On 1 September 1939, France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany following their invasion of Poland. By the end of 1945, six years after war was declared, the conflict had spanned across the globe, and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 85 million people. Killing approximately 3% of the global population, World War II remains the largest and deadliest war in human history. In the UK, the war effort was controlled through legislation which included conscription laws, forcing civilians to undertake either Military or National Service.

In 1940, the government introduced rationing of essential, and some non-essential, food and commodities to ensure their fair distribution. Most raw materials for consumer goods were diverted to the war effort. Warner & Sons were amongst those companies who continued to operate throughout the war. In 1941, the Board of Warner & Sons applied to Board of Labour to continue operating under the Essential Works Order. The same year, the Board of Trade implemented a consumer rationing order which was aimed at rationing clothing for the civilian population. Initially this included furnishing fabrics, although lobbying from the Federation of British Textile Manufacturers relieved many of these categories. Furnishing fabrics would be reintroduced over the preceding years.

Power woven textile sample ‘Medallion’ designed by Enid Marx woven at Warner & Sons Limited as part of the Utility Scheme. © Warner Textile Archive/Braintree District Museum Trust


That same year ‘Controlled Commodity’ regulations were implemented by the Board of Trade. The CC41 logo was attached to all commodities that met the austerity regulations, a requirement set out by the government. These restrictions included limiting dyes and fibres used for textiles, favouring designs that were simple. In 1943, the Utility Furniture Advisory Committee appointed the designer Enid Marx to direct the design of textiles for Furnishings. Marx’ design philosophy was radical. According to her obituary, she was inspired by avant-garde artists such as Picasso and Braque. Marx designed the power-woven textile named ‘Medallion’ in four colourways. Two other designs were produced for the utility scheme too, including ‘Leaf Design’ a woven fabric, and an untitled printed fabric.


Power woven textile sample ‘Leaf Design’ designed by Albert Swindells woven at Warner & Sons Limited as part of the Utility Scheme. © Warner Textile Archive/Braintree District Museum Trust


In 1979, correspondence between Marx and Hester Bury, then Archivist at Warner Fabrics, discussed the design process within the strict regulations of the Board of Trade. According to Marx, designers would submit their ideas to a committee. Once approved, they would be sent to a manufacturer to create a prototype. These prototypes would be re-considered, and the approved designs would be assigned to manufacturers participating in the Utility Scheme, including Warner & Sons Limited. Marx even remarks that the requirements given by the Board of Trade were still used by Marks & Spencer in the late 1970s. Marx was the first women engraver to be designated as a Royal Designer of Industry.


Printed textile sample ‘Untitled – M46’ printed by Warner & Sons Limited as part of the Utility Scheme. © Warner Textile Archive/Braintree District Museum Trust


Enid Marx spent much of her life with her long-term partner, and prominent historian, Margaret Lambert. Homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people faced strong discrimination post-war. It was common for co-habiting same-sex couples to deny having a physical relationship. Homosexual and bisexual women were often ostracised from society and faced having their children taken or other acts of public brutality. For homosexual and bisexual men, it was a criminal offence and many were forced to undertake humiliating and unnecessary medical procedures by the state. Close friends of Marx and Lambert denied that their relationship was every physical.