Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Wardle, Thomas

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WARDLE, Sir THOMAS (1831–1909), promoter of the silk industry, born at Macclesfield on 26 Jan. 1831, was eldest son of Joshua Wardle, founder of the silk-dyeing industry at Leek, Staffordshire. Educated at a private school at Macclesfield and at the Leek grammar school, he entered his father's business at Leek-brook at an early age, and after his father's death he established in 1882 the silk and cotton-printing business of Wardle & Co. at Hencroft, Leek, and later the Churnet works there. He was also one of the founders and original directors of the Leek Spun Silk Manufacturing Company. An intimate friendship with William Morris [q. v. Suppl. I] began in 1875, when Morris paid the first of many visits to Leek and worked with Wardle at the lost art of indigo-dyeing. Together they succeeded in restoring vegetable dyeing to the position of an important industry (cf. Mackail's Life of William Morris, 1899). The friendship stimulated artistic workmanship at Wardle's factories, and he produced the earliest prints on cretonnes and silks from Morris's designs.

To Wardle was mainly due the commercial utilisation of Indian tasar or wild silk, to the possible manufacturing value of which Dr. (now Sir) George Birdwood had drawn the attention of the Bombay government in 1860. After much experimenting at Dr. Birdwood's instigation, Wardle in 1867 succeeded in bleaching the brown fibre and dyeing it so as to make it serviceable for manufacture. In 1872 he had a piece of this product woven in Crefield, and thenceforth tasar silk was utilised by the Yorkshire manufacturers, the waste being converted into 'seal-cloth' or plush — an imitation of seal-skin. Wardle exhibited his results at the British section of the Paris exhibition of 1878 (cf. Birdwood's Handbook to the section), and was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour and an Officier d'Académie. Owing chiefly to Wardle's researches, tasar silk from China as well as from India became a generally important article of commerce.

By direction of the India office Wardle in 1885-6 visited Bengal to collect silk textiles and native embroideries for the Colonial and Indian exhibition at South Kensington, and to investigate the state of sericulture. His report, which showed that 60 per cent, of the silk-worms died of preventible diseases and that the reeling from the cocoons in the filatures was very imperfect, led to reform, and consequently to a revival of the almost lost trade in Bengal silk in England and France. On the same visit, in 1886, Wardle investigated the causes of the decay in the ancient silk productivity of Kashmir, and after his return to England long pressed a scientific scheme for its revival on the government. At length in 1897 he officially made large purchases in Europe of silk-worm eggs and cocoon-reeling machinery for the Kashmir Durbar, and under his advice a disappearing industry was placed on a footing of great prosperity. On a visit to Kashmir in 1903 he suggested the addition of silk weaving to silk production, with the result that Kashmir now produces silk of a quality comparable to that of Italy (Imperial Gaz. of India, vol. xv.). Wardle narrated the story of his efforts in 'Kashmir and its new Silk Industry' (1904). In Cyprus, too, Wardle reorganised silk production. Universally recognised as the chief authority on matters connected with silk, he had a principal share in founding, in 1887, the Silk Association of Great Britain and Ireland, of which he remained president to his death. Knighted in 1897, he was admitted to the honorary freedom of the Weavers' Company on 3 Feb. 1903.

Wardle was remarkable for his intellectual activity and versatility. To John Sleigh's 'History of Leek' (1862) he contributed a chapter on the geology of the neighbour-hood which earned him the fellowship of the Geological Society. He also wrote on the geology of mid-England, of Roches, of Shuttinslowe, and of Cromer. He made a good collection of carboniferous limestone fossils, which he presented to the Nicholson Institute at Leek, and he wrote three monographs on fossils. He was on the council of the Palæontographical Society, and a fellow of the Chemical and Statistical Societies. An earnest churchman, and one of the originators of the Lichfield diocesan choral festival, Wardle composed a set of chants for the canticles and psalms for congregational singing, music for the marriage service, and also songs and Christmas carols. He took part in local affairs, serving as J.P. from 1898. He died at Leek on 3 Jan. 1909, and was buried in the Cheddleton churchyard. There is a memorial window in Warslow church, where a new chancel had been erected by Sir Thomas shortly before his death. He married in 1857 Elizabeth, daughter of Hugh Wardle of Leek (to whom he was not lineally related); her brother, George Wardle, was William Morris's manager at the Queen Square works. An expert in embroidery, she, with her husband, founded the Leek School of Embroidery, where tasteful and original work in both design and colour was done under her direction. An excellent copy in cloth of the Bayeux tapestry made there is now in the Reading Art Gallery. Lady Wardle died on 8 Sept. 1902, leaving five sons and four daughters.

Wardle wrote many monographs on silk. These include a report on the silk industry in England for the Royal Commission on Technical Instruction, 1884 (2nd report, vol. iii.); 'The Wild Silks of India,' a South Kensington handbook (1885); 'The Depression in the English Silk Trade and its Causes' (1886), a strong plea for a protective import tariff; ‘On Silk, its Entomology, Uses, and Manufacture’ (1888); ‘On the Adulteration of Silk by Chemical Weighting’ (1897); and ‘The Divisibility of Silk Fibre’ (1908). To ‘Chambers's Encyclopædia’ he contributed in 1888 an article on ‘Silk.’

[Wardle's books and pamphlets; Mackail's Life of William Morris, 1899; Sir W. Lawrence's Valley of Kashmir, 1895; Imp. Gaz. of India, vol. xv.; Col. T. H. Hendley's Memoir, Jnl. of Indian Art and Industry, Oct. 1909; The Times, 5 Jan. 1909; Macclesfield Courier and Herald, Leek Post, and Textile Mercury, all of 9 Jan. 1909; Trans. North Staffs. Field Club, xliii. (1909); personal knowledge.]

F. H. B.