Why was cotton so important in north west England?

Fabric, The Chase

Designed by Paterson Zochonis, Manchester, printed by A Brunnschweiler & Co Ltd, Hyde, about 1965
Wax-printed cotton fabric

Object number 1995.2
Given by Cussons (International) Ltd

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Fabric, The Chase

The textile firm of Paterson Zochonis was established as a trading company in Sierra Leone in 1879, building on west Africa's established trading links with Europe after slavery had been abolished. It opened its headquarters in Manchester in 1886, and by the 1930s had branches in Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Gold Coast (Ghana). The key to its success was a good knowledge of west African markets, a network of trading contacts and the quality of its goods.

Wax-printed textiles were a key element of its business although the company did not manufacture cotton goods itself. Acting as a textile merchant-converter, it bought cloth straight from the loom and commissioned printers to produce the patterns which their own designers had drawn. This pattern was printed by A Brunnschweiler & Co of Hyde, Cheshire. Cloth was then stored in its own warehouses prior to export. British wax-printed textiles were regarded as status symbols in west Africa, worn by the wealthier classes.

The symbolism on the pattern was important to its commercial success, as was colour selection. The flying bird seen on one fabric here signifies freedom or departure, a common theme. This could, given the date of origin, be connected with the independence movement in west Africa, but may also represent being chased or hunted. Reference pattern samples were filed with the Calico Printers’ Association, Manchester.

This information was provided by curators from the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI).