Exploring the First World War History of Derby Silk Mill
Fri 21 Apr 2017
The Silk Mill, Derby will host the poppies sculpture Weeping Window from Friday 9 June to Sunday 23 July, as part of 14-18 NOW’s tour of the poppies.
The sculpture, by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, is presented by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary. Weeping Window is a cascade comprising several thousand handmade ceramic poppies. As with all 14-18 NOW projects, the presentation of Weeping Window aims to engage people across the UK with the centenary of the First World War.
The Silk Mill has a rich history, and included with this history is the significant contribution it made to the war effort during the First World War.
At the time of the First World War The Silk Mill had recently been rebuilt after being almost completely destroyed in 1910. By 1914, the Mill had been divided into two businesses, one grinding corn and another, F. W. Hampshires, producing medical supplies. As a building containing two local business producing essential supplies, The Silk Mill was an integral part of the war effort.
During the First World War, Derby Silk Mill was under the ownership of chemists F.W. Hampshire & Co. Ltd. and known as the Riverside Works. Hampshire’s branded the building as ‘the home of Egrol’, a powdered custard famed for its realistic, egg-like taste. The works also produced ‘Snowfire’ antiseptic ointment for burns and chapped skin, amongst other medicinal cough mixtures. As these powdered food and medicinal items were easily transportable to the front F.W. Hampshire became an important supplier for the war effort, later acknowledged on company stationery as ‘contractors to the War Office’. As with many other companies in the city, labour shortages led to Hampshires employing women to senior positions in the firm such as superintendent of the factory.
Derby as a whole played a vital part in production during the course of the First World War with Rolls-Royce developing the Eagle Engine at the request of the government to power allied aircraft. As The Silk Mill: Museum of Making the museum now holds a great number of industrial and social history objects which tell the stories of how Derby’s companies and its communities contributed to the war effort.
The breath-taking sculpture Weeping Window was initially conceived as one of the key dramatic sculptural elements in the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London in the summer and autumn of 2014. Over the course of its time at the Tower, the sculpture was gradually surrounded by a vast field of ceramic poppies, each one planted by a volunteer in memory of the life of a British or Colonial soldier lost during the First World War. In their original setting they captured the public imagination and were visited by over five million people.
Weeping Window is from the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ – poppies and original concept by artist Paul Cummins and installation designed by Tom Piper – by Paul Cummins Ceramics Limited in conjunction with Historic Royal Palaces, originally at HM Tower of London 2014.
For more information visit the Visit Derby Poppies website.