SHIRLEY LEAF & PETAL COMPANY
In the basement of a shop in Hastings is a hidden national treasure!
Brenda Wilson welcomes you in her shop and then takes you to see the only working museum in the United Kingdom that still produces silk flowers.
In the basement you discover beautiful victorian machines used to cut fabrics and shape them into flowers. Also about 10 000 flower irons and cutting tolls are lining the walls together with special fabrics, samples of flowers, fruits ans leaves, and a lovely collection of wax bridal tiaras and crowns dating from the 1920s to the the 1980s.
During Victorian times, botanists travelled the world bringing back samples of unusual plants and flowers on behalf of Kew Gardens. Wax and plaster of Paris moulds of these rare species would reproduce authentic shapes for cutting tools and stamps to be forged by manufacturers for the artificial flower and leaf trade.
Many of the tools were forged by the Bick family or ordered by catalogue from France or Germany.
Velvets, silks and satins were used by flower factories to produce the most exquisite colourful hair wreaths, hat and dress adornments. Victorian and Edwardian ladies would use artificial flowers on their gowns, milliners designed exotic creations for the hat trade.
Wax flowers and leaves were fashionable for bridal occasions with the company in Hastings employing 100 home workers and their families, as well as many working in the factory. They used copper wax pots, hand tools and veining machines in their homes.
Fruits and berries were made for display purposes, waxed with a « bloom ».
Waxed chrysanthemums and anemones were regularly despatched to the Shetland Isles for wreaths, bouquets and floral displays which were used in place of fresh flowers.
Caribbean carnivals ordered vast amounts of waxed dahlias in bright colours for the festivals.
Woolworth ordered violets for its « Devon violets » range of beauty products and Tom Smith Christmas Crackers used enough silver and gold holy leaves and berries to keep people busy all year round.
The confectionary trade ordered flowers for wedding cakes and handmade hops were a speciality for the breweries.
The company came to the Hastings area in 1910 from a family business in London. It began to expand and purchased other businesses in the area creating a thriving Bridal section for the company, employing travelling sales representatives.
The factory family business was purchased by Brenda in 1981 who opened the Working Manufacturing Museum to the public, with smaller premises in the Old Town of Hastings in 1993.
Nowadays Shirley Leaf & Petal company supplies artificial leaves and petals to film (Gladiator, Reign of fire, The Kingdom of Heaven…), theatre (ENO, Met. Opera House, Musicals…)and television (Victoria and Albert, Postman Pat…)producers and designers, fashion houses, milliners and costumiers can order exclusive designs.