‘Although design was a profession dominated by men, it was not a male preserve and following the opening of the new School of Art building on Old Park Lane in 1879, it was reported that the ladies’ class more than doubled. Female students were highly successful, winning many prizes in the national competitions for fine art or embroidery design’ (Annabel Wills)
One of the most successful female designers was Edith Buxton, who first enrolled at the Macclesfield School of Art in September 1921.
Edith’s maiden name was Clayton. She was born 11 July 1908 and lived with her family in Hibel Road with William her father, a gas fitter for the Borough Council, and her mother, Mary, a silk piecer. Sometime between the census in 1911 and the one in 1921 William disappears from the record. Mary is still marked as Married not Widowed so I don’t know where he went. Edith was then living at 13 Lowe Street with her mother, two sisters, one brother and a lodger with his daughter.
Edith Clayton left school aged 12 and became a silk winder. In 1921 she registered for the first time at the School of Art (where the silk museum is now), as a part time student with a Free Studentship.
By the time she enrolled in 1925 aged 17 she is already described as a ‘silk designer’. A note ‘Mr Hewetson’ next to her name suggests that she was working at Hewetson’s, where there were automated embroidery machines, Zangs, bought by Augustus Hewetson in the 1920s.
In 1930 Edith married Joseph Buxton and moved to the Cottage in Blakelow Road where she lived until her death in 1996.
In 1933, aged just 25, she became Head Designer at Barracks Printing Company. Barracks played a pioneering role in screen printing, moving away from block printing, and Edith was an expert with this new technology. Barracks became the largest hand-screen printers in England.
Edith Buxton’s designs were highly successful. The museum has a letter from Alan M. Allan, Managing Director of Jacqmar in London, dated 15 January 1949, looking forward to her new design ‘L’Heure Venitienne’ and congratulating her on ‘Tulip Time’: ‘It nearly established an all-time record here and I think it has had the second biggest sale of any we have ever produced.’
In April 1945 an article was printed in Silk & Rayon magazine about screenprinting in Macclesfield. It makes a specific reference to Edith Buxton, without naming her— a great tribute to her technical know-how as well as her artistic ability:
‘Before, in these columns, we have stressed the necessity of having textile designers with a thorough knowledge of the trade in all its complicated processes. Perhaps that is where the secret lies of the beauty of the Barracks printing. Their woman designer knows the trade, designs for the fabrics alone, understanding the limitations of screen printing, colours available, technicalities and so forth, thus dispensing with the major difficulties experienced by many textile manufacturers who buy well-known artists’ designs only to have them “pulled about” considerably before being at all possible for use as textiles.