LANCASTER & CORNISH : A PERSONAL STORY

I am often asked why I started Lancaster & Cornish....

It is a reasonable question! For someone who studied Geology, and took a Masters in Environmental Science, the path to a career in naturally dyed textiles does not seem an obvious one. The answer is woven into the Lancaster family story and my very own textile heritage.

 David and Elizabeth Lancaster Wedding, 1927

Wedding of my Grandfather David (Taid Lancaster) to my Grandmother Elizabeth (Nain) at Llandegai Church, Near Penryn Castle, Bangor, Easter Saturday April 1929

I never knew I had a family background in textiles. When I first started Lancaster & Cornish, it was simply a passion – that feeling of fabric through the fingers, finding the gorgeous grains hidden in the silks and experimenting, creating depth from the textures.

It was only many years later that I found out that it’s in my blood. It turns out that my Grandfather and Great Grandfather owned D. M. Lancaster, a three-floor fabric emporium in George Street, central Manchester in the twenties and thirties. They sourced incredible fabrics from all over the world. My Great-Grandfather was a cotton weaver and it’s amazing to think that 100 years later I’m experiencing the same beauty and simple satisfaction from my own personal experience with cottons and silks every single day.

Copper leaf bamboo silk ribbon

The material for my Grandmother Elizabeth's bridesmaids dresses was chosen by Elizabeth from the huge selection at D. M Lancaster Ltd. She chose plain white silk, and her sister Mary chose a pretty white spotted organza which required a lining. A cousin, Mary Griffiths, was a professional milliner (she made hats for Lady Lloyd George) and made a bonnet lined with pale blue silk for little sister Mair. All the wedding clothes were put in a small bedroom at their relatives cottage (no running water, and the bride shared the bed with her 2 sisters!). As always, little wedding hiccups! Mair paraded around getting under everyone’s feet, the wrong flowers were delivered. In spite of being reminded, William forgot to remove his heavy overcoat and scarf at the church and gave away his daughter dressed for the Artic!

D. M Lancaster Ltd was born in the 1920's - 3 floors of fabric at 27 George Street, Manchester providing all manner of fabrics. 1940 and the war years were dark times. The family (with their daughter Eileen and now with my Dad, Glynne, born in 1938) moved away from the bombings of Manchester to the safety of the seaside at Lytham St Anne’s. The buying and selling of cloth was highly regulated and rationed. One night my grandfather received a call about a bombing in George Street. He arrived the next morning to find only the shell of the building left - he could see right through to the basement, and everything was gone. However, the opposite side of the road was intact, and new premises were found at 24 George Street.

Nain and Taid Lancaster with Sian Lancaster (that's me!) in 1975, Lytham, Lancashire

After the war, a free market gradually returned and D. M Lancaster started to build up again, trading with people from all over the world. It was an honourable trade, deals were concluded with just a handshake in those days. The 3 floors filled up with fabrics, silk, satin, velvet, new materials such as nylon, cotton of course, rayon and seersucker. My Dad and Aunty Eileen loved to visit, sliding down the rolls of fabric and generally making a nuisance of themselves! The story continues with visits from cousins emigrating from America (bringing news that the Lancaster’s were descended from John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster - never corroborated, but I like to believe it!). Gradually, the cotton boom diminished as cheaper good invaded from overseas. The business was eventually sold to a conglomerate.


And the shop? ................Now part of Manchester’s China Town.

The beat goes on.