victoria
by Phoebus Levin after Von Angeliz
This tapestry can be seen in the Textile section of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
For a full description of this tapestry
click here

Another important early work was a commission by Gillows of eight tapestries depicting scenes from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, designed by the artist T. W. Hay, and shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1878. These lively and colourful tapestries won a gold medal, beating rivals from France itself.
In 1882 confidence in the future was shown when the Tapestry Hall was built, with twelve attached cottages for the workers and a central hall to display the tapestries. The works flourished, and more weavers from France arrived, attracted by pay of £1 a day. English apprentices were taken on but the majority of the weavers were French.
When Queen Victoria learnt of the success, she sent some of her own tapestries from Holyrood House to Old Windsor for repair, and
became Patron, consenting to the manufactory being termed 'Royal' in 1880. She made several visits to the manufactory and recorded her impressions - which were favourable - in her Journal. The Queen was often accompanied by Princess Beatrice or the Prince of Wales. The Duke of Connaught appears to have been a frequent visitor as was Princess Louise, Marchioness of Lorne. Princess Louise also designed some tapestries, and became one of the two Vice Presidents of the Tapestry Manufactory, the other being Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. The Queen's son, The Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany, later Kaiser William II, was another visitor while her oldest daughter, Victoria Crown Princess of Prussia, commissioned a tapestry of Shakespeare' s 'Much Ado About Nothing', which may be the one now hanging in Buckingham Palace. Others commissions included a sofa, made for the Queen. [The Queen's Sofa]

A Plan of The Tapestry Works

A View and Plan of The Tapestry Works

The Committee established to control the manufactory included many members of the Court and the nobility. Whether they ever actually met as a committee is not clear, but soon afterwards a Committee of Guarantors replaced them. This was headed by Prince Leopold until his sudden death in 1884. He was followed as President by the Prince of Wales, whose support for the enterprise was less strong and then, fairly suddenly, ceased. This was when, in the latter part of 1884, it became clear that there were acute financial problems at the Tapestry Manufactory, as well as a stock of more or less unpopular designs which sold only slowly, while the wages bill mounted.
By this time there were about 100 employees, mainly French, and several English apprentices. The 9 Guarantors included wealthy and expert patrons of the Arts such as Sir Richard Wallace (who helped form what is now the Wallace Collection in London), Sir Charles Freake, Mr. H. Brassey M.P., and Lord Aldenham (then Mr. A. Gibbs), also Mr. Coleridge Kennard, Mr. A. Morrison, and the artist librarian of the Royal Academy Mr. J. E. Hodgson R.A., as well as a representative of Gillows. The Queen helped both directly with orders and visits and indirectly, showing sympathy for the Duchess of Albany, Princess Helen, (Leopold's widow) who received great service from her comptroller, Sir Robert Collins. He had followed Lord Ronald Gower, the sculptor, as Secretary of the Royal Windsor Tapestry Manufactory. Sir Robert strove unavailingly to prevent the final closure of the Manufactory before the stocks could be sold.

Tapestry Hall Old Windsor

The Tapestry Hall, Old Windsor, in 1904

Tapestries Winter

A second view published by W J Young of Old Windsor as a postcard and featuring the local postman, a dog, children in a snowy winter scene circa 1905

The Tapestry Manufactory began with four low warp looms, by 1882 there were eight looms and at the closure in 1890 there were sixteen. One high warp loom was purchased for experimental purposes, and for comparison of work. It appears to be significant that American tapestry works established in 1893 after the Windsor works had closed were all low warp, thus following the trend established at Old Windsor and no doubt taken to the United States by the same weavers either direct or from Aubusson. It is known that one of the first families of weavers to go to America, the Foussadiers, took with them a small portable low warp loom. This was perhaps the walnut one used to demonstrate the technique in the Guildhall at Windsor during the exhibition of Windsor tapestries in December 1878, where it was used to weave the panel presented to the Borough by Henri C. J. Henry.

One of a pair of Commemorative Banners presented by Mr H Henry to the Corporation of Windsor on June 20th 1887.

Designs for the Tapestries

The notable Victorian historical artist, E. M. Ward R.A., who lived nearby in the Borough of Windsor and who was a friend of several members of the Royal family, was one of the first artists engaged to prepare designs and cartoons for the new Windsor Tapestry Manufactory. Between 1876 and his death in 1879 he produced several designs for tapestries for the staircase of the eccentric Christopher Sykes M.P., whose new mansion in Hill Street, Mayfair, was where he entertained the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII. These pieces were of hunting scenes in medieval times. Ward also designed the huge 'Battle of Aylesford' tapestry - the largest ever made at the Windsor works. His widow, Mrs. Henrietta Ward, worked on several cartoons after his death.
In 1877 the first major series of tapestries - the eight panels of the 'Merry Wives of Windsor' designed by T. W. Hay (an associate of Henry's at Gillows) - were ordered by Gillows for the decoration of the Prince of Wales Pavilion at the 1878 Paris Exhibition. Here they hung in the dining room. They were very good - good enough to win the Gold Medal for tapestries against the competition of the great French manufacturies, a remarkable effort for a new works. During the research for The Royal Windsor Tapestry Manufactory in 1979, these tapestries could not be traced, but just as the original printed version of this history was going to press, seven of the eight came to Messrs. Christie for auction and with their kind permission could be examined and photographed.
In addition, there have survived sketches for the 'Merry Wives of Windsor' together with the mantlepiece they flanked, which contained the tapestry portrait of the Queen illustrated above. This mantlepiece, inlaid with ebony and ivory and richly carved, and the gold medal tapestries, were subsequently bought by the millionaire Sir Albert Sassoon for his mansion at 25 Kensington Gore, where the Prince of Wales was a frequent guest.
Few of the original designs or cartoons are known to have survived. Of the four cartoons for the historic Royal Windsor tapestries in the Mansion House, three were destroyed in the 1941 blitz on London. Several of the cartoons for the 'Royal Residence' series of tapestries which hung above the Exit stairs from the State Apartments at Windsor Castle are listed in the Catalogue of Prints and Drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but do not now seem to be there. The pair of cartoons for
Queen Victoria's sofa, also listed, are still safe, as is the cartoon for Prince Leopold's Arms. It is possible that the sofa survives in the royal collection but the tapestry for Prince Leopold's Arms is one of many that cannot be traced.

Prince Leopold's Arms

Chalk designs by Richard Beavis and E. M. Ward for the horses and figures in Ward's huge 'Battle of Aylesford' tapestry are on loan to the museum at the Guildhall, Windsor, from the Maidstone Museum, together with the watercolours for this work and the one by J. E. Hodgson R.A. for his 'Men of Kent marching in front of Harold's Army'.

The Manufacture of the Tapestries

The wool was obtained in the natural colour, and dyed in copper vats to match exactly the colours in the cartoons. The vats at Old Windsor were first established by Brignolas in an outhouse at the 'Lord Nelson' public house and soon moved to Manor Lodge, Straight Road, Old Windsor. Outhouse and Lodge are now both demolished. The latter site adjoins the still existing Manor Cottage and has associations with both the Tapestry Works and the Royal Windsor Stained Glass Works which was contemporary with the tapestry manufactory, but under separate management.
Thousands of shades were prepared, and by twisting lighter or darker shades of wool in one or two of the three strands, a range of colours could be obtained to match the slightest change of tint. Vegetable dyes were used, aniline dyes apparently being spurned by the dyers, and these dyes with their mordants were the responsibility of the Head Dyer, first Brignolas, then Jean Foussadier. Foussadier apparently found the Old Windsor water just as peculiarly suitable for dyeing as that of the Bievre at the Gobelins in the parish of Saint Marcel near Paris. Later he was to find the waters of the Bronx River in New York just as suitable, 'by reason of the dissolved vegetable content'. Here he taught all he knew to his younger son Louis, who was to succeed his father as manager in New York, 32 years after his arrival and apprenticeship there.
The traditional natural dyes were no doubt used, those that had proved resistant to light. Indigo had replaced woad for blue; a warm red came from madder and red also came from dried insects known as Kermes, and from cochineal and Brazilwood. Purples were made from the orchilis lichen, and the various mordants available together with blending, gave a wide range of colours.
Shading and hatching (hachures) were used to convey three dimensional form, folds in draperies and even skin tones and contours, together with subtle blends of colours and highlights. In 1877 Brignolas recorded that 5,000 shades had been produced for the work in progress which included the Queen's portrait, and 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'.
Brignolas was enthusiastic about the range of colours - the Circle Chromatique - that had been developed by M. Chevreuil, who was in charge of the dyeing laboratory at the Gobelins. This was because of the possibilities for imitatating painting, but in the opinion of many, including William Morris, this set the art on a fatal course, and depreciated the tapestries' artistic integrity. However, the portrait of Queen Victoria had very many admirers, even Ward, who agreed with Lord Ronald Gower that 'it was faithful to the original, and with perhaps a little more life... '
Changes of colour break the interlacing of the weft, and if continued for several rows, becomes a slit. These, unless very small, have to be sewn up after removal from the loom. The interlocking of wefts obviated slits, but slits were sometimes required to indicate a definite division, or shadow. Texture was given by 'packing' or building up the wefts and by eccentric weaving. Slits were sewn up by Mme. Foussadier and her daughter, Mlle. Adrienne.
The Windsor looms were 'basse-lisse', horizontal or 'low-warp', and not 'haute-lisse', upright or 'high-warp', as at the Gobelins. The weavers sat at the low-warp looms - as many as there were room for having regard to the design and urgency. The operation of the pedals enabled the bobbins loaded with coloured thread to be passed in alternate directions. A supplement dated 29 April 1882 to the Illustrated London News contains a
page of sketches of work in progress at the Royal Windsor Tapestry Manufactory: 'Dyeing the wool,' 'Winding the wool', A low-warp Tapestry loom, Preparing the warp, plus an illustration of several women engaged upon repairing old tapestry. Mme. Foussadier and her daughter Adrienne were the chief needleworkers and repairers at Windsor and, after 1893, in New York.
The repair of old tapestries is one of the important jobs that comes to a tapestry works, and is extremely skilled. Queen Victoria ordered that tapestries from Holyrood House should be sent to Windsor for repair at the works, as were tapestries from Inverary Castle sent in 1877 after a disastrous fire. After a similar fire in 1975 the same tapestries were sent to nearby Hampton Court for repair. The Irish House of Lords' tapestries were also sent to Old Windsor for repair in 1878 and it is ironical that when such work was desperately needed to keep the work force employed in 1885, especially those women with parents to support, excuses were found to deny the order to Old Windsor for repairing some Hampton Court tapestries. Instead it was decided to employ darning women unused to tapestry repairwork, rather than give the struggling Royal Windsor tapestry works the chance to earn some money. The Queen's wish that the work should be given to Old Windsor was ignored, and the workers' expertise in repair was denigrated. This was not the first time that the project had met opposition - the 'trade' aspect together with the financial uncertainty of which may have been unpopular in certain high places.
When work was waiting and orders plentiful, many weavers came to Old Windsor attracted by the good wages - 10 old pennies an hour, £1 for 24 hours' work. In 1877 power-loom weavers were getting only 87pennies. Before decimalisation in the UK the pound sterling comprised 240 pennies. There were 12 pennies in a shilling (5p), and twenty shillings in a pound. Spinners received £1.69 per week according to Mr. Roy Assersohn, the City Editor of the Daily Express in its 23 December 1977 issue. The working day at the Windsor Tapestry Manufactory commenced at 8a.m. and finished at 6.30p.m. Most of the workers lived in the village, providing for themselves. Eventually there were 100 households attached to the Manufactory and as many collections of household furniture. Apparently the household effects were found by the Manufactory, so that there were 100 sets for disposal at the closing down sale by auction in 1895.
The weavers taught English apprentices, but there were French apprentices such as Jean Foussadier's eldest son Antoine, who had earned the designation of weaver by the time the Old Windsor works had closed.
Foussadier Census entry. He is on record as having worked on several important tapestries including the Aldenham Tapestries by Herbert Bone. Some apprentices went to the Merton Abbey tapestry works started by William Morris. These included William Haines and William Eleman. Both were highly regarded there and given important work.
Another weaver from Old Windsor - Octave Dennaud Bouret - was to find employment at the Edgwater Tapestry Looms (1913-1932/3) founded in the New Jersey town by Lorentz Kleiser. Later he went with Kleiser to Palos Verdes and Hawthorne, California, in the 1930s in an attempt to continue the tapestry enterprise, then suffering in the Depression.
Other weavers whose names are known include J. Roby, J. Brunaud and J. Bregere. These three also worked on the Royal Windsor tapestries for Aldenham House, Herts. Another worker named Francellon had a young daughter Antoinette who at the age of three was to present Prince Leopold's bride with a bouquet as the wedding coach stopped briefly at the works on its way to Claremont in April 1882.
Politics and weaving have never been far apart. English wool played an important part in the social and economic history of the Middle Ages, when cloth from English wool woven in the cloth towns of Flanders supplied the traders of Europe. Edward III made great efforts to establish the manufacture of woollen textiles in England using wool denied to Flanders. He was aided in this by the repression and persecution of the Flanders workers which resulted in their coming to England where conditions appeared to be better.
Similarly in the revolutionary days of the Commune, French tapestry workers were attracted in 1876 to the newly set up looms of Windsor. Michel Brignolas was an emigre who had fled from the Commune and he probably was instrumental in inviting other experienced workers to make the journey from Aubusson, France, to Windsor
- more than 500 miles - but the pay and conditions were better than in France.
In February 1877 there were six workers engaged in weaving new tapestry and repairing old at Manor Lodge. This was a small two-storey building opposite the present 'Tapestries' or Tapestry Hall. The latter was built in 1882 to house the expanding manufactory and included twelve cottages for employees. A large central hall was provided with a gallery for the display of finished tapestries. The site for this building was leased with difficulty after long delays from the Crown, possibly only after pressure by the Queen and after the success at the 1878 Paris Exhibition. There had been considerable obstruction by some at Court, who appeared to fear a large satanic mill would develop, with smoke and noise to distress the Castle. Prince Leopold's interest in the project was deprecated and the Queen's support nullified for a long period.
In 1828 Windsor's first gasworks had been proposed to be erected at 'The Nelson' public house, Old Windsor, fronting the road to Frogmore and Windsor Castle, and this precipitated a policy of Crown land purchase.
By 1878 there were eight looms and this number had increased to sixteen by 1884, the same number as at the closure in 1890. Recalling that there had been 100 households attached to the manufactory, this amounted to a remarkable total in a village then of about 1,100 inhabitants but nothing of the French influence appears to remain, only a faint memory.

Events after The Death of Prince Leopold

The sudden death of Prince Leopold on 28 March, 1884, was a great blow to the manufactory. The Prince had been aware of the difficulties ahead when he drafted a letter on 21 February 1884. It was designed to enlist the sympathy and help of Corporations and other public bodies in an effort to establish a national enterprise connected with the Art Industry, with aims for training and employment. He was succeeded as President by his brother, the Prince of Wales, who circulated a similar letter dated 22 May 1884 expressing a desire to second the efforts made by Prince Leopold, and inviting donations towards the Endowment Fund, orders for tapestries, and for the repair of old tapestries. Resulting donations appear to have been few and the only order of note was from the City of London for four historical tapestries which now hang in the Mansion House. An order for the repair of tapestries from Hampton Court Palace was actively opposed, because the financial position of the manufactory was giving cause for alarm, and, very reasonably, for the Prince of Wales to be seen as the President of a bankrupt manufactory could not be viewed with anything but alarm by many.
Largely due, however, to persistent efforts by the Secretary, Sir Robert Collins and by Princess Helen, Duchess of Albany (the widow of Prince Leopold) and to the sympathy of Queen Victoria, the manufactory was saved from immediate closure. Control was vested in the hands of the Guarantors who had put their money into the project and they decided to continue operations in the face of opposition from many at court. The Guarantors still had some hope of getting their money back when the stocks had been sold, particularly if new orders could be obtained. The Gibbs family ordered two groups of historical tapestries, 'The Windsor Tapestries at Tyntesfield Somerset' and the 'Windsor Tapestries at Aldenham House Hertfordshire', which were described in detail by the designer Herbert Bone in privately printed pamphlets dated 1888 and 1881 respectively. The reputation of the Manufactory gained much from these magnificent tapestries according to contemporary reports but only the former have been traced and seen by the writer, although the latter group may exist still
- they passed through the London auction salerooms in the 1930s.
After these orders and a few others had been completed, the decline of the Windsor Manufactory could not be arrested. Henri C. J. Henry made great efforts in 1888 to secure an order from the Drapers Company for a copy of 'Jason and Medea', the 18th century Gobelin tapestry in the Grand Reception Room at Windsor Castle. The order seemed imminent and consent to make the copy had been received, when the Drapers changed their minds. Whether the works at Old Windsor had appeared run down when visited by the Company's representatives (certainly many workers had drifted back to France by then) or whether pressure had been exerted is not known. The long hoped for help from the Government in the form of the creation of a National Establishment (as in France) to make and repair fine tapestries for the nation's public buildings was not to become fact and after more than twelve years all those concerned must have lost heart. The £1,000 or so a year grant for 'The Arts' that had stopped because of Government economies after the Prince Consort died was not to be recommended but it was dourly noted by the Guarantors that large sums were spent on buying foreign 'works of art' to embellish Government buildings.
Some newspaper reviews of the fine tapestries, while praising their artistry and quality referred to their alleged unhygienic properties. A series of bad harvests in the late 1870s followed by a huge increase in food imports including prairie wheat and New Zealand frozen mutton spelt ruin for British agriculture and less money for the great landowners whose orders might have kept the works open. By September 1888 the last French weaver, except for Brignolas, had returned to Aubusson. Some were to be
persuaded to go to New York, as did the Foussadier family of five, apparently direct from Aubusson early in 1893. William Baumgarten's inducements of good wages and steady employment had won their favour and the first American tapestry works was to start by the Bronx river. Brignolas moved to Poland Street, Soho, where he set up his workshop. Among his works there is a series depicting the history of the Clan Macintosh.
The Old Windsor Manufactory closed its doors on Christmas Eve 1890. The plant was sold by auction in March 1895. It included sixteen looms, three spinning wheels, a French billiards table, 100 lots of household furniture and the magnificent cartoons by British artists including E. M. Ward R.A. Almost all of these were bought by manufacturers from Aubusson for ridiculously low prices - 'hardly more than the value of the paper canvas and string' reported the press. Some 'false' Royal Windsor tapestries were to come on to the market, giving the Manufactory a bad name but whether or not these came from Aubusson is not known. They look like 'RWTs', but have no marks.

Exhibitions and Collections

The fame of the Royal Windsor Tapestry Manufactory may be traceable to an Exposition promoted in the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco in 1894 by M. H. de Young who is known to have been impressed by the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, and it was to the Chicago Fair of 1893 that Walter Henry Harris of the City of London, British Commissioner to the Fair, took a collection of 31 Royal Windsor Tapestries. He had them photographed in 'platinotype' and the prints bound together with a preface outlining the history of the Manufactory in four copies. He was permitted to present the first of these to Queen Victoria at Balmoral, the second to the Duchess of Albany and the third to the Prince of Wales. The last copy appears to be lost, but the other two are in the Royal Collection and Princess Alice's residence at Kensington Palace respectively, while the fourth is in the Reading Reference Library.
The San Francisco Exposition of 1894 left a dollar surplus and the exhibited items. The latter became the nucleus of the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, and also contributed to the equally magnificent California Palace of the Legion of Honor at Lincoln Park. The collection of tapestries augmented by gifts from the Hearst Foundation and other important gifts and purchases has resulted in a concentration of famous tapestries probably unrivalled anywhere in the world, as demonstrated by their 'Five Centuries of Tapestry' exhibition of 1976.

The RWTM Weavers Mark

Royal Windsor Tapestries may be identified by the weaver's mark, which is a stylized crown above two capital 'L', the first reversed.

The Royal Windsor Tapestry weavers mark
N.B. For simplicity in these pages ' _l l_ ' has been used in the accompanying text pages

This is usually found on the top guard edge, sometimes with 'Royal Windsor Tapestry' woven in block letters about one inch in height. In the early tapestries, the weavers' marks were superimposed on the design, near the bottom, as in 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' series.
When King Edward came to deal with the personal possessions left at Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria, it appears that tapestries which had been rolled up and forgotten were among other things disposed of or destroyed.
No details have survived concerning the complete output of the manufactory, but the items on this web site comprise almost every item found to date and is sufficient perhaps to indicate the importance of the Old Windsor tapestries: the only attempt other than that of William Morris to revive this ancient craft in England in the 19th century.

Index to the Tapestries

The Royal Windsor History Zone

The Royal Windsor Home Page

ALSO SEE (External Link)
Tapestries Direct
More about the History of Tapestry

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