Thursday, 24 September 2020

Romney Marsh Weavers


About 1920, Kathleen Rigden Read moved from Twickenham in London to a house called in North St, Winchelsea, in East Sussex. Once there, she set her the hand-looms her husband Arthur had designed and made and began spinning and weaving wool from the sheep grazed on Romney Marsh (below) as well as weaving and dyeing silk from thread she bought in for the purpose. (The photo shows Chris Finn Kelcey and his dog Pete with a flock of Romneys behind them and a flock of Suffolks in the other pasture.)

I believe she can be seen wearing garments made from both types of material in The Venetian shawl, one of the first colour woodcuts made by her husband Arthur in 1923. Kathleen was a member of Romney Marsh Weavers, a co-operative with a weaving shed in a disused chapel on Peasmarsh Road where they used wool from sheep at Oxenbridge Farm at Iden. Oxenbridge was owned by Catherine Buchanan (below) a friend and fellow member of the Weavers, and her husband Bertram, who was a retired professional soldier and an artist.

The members of the co-operative did all the work themselves from shearing to spinning and dyeing, often using vegetable dyes, including a beautiful fawn made from lichen gathered at Dungeness on the southern edge of the marsh. One reason I think the dress Kathleen is wearing is made from wool is because a tanned Catherine Buchanan can be seen wearing it in a photograph taken at Oxenbridge by Paul Nash.

At the time Nash and his wife Margaret were renting the tied cottage across the road from the farm after they had moved from Dymchurch and where Nash did some of his very best work before surrealism got the better of him. It was an odd mix of the old Arts and Crafts dispensation and modernists like Nash but it seemed to work even if the fastidious Nash was dismayed by his wife's enthusiasm for the folk-dancing that went off at the farm. Whether Margaret ever owned any of the garments made by Kathleen is another thing. Kitty has a rug-loom at the farmhouse where the floors were covered in her rugs.

Other visitors to Winchelsea were S.G. Boxsius and his wife Daisy. Possibly one of the lambing-sheds that are such an important feature of the marsh can be seen in his linocut Afterglow (above) (and once you know the marsh, it couldn't be anywhere else) though many of the current sheds are made from corrugated iron and steel. It is hard t know what happened to any of the products made by the co-operative. They were sold at local exhibitions and praised at larger exhibitions in London. Kathleen silks were sold alongside Arthur's colour woodcuts and some of them certainly were bought by the Carnegie Foundation in the U.S. about 1927.

One of Kathleen's own aims at least had been to teach people how to weave in order to provide them with local employment.  Flax had been grown by the river Brede below Winchesea and there was a linen mill there in C18th.  But it all came to a pretty disastrous end during the war. While she was away in London weaving braid for naval uniforms, the studio was hit by a bomb and both looms were destroyed. I think that knocked the heart out of the project for them because at the end of the war, the couple moved to Slad near Stroud in the Cotswolds. Hopefully this isn't the end of the story, though, and someone will know something more about Romney Marsh Weavers and the things they made. I can hardly believe that a few of the them at least have not survived somewhere and if anyone does know of any, please let me know.


  1. Great to have this blog back! The best thing on the internet.

    1. Hi Chris, Glad you enjoy it. I only I can live up to expectations.