OLD CATTON SOCIETY
Our guest speaker at our February meeting was Helen Hoyte, the renowned authority on Norwich Shawls, that desirable fashion accessory of the 18th and 19th Centuries. She told us that the seeds of the Norwich Shawl were sown in the 16th Century when the “Strangers” of Norwich developed a smooth, delicate cloth by combining worsted and silk. This was revived in the mid-18th Century by John Harvey, master weaver of Colegate, when looking for a means of satisfying the demand for shawls and also providing a cheaper alternative to the popular but expensive Kashmiri silks. At first the shawls were hand embroidered but before long the Norwich weavers had found a way to incorporate this on their looms and with artistic abandon created more and more elaborate designs and vivid colours (especially the “Norwich Red”). The Norwich Shawl grew in popularity, especially when Queen Victoria bought two of them at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and it was a prosperous time for Norwich with wealthy weaving families, like the Harveys and Towlers, moving into substantial houses in the countryside. However as the end of the 19th Century approached fashion changed; the bustle came in and proved to be incompatible with wearing a shawl and feminine attitudes gradually moved in favour of more outdoor pursuits, such as walking, cycling and tennis, for which the shawl was a decided encumbrance.
Helen Hoyte paid full tribute to Pamela Clabburn who was the first to arouse interest in the Norwich Shawl and who started that splendid collection of shawls in the city.