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Bangor research helps with new Victoria and Albert Museum book

Catrin with the Cross Twiggs design textile at Penrhyn Castle.Catrin with the Cross Twigs textile design at Penrhyn Castle.A research student at Bangor University has confirmed suspicions that a pattern design by Morris & Co is actually older than previously thought. Working in partnership with the National Trust, Catrin Wager from Bethesda, is leading on Prosiect Penrhyn, a KESS funded MRes project at Bangor University that involves the cataloguing of the Penrhyn Castle Papers which are held in the Archives and Special Collections Department of the University. Catrin began this mammoth task of recording and cataloguing the contents of 77 boxes in January 2012.

The Penrhyn Castle papers were received by Welsh Government in lieu of Death Duties in 2010. Catrin has been fastidiously examining each document and recording the information contained in them that will eventually provide an extensive catalogue of the material.

Clare Turgoose, House and Collections Manager at Penrhyn Castle asked Catrin to keep an eye out for any documentation relating to Morris & Co purchases. Within just six week into the research, Catrin came across inventories and receipts relating to the Prince of Wales’ visit to the castle in 1894. The Lord and Lady Penrhyn of that time underwent a costly refurbishment of the property, including the room where the Monarch would occupy during his stay. Receipts for the value of £845 to William Morris & Co were found that led to this confirmation.

Clare told Catrin that the Victoria & Albert Museum were due to publish a new book on William Morris, and the author had been in touch as she was trying to find evidence that helped date the ‘Cross Twigs’ pattern. Catrin carefully read through the receipts and found a mention of the pattern – a discovery that was to prove that ‘Cross Twigs’ was actually in existence five years earlier than experts had previously believed.

Linda Parry, author of William Morris Textiles (1983), worked at the Victoria and Albert museum for 30 years before retiring in 2005.

Excited at Catrin’s findings, Linda explained:

“What Catrin discovered for me so far has been very useful. Some years ago I had dealings with a conservator who had worked at Penrhyn Castle. She knew my book which includes a catalogue of all William Morris's repeating textile designs and was able to tell me that the approximate design date that I had given to "Cross Twigs" was five years too late as it was used on the furnishings of the bed for a royal visit to Penrhyn Castle in 1894. I am now revising this book which will be published in 2013 by the Victoria and Albert Museum.”

“The original invoices for a number of Morris wallpapers and other textiles which suggests that this research may unearth the fact that Morris & Co. were far more involved with Penrhyn Castle than previously known.”

William Morris was the single most influential designer of the nineteenth century. During this period Morris & Co. grew into a flourishing and fashionable decorating firm renowned for its wallpapers and textiles. William Morris’ designs are extremely popular and still available today.

Thrilled with her discovery, Catrin says:

“While I knew that, during this project I was likely to uncover really interesting evidence relating to local issues such as the Penrhyn Quarry and the Great Strike, I never imagined my work could help a world expert like Linda Parry, and to be associated with the V & A Museum is a real honour, especially at such an early stage of my research. This alone shows the potential of the project, and is part of the reason why I keep a blog of my new discoveries".

Catrin's research scholarship is funded under the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS) Programme. KESS is a major European Convergence programme led by Bangor University on behalf of the HE sector in Wales. Benefiting from European Social Funds (ESF), KESS supports collaborative research projects (Research Masters and PhD) with external partners based in the Convergence area of Wales (West Wales and the Valleys).  Both the Research Masters and PhD elements are integrated with a high-level skills training programme, leading to a Postgraduate Skills Development Award. KESS will run until 2014 and will provide 400+ PhD and Masters places.

Publication date: 16 June 2012