On the Joy of Social History

Warner & Sons Alumni Reunite at the Archive

Warner & Sons Alumni Reunite at the Archive

With the weekend came Coffee, Cake & Memories – not only a celebration of the Warner Textile Archive’s 10th anniversary, but a celebration of Warner & Sons, and those who contributed to creating its legacy. We invited the Company’s former employees to celebrate with us, hosting a ‘reunion’ of sorts, bringing together weavers, winders, and their colleagues from Warner’s London design studio.

Upon organising the event, the hope was to kick start a new social history project, recording the memories of everyday life at Warner & Sons, and in doing so, aiding our understanding of the Archive’s Collection. This is a significant undertaking, but after several discussions it seemed to become more and more fitting that we were able to host a reunion in our 10th anniversary year.

What shone through was the notion that despite gaining global recognition as a producer of fine textiles, Warner & Sons’ roots lay firmly in its family values and prevailing community spirit. It prompted a recollection of Sir Lewis Namier’s damning approach to (the study of) the general populace: “Why do you bother with these bandits?”, and a consideration that Warner’s had adopted an alternative outlook with respect to its own staff. 

Michael joined the Firm in 1968 as an apprentice hand weaver; he says: “At the age of 15, Warner & Sons took me on and taught me a skill that’s earned me a living for my whole life. It was a lovely place to work – a family firm. The management had respect for its employees – you were allowed to be proud of your work.”

What came through in each of our discussions was that Warner’s had left its alumni with a bank of fond memories – it was truly a pleasure to experience the pride with which they still reflect on their work, but also the delight taken in life’s everyday traditions, like the afternoon jam doughnut from the Company’s canteen. “The best job I ever had”, recalled Jill, a weaver for Company in the early 1960s.

The afternoon closed on a quick note from Geoffrey, the Company’s former Sales Director: “It’s nice to know that Warner’s aren’t forgotten!” And, while Sir Namier’s cohort may have argued against the pursuit of social history in favour of the study of “people who mattered”,* it seems that the two can sit together, hand in hand.

* from: Richard Evans, In Defence of History. (London, UK. 1997) – p.162

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