A Partridge and a Palm Tree

“Please have the door to Margaret’s room kept closed and the curtain down; as there are so many things on the bed there the sun should not shine on them and fade them.”–Elizabeth Nichols writing to her daughter, Rose, May 30, 1896 [1].

Elizabeth Nichols understood the effect of bright, sunny windows on textiles. Dyed and printed cloth are incredibly vulnerable to light damage, which is why many of the window dressings in the Nichols’ home have been taken down and archived in order to preserve their colors and patterns. One set of curtains in the museum’s collection, that previously furnished Rose Nichols’ guest bedroom windows, have now been in storage for over almost two decades. Research into this colorful pattern revealed that it is an iconic pattern in British and American furnishings of the 19th and 20th centuries.

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The curtains on display in the guest bedroom, 1971.
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Detail of the pattern on the curtains from Rose Nichols’ collection.

This printed cloth was designed and produced by Bannister Hall Printworks, a company that was active in Preston, Lancashire, England in the early 19th century [2]. The colorful pattern, featuring palm trees, game birds, and flowers, arranged in dense columns, is known as “Partridge,” although the birds featured are more often described as pheasants. The design is attributed to printer, Charles Swainson, who first produced it in 1815 [3]. Bannister Hall Printworks specialized in fabrics for interior decor and quilting and many of the fabrics manufactured there were chintzes, glazed cotton textiles usually printed with images of fruit, flowers, or birds. [4]

In the 1890s, Bannister Hall Printworks was acquired by their competitor Stead-McAlpin, who took ownership of their machinery, printing blocks and original designs [5]. Stead-McAlpin, still in business to this day, reprinted this pattern in 1907 and 1908 with the original block printing technique. In 1926 and 1937 they reproduced the pattern by copper roller, a much more efficient method of production [6]. Rose Nichols, who lived in her home from 1885-1960, most likely purchased a version of the pattern that had been printed during the early 20th century.

 

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Two versions of the 1815 pattern. Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.

Over the years, this patterned cloth became popular in England and the United States and was printed in many colors and used for interior furnishing purposes, including curtains and bedding. This pattern, among other prints from Bannister Hall Printworks, was frequently used in the 19th century for for quilting. The makers would either use the complete pattern to make “wholecloth” quilts, or delicately cut apart elements of the pattern for appliqué on a neutral background cloth [7].  Rose used this printed textile  for both curtains and bedding in her home. A coverlet in her collection boasts the same “Partridge” pattern but in a different color palette than the curtains.

 

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Quilt, 1825-35, including the bird and palm tree from the pattern, seen in the bottom corners of the composition. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania.
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Detail of the pattern on a coverlet from Rose Nichols’ collection.

These vibrant patterns align perfectly with Rose’s ideas about furnishing a room with curtains. In her 1910 House Beautiful article “Individuality in Interior Decoration” Rose advocates for this style of fabric when she writes,

“Curtains seem almost to form part of the walls, and their choice does much to make or mar a room. … Reproductions of old chintzes are valuable for giving a room distinctive curtains, and will harmonize with almost any color scheme.”[8]

A current project of the museum is the conservation and possible reproduction of these curtains to be installed in the guest bedroom.

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The curtains on display in the guest bedroom, 1971.

 

 

[1]Nichols and Shurtleff Family Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

[2]Blum, Dilys, and Jack L. Lindsey. “Nineteenth-Century Applique Quilts.”Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 85.363/364 (1989): 12. Web.

[3]”Textile, Printed.” Winterthur Museum Collection. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

[4]Blum, Dilys, and Jack L. Lindsey. “Nineteenth-Century Applique Quilts.”Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 85.363/364 (1989): 12. Web.

[5]”Our History.” Stead McAlpin. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

[6]From East to West: Textiles from G.P. & J. Baker ; Victoria & Albert Museum, 9 May – 14 October 1984. Victoria & Albert Museum, 1984. 345. Print.

[7]Blum, Dilys, and Jack L. Lindsey. “Nineteenth-Century Applique Quilts.”Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 85.363/364 (1989): 12-14. Web.

[8]Nichols, Rose Standish, “Individuality in Interior Decoration.” House Beautiful. June, 1910. 9-10.

By Emma Welty, Curatorial and Administrative Specialist

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Author: Nichols House Museum

The Nichols House Museum's mission is: To preserve and interpret the 1804 townhouse that was from 1885 until 1960 the home of Rose Standish Nichols, landscape gardener, suffragist and pacifist. The house was built by Jonathan Mason and is attributed to Charles Bulfinch. The museum educates visitors by providing a unique glimpse into the domestic life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on Boston's historic Beacon Hill.