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East Anglia Future 50

Project aims to show how silk is woven into fabric of Suffolk town

PUBLISHED: 11:21 13 March 2019

Sudbury silk at Vanners Silk Weavers with chairman David Tooth  Picture: GREGG BROWN

Sudbury silk at Vanners Silk Weavers with chairman David Tooth Picture: GREGG BROWN

A new project aims to bring Sudbury's silk heritage to life by talking to employees who are or were involved in the industry.

Weaver’s Lane - 47 Gainsborough Street was originally built as William Hill’s silk manufactory  Picture: DUNCAN MERRENWeaver’s Lane - 47 Gainsborough Street was originally built as William Hill’s silk manufactory Picture: DUNCAN MERREN

Sudbury Silk Stories, funded by Babergh District Council and £36,400 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, aims to show how silk has shaped the town.

The scheme is looking for the stories of current and former employees and will explore the history and changes that have taken place in the local industry, which continues to produce some of Europe’s finest silk.

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The town has a rich history of silk, dating back to the 1770s when silk weavers moved from Spitalfields to Sudbury and it currently has four thriving silk businesses, making it the UK’s largest silk producing town.

Over the coming months, the project will record and share the experiences of silk mill staff, creating a short film and an archive of interviews for the local community and for visitors to learn from.

Terraced houses on Cross Street were originally have been constructed for Weavers working in the town’s silk mills  Picture: DUNCAN MERRENTerraced houses on Cross Street were originally have been constructed for Weavers working in the town’s silk mills Picture: DUNCAN MERREN

Sudbury residents and former silk industry employees can leave their stories of the industry at the Sudbury Silk Stories Memory Box, to be installed in Sudbury Library on Market Hill, or contact the project co-ordinator to speak about their experiences in more detail via the Babergh website, or by leaving their contact details in the Memory Box.

Town charity the Offshoot Foundation will team up with Ormiston Sudbury Academy and Thomas Gainsborough School, going into the mills to film interviews, which will feature in full on the Sudbury Silk Stories website. Clips will be included in a 10 minute film about the Sudbury silk industry screened in the town on August 1, and later at the Sudbury Silk Festival.

The council has also joined forces with Gainsborough’s House Museum and the Sudbury Ephemera Society to expand the project to include an education resource for local schools and a collection of photographs and letters relating to Sudbury’s silk history.

Councillor Margaret Maybury said: “So few people are aware of just how active the industry is today. The wealth, prestige, skill and knowledge the industry has earned over the generations has shaped the town and is continuing to do so. Top fashion houses, royalty and celebrities from Great Britain to Milan to New York, work, use, and choose Sudbury silk.

“This is a real opportunity to celebrate this remarkable industry local within our community.”

Robyn Llewellyn, head of the National Lottery Fund East of England, said: “We’re delighted to support Babergh District Council to celebrate the fascinating heritage of the silk industry in Sudbury.

“The project provides the opportunity to gather stories about the people who worked in the iAndustry and those who have worn Sudbury silks. Thanks to National Lottery players, local people can explore and play a part in preserving a significant part of this intriguing story.”

Silk has been woven in Sudbury for the wedding dresses of the Princess Royal and Princess Diana, Adele’s dress for the Brit Awards and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s dress when she visited the Queen. Silk woven in the town is also used in many of the major historic palaces and important buildings of England.

The town’s rich tradition will also be celebrated through the Sudbury Silk Festival in September.

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