This collection consists of a rare group of over 330 unsold original fashion/dress and shirting designs produced by Walter Fielden Royle for the textile print trade in Manchester between 1926-1961.
Walter Fielden Royle (1900-1981) was a freelance textile designer who worked in the mass production Manchester textile trade all his life, from the 20s and 30s. After his apprenticeship, starting at the age of 16 in a Manchester print design studio and working there for a few years, he established his own studio in 1926 employing others by the 1930s. With a break in WW2 when he served in the RAF, he again ran his own studio till he retired in 1961. In his lifetime, Fielden Royle was acknowledged as a leading and successful textile designer in Manchester, evidenced by the inclusion of his studio and illustrations of four of his designs in H.G.Hayes Marshall's book of 1939, British Textile Designers Today.
When Fielden Royle died, the designs remaining unsold in his home were divided into three by his family. One third was given to Manchester Metropolitan University Archive Collection, one third was retained by Malcolm Ross, Fielden Royle's nephew who now owns the copyright to this material, and one third was given to Ray Watkinson (art and design historian and respected writer on William Morris and the Pre-Raphaelites), who was W. Fielden Royle's brother-in-law. All three collections contain similar work, though MMU has some earlier examples than those in the University of Brighton group.
The Brighton collection contains 7 packets of 301 original designs on paper - 109 designs for women's fashion fabrics and a further 201 designs for men's shirtings. Every design is different from the other - hand painted on card, mostly by Fielden Royle. A few, mostly from the post WW2 period, appear to be designed by his studio colleagues with one packet of sheeting designs produced by an unknown designer, and colleague of Eric Ross, named Summerson, probably in about 1960.
Gifted to the University of Brighton
In 1985, Ray Watkinson passed his group of designs to Lou Taylor, now Professor of Dress and Textile History in the School of Humanities, when they were both teaching in the Art History department of Brighton Polytechnic. In a letter dated 23rd October 1985, Ray Watkinson requested that the designs should be placed in 'an A.H [Art History] archive', rather than stored in the textile studios because design 'students will look on these designs with a wondering eye but as the social history of design they ought to be very useful. I hope so.' A second letter to Lou Taylor from Ray Watkinson of 10th March 1989, triggered by a student inquiry, added further information. These notes reveal Ray Watkinson's own interests and personal memories related to the Manchester mass textile print trade in which his brother-in-law, Eric Ross, worked, and also Watkinson's socialist political interests and his great expertise as a design historian and collector. Thus he wrote from his living experience, aided by specific design history knowledge about the 19th century design debates and with a rare realism and frankness about the work of the successful, mass production, freelance textile designers and attitudes to design in the Manchester cotton print trade in the 1930s.
Content of the University of Brighton Walter Fielden Royle Textile Print Collection comprises of 7 used brown paper envelopes, on which Ray Watkinson wrote a summary of their contents. Ray Watkinson noted in his letter of 1985 that
'The packets put into my hand by my brother-in-law Eric, in tatty broken envelopes, whose dangers they have survived remarkably, fall into two categories, which would I am sure by the trade would be divided: shirtings and cretonnes, at least I've identified them as cretonnes - small scale lightish patterns mainly for dress fabrics I think.'
Ray Watkinson noted that the designs 'had been de-mounted, I know not by whom, probably Walter's widow so that they should take up less space.' Thus nearly every design has signs of dried glue on the reverse, left after being detached from its mount. Usefully on the reverse most have been stamped with Fielden Royle's studio addresses, often in multiples, placed there for copyright purposes. Through family records, the dates when Fielden Royle worked at these addresses are known. Most of the unsold designs in Packet 1 are address-stamped on reverse: 'W. Fielden Royal. Textile Designer, Manchester, TEL URMSTON 244' and thus date from the 1920s till 1929 when he ran a studio in his parents' house, the Knolls, Cornhill Road, Davyhulme, Urmston. Other stamps show addresses at 'W. Fielden Royle, Designer, 75, Princess Street, Manchester' (probably 1946 into the 1950s) and three designs carry a stamp with his last studio address 'W. Fielden Royal, Designer, 120, Portland St. Manchester CEN 28002', probably covering the mid 1950's till he retired in 1961.