The Silk road to Sudbury

Reporter: Nicki Dixon


Report from the meeting of the Sudbury Society

Friday 23 February 2018

The meeting was opened by chairman, Lorna Hoey who outlined the change in times and days of meetings and that from now they will all be held at All Saints Church Hall in Sudbury.

She reminded those attending that the AGM will be on Friday 23 March at 7.30pm at this venue and mentioned there were a number of positions on the committee available to fill. From April onwards, Sudbury Society meetings will be held on Thursday evenings at All Saints Church Hall at 7.30pm.

Turning to planning matters, she expressed dismay that the new lamppost on The Croft was not a heritage style model.

She said parking on The Croft is increasing and the area is being churned up. The society has asked for some posts to be put in so it does not continue. The area is an important part of Sudbury but it is letting the town down badly.

The chairman also told members that two interested parties are looking at the vacant former Argos store in North Street although we do not know their identity.

The former Silkworm pub has been renamed the Weavers’ Tap and the large graphic painted on the end gable has been done without planning permission.

Litter picking sessions have been organised by the Sudbury Community Wardens and members were encourage to do their bit along the lines of the Society’s Love Sudbury campaign.

The chairman also told members she was hoping to build an archive of past newsletters and asked members if they had any.

She then introduced the speaker for the evening, Richard Humphries who entertained and informed with his history of how the silk industry came to our town.

The Silk road to Sudbury

A presentation by Richard Humphreys  of Humphreys Weaving Company

Apprenticed to a Sudbury weaving firm over 50 years ago, last year Richard took on the one-year role of Upper Bailiff of the Worshipful Company of Weavers – the 883rd person to hold the title and told the audience how he had attended more than 200 dinners during his 12 month tenure!

As Upper Bailiff he also had the pleasure of, on behalf of the Worshipful Company of Weavers, handing out £1.6million to charities.

An ordinary looking bag in front of him held a wealth of treasures and told the story of the evolution of fabric from the early wool fabric of limited, dull colours, to the opulent, exquisite and dazzling reds and golds favoured by the Prince Regent (later George IV).

Out came the glorious black damask worn as robes by the chancellors at the State Opening of Parliament, as well as the sunshine yellow loved by Queen Victoria who requested it for the Amber Room at Osborne House.

He harked back to the exodus of Hugenots from France in the late 1600s who set up in Spitalfields in London and plied their silken trade until the Spitalfields Act of 1790 taxed them and made them think about leaving the capital for smaller towns in order to evade the tax.

They chose places like Braintree, Halstead and Sudbury in order to harness the water power of the rivers that ran through the towns.

Richard’s amusing take, complete with Norfolk accent, on the rebel weavers of Norwich who did not obey the City of London (unlike the more successful weavers of Lavenham who did) and therefore fell behind in advances in silk production, was a joy to listen to.

Local names we now know so well such as Vanner and Walters cropped up as people who left Spitalfields to avoid the tax and made their way out of London into Sudbury’s direction and to places like Kettering and Haverhill.

Silk woven by Richard hangs in such illustrious places as Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Scotland’s Dumfries House, saved and restored in part thanks to HRH The Prince of Wales.

Richard told of the time the Prince was very particular about which shade of red he wanted some curtains to be, the top of the ones hanging at the time was too dark and the bottom of the shabby pair was too light so Richard suggested popping a post it note on the shade the Prince wanted and that was the shade that was woven.

After refreshments, Richard was happy to answer questions from members.

Have a look at Richard’s website:

The next meeting of the Sudbury Society will be at All Saints Church Hall, Church Street, Sudbury at 7.30pm on Friday 23 March.