The Silk Museum is housed in the original School of Art built in 1879 with land and funding granted by the council and public subscriptions. The School had been founded in 1851 and initially used rented rooms in the Useful Knowledge Society building. Its original aim was to educate practical designers for the manufacture of silk, but later it went on to offer more general art education and gained a reputation for producing high quality work. It formed part of a complex of buildings linked to learning in this area of the town, including the Free Library, the Technical School and the Useful Knowledge Society. The School also established the town’s first museum which exhibited student’s work along with items loaned from museums in London.
Famous visitors include the artist, designer, poet, novelist and social activist William Morris who came to the North West and Macclesfield to learn more about natural dyes from local silk manufacturer Thomas Wardle and gave a lecture at the School of Art in 1889 about the Arts and Crafts movement. He described Macclesfield as a ‘shabby town’ but with the surrounding countryside being ‘really beautiful’.
Wardle, who did much to rejuvenate the silk industry in India, was born in Macclesfield in 1831 and saw the benefits of maintaining a close relationship with the town when he made his home in neighbouring Leek, particularly links with the Brocklehurst family. He was instrumental in inviting the Duchess of Teck to Leek and Macclesfield to promote the British silk industry, where she was hosted by the Brocklehursts on the Swythamley Estate and visited a silk exhibition at the Macclesfield School of Art with rooms decorated by Arighi Bianchi. He also corresponded regularly with Marianne Brocklehurst as they had many interests in common. The museum collection includes the letter Wardle sent Marianne advising on an architect for her proposed West Park Museum, along with a collection of archive material relating to Wardle and a vast array of textiles inspired by India, Morris and Wardle, many produced by students at the School of Art.
Painter and illustrator Charles Tunnicliffe was born in Macclesfield and studied at the School of Art from 1916. He went on to become the first illustrator of Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter novel, illustrated many Ladybird books and RSPB magazine covers.
Today The Silk Museum tells the silk heritage story, giving an introduction to its journey along the Silk Road and how Macclesfield is forever associated with this industry. It explores the work of some of the Art School students, from their initial ideas to their final exam pieces. It examines the properties of silk, how it is woven, printed and coloured. It introduces you to some of the well-known Macclesfield silk manufacturers and their looms. Highlights include 18th century silk buttons which were the start of the Macclesfield silk story, silk escape maps and parachutes which helped to win World War II and the loom used to make the famous Brocklehurst Whiston silk pictures.
There is a special exhibition gallery with an exciting programme of changing displays throughout the year, the Jacquard Tea Room for light refreshments and a gift shop.
The new Between Floors Gallery is now open, featuring Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe: A Cheshire Countryman, a display of work by the acclaimed artist.
Access: Steps at the main entrance to the museum, step free access available on request, step free access around ground floor, lift to first floor special exhibition gallery, accessible toilet.
Location: The Silk Museum is located off Mill Street on the old Park Lane. There is no on-site parking, but there is short stay on-street parking directly outside the building and a public car park on the junction of Park Lane and Park Green (the Old Library car park in front of The Society Rooms pub).