Sunday, June 3, 2018

Pheasant & Palm Chintz #3: The Swainsons & Bannister Hall

If you go to the Cooper-Hewitt museum's website
 this familiar piece will pop up.
Here's what it says:
"Textile (England), 1815; Manufactured by Bannister Hall Printworks ; cotton;..."
(This may be an 11th colorway or maybe a faded tan.)
Occasionally a museum caption tells us more. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston captions a piece:
"Polychrome woodblock printed cotton with original glazing depicting palm trees and pheasants, a popular subject around 1815. This pattern was designed by Charles Swainson of the Bannister Hall printworks near Preston, Lancashire. "

I'm not so sure about two things here.
One: That they are all woodblock prints. Could it not be a cylinder or roller print with detail added by block? The design repeat in the many pieces tends to be about 15 inches---the typical repeat of a cylinder. Bannister Hall, which is credited as the originator, specialized in the new cylinder technology. The earliest pieces may be woodblocks but....

Two: I don't think Charles Swainson was a designer; he was the mill owner who hired the designers. This caption, however, got me interested in finding out more about Charles Swainson and Bannister Hall.

Preston, in the Northwest of England, is in Lancashire north of
the great Atlantic port of Liverpool.

There were a lot of Swainsons from Preston. At least two Charles Swainsons, father and son, were in the cotton business. Brothers and cousins John Swainson were also connected to the mills.

A portrait of the father Charles Swainson (b. 1780 - d. before 1866) from the Preston Digital Archives. An 1814 mortgage lists him as "Charles Swainson of Walton-le-Dale, calico-printer."

The print is another famous Swainson design called Royal Oak.

Charles the elder retired in 1844: "The firm of Charles Swainson and Co. was this day dissolved."
He turned over the business to "Charles Swainson the younger, of Bannister-hall, within the parish of Blackburn, in the county of Lancaster." 

Their company had many names. Here's a list of a few I've found:
Bannister Hall Printworks
Charles Swainson & Co.
Swainson, Birley and Company
Fishwick Mills
The Big Factory at Fishwick
Bannister Hall Print Works in Higher Walton
Swainson & Dennys
Swainson, Birley & Turton
A summary of what I've figured out: In 1804 brothers John and Charles Swainson bought into a cotton enterprise founded by Richard Jackson and John Stevenson in 1798. The company had a manufactory called Bannister Hall, probably named for an estate in Higher Walton, southeast of the city of Preston.
The house called Bannister Hall was demolished early in the 20th century.
I haven't found any pictures of the mill called Bannister Hall.

There must have been a cotton mill or printing factory there about 1800 in the years when new technology and machinery were revolutionizing the cotton industry. The Lancashire area north of Liverpool was home to many of those innovations. 

A Google map of Preston showing today's highways.
 In 1800 the highways were the rivers and Preston, although inland, 
was on the River Ribble to the sea.

Preston's advantages were rivers to run the mills and transport its products and the city's proximity to Liverpool, which shipped Lancashire cotton to Europe and the Americas.

England's Bowes Museum owns this coverlet with
prints attributed to Bannister Hall.

The Swainsons made the most of a fashion for printed cotton furniture fabrics, what we call chintz. They were innovators in mechanizing cotton printing with cylinder (roller) machinery and developing technology to create new colors and color combinations.

Strips of prints from the Bowes Coverlet. 
Note the floral near the center with a scalloped
edge, a signature style from Bannister Hall.

Flat florals seen from above.

The green, tan and yellow colorway also seems to have been a Bannister Hall look.
The Cooper Hewitt has two pieces of a popular oriental print (Chinoiserie)
from Bannister Hall.

By 1840 Bannister Hall had a reputation as the best printer of furniture or furnishing prints in England. Parliament conducted hearings into copyright, pirating and imports about that time. Copyright, believe it or not, lasted only three months.

The Chair asked Mr. E. Brooke, printer in a rival firm:
"Do you produce the finer article of furniture printing, or those of more ordinary sale?"

Mr. Brooke admitted, "There is a finer branch of furniture than we produce, produced by Messrs. Swainson of Bannister-Hall near Preston; they are the principal house for the production of the finest goods."

The Big Factory at Fishwick near Preston, painted by
Thomas Allom about 1835. See a post about this factory here:

Bannister Hall seems to have been one mill in the Swainson business. In 1824 or 1826 Swainson and Burley Company opened an enormous new factory in the area of Fishwick, north of Higher Walton, along the River Ribble. Although the Fishwick Mill was the modern center of their manufactory people still referred to the company as Bannister Hall. The Birley in the new business name was John Birley and Sons who partnered with the Swainsons in building the Big Mill.

The company prospered and so did the Swainsons. 
Cooper Hill was Charles the elder's home
in Walton le dale.

Frenchwood was Charles Jr.'s estate.

A typical Bannister Hall look,
lush stylized florals, tan blotch ground,
passion flowers with exaggerated stamens and lots of color.
These are the kind of prints the Swainsons produced before
they built the Fishwick Mill.

The pheasant with a plum tree rather than a palm was another
popular chintz attributed to Bannister Hall and probably copied by many other mills.

Eventually the Bannister Hall archive prints went to rival Stead, McAlpin. According to their history: In 1892 Edmund Wright Stead bought the blocks, machinery, designs (9,000 of them), and moveable assets of the textile printing firm of Bannister Hall.

See a patchwork bedcover in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection with Bannister Hall prints here:


  1. Looks like the mill has long gone but they seem to have found traces of where it probably was. There is a housing estate with 2 roads named Bannister Hall Road and Bannister Hall Lane. This pdf (which thankfully isn't one of those instant download versions) has photographs and maps of the area:


  2. Thanks, Kerry. I've been confused about how something that big could just disappear, but I guess it has.

  3. You are most welcome.

    Just been visiting a textile display on holiday in Leyburn, Yorkshire - and there's a very pretty quilt/coverlet. The centrepiece is cruel work embroidery but the fabric border has been quilted in arches. It is signed and dated "Hannah Langdale Aged 13 In The Year 1834.
    Quite stunning work for a young girl. Then another quilt in York city yesterday - lots of applique with a horn of plenty as a medallion. I blame you for all this, you know! ;D I thoroughly enjoyed it all too!

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  5. Hi,

    Thanks for the information on your blog.

    I'm currently doing a number of searches on the net relating to my family history research. I came across your blog after searching for Bannister Hall as it appears to have some associations with the Geill family. I have also found some other documents in recent days that mention a partnership between Richard Geill and Charles Swainson amongst others.

    Other members of the Geill family owned a calico print works at Low Mill in Whittle Le Woods, just down the road from Walton Le Dale.
    Your blog has certainly helped and motivated me to continue my research.
    I feel I have some way to go with this research yet and then collate my findings to make sense of it!