Friday, November 24, 2017

Love archives: the story of Arthur Fisher and Painted Fabrics, Sheffield

The men of Painted Fabrics (Arthur Fisher middle), [1920s]
Painted Fabrics designs for clothing, cushions and tablecloths
made by the men.
Painted Fabrics Limited was a luxury textiles company set up by Annie Bindon Carter in Sheffield during the First World War to offer employment to wounded ex-servicemen.  The men acquired a wide range of new skills very different from their pre-war occupations including hand stencilling using specially adapted brushes and tools, screen printing, block printing, spray painting and garment manufacture.  Mrs Carter's motto for Painted Fabrics was 'Work not Charity'.  The Painted Fabrics archive is at Sheffield City Archives; among these papers are the personal effects of Arthur Fisher, including photographs and letters, which were donated to Sheffield City Archives in 2009 by his granddaughter.  They tell of an extraordinary life lived on the battlefield and later at Painted Fabrics resulting in the ultimate of love stories.

Gunner Fisher, World War One.
Arthur Fisher was born on 22 June 1884 at 17 Court, Scotland Street, Sheffield.  His father was William Henry Fisher, a table blade grinder, and his mother was Ellen Fisher (nee Duke). He worked for Robert Slack who owned a confectionery works in Scotland Street.  At the beginning of the First World War, he transferred to munitions work at Hadfields Limited where he stayed until he enlisted on 10 December 1915 and joined the Royal Garrison Artillery.  He enlisted as a Private and was promoted to Gunner. When he enlisted, he gave his mother as his next of kin and stated his address was 1/7 Albert Terrace Road.  He was badly wounded during the 1918 offensive when both legs were blown off by a shell.  His life was saved by a transfusion of three pints of blood freely given by an unknown Scottish soldier who was wounded at the same time.

The collection of papers contain two particularly poignant letters, one from Arthur breaking the news of his wounds to his fiancée and her reply both of which give a unique insight into how the couple dealt with his injuries.  In April 1918, Arthur wrote:

‘Well Dear, I am so sorry to tell you that I got wounded on Sunday 21st and do not let it worry you. I am so sorry to say that I have got both my legs off one up to the knees but I thank God that I am alive.’

In response, his fiancée Annie Bell wrote:

Part of Arthur's letter home to Annie Fisher, telling of the terrible
injuries he had sustained on the battlefield in 1918.
‘Well dear you must not think I shall turn against you in any way through it [the amputation of both legs] NO dear I shall only love you and honour you all the more for it, and I am going to marry you dear as soon as it is possible’.

When he was discharged from hospital, Arthur and his fiancée, Annie, were married at Walkley Parish Church in Sheffield in 1919.  Hadfields offered Arthur a post for life with the Sheffield firm.  However, he went to work at Painted Fabrics, a company set up to offer employment to disabled ex-servicemen who had suffered physical and psychological injuries during the War.  Annie and Arthur lived at 3 Painted Fabrics, Meadowhead, Norton and their daughter Nancy was born there in 1923.

Annie and Arthur on their wedding day,
Walkley, Sheffield, 1919.
Many years later, Annie wrote a response to a letter which had appeared in an advice column of a newspaper during the Second World War. The letter spoke of a man from Bristol who had been wounded while on Air Raid duty - he had lost both his legs and his face was badly scarred.  He was reluctant to marry his fiancée, despite her protestations, as he believed her to be marrying him out of a sense of duty or pity.  Annie, (using the pseudonym ‘Happy from Sheffield’) wrote:

Arthur, Annie and daughter Nancy
(and friend) on holiday in Blackpool.
‘I had to face the same problem 23 years ago. My husband and I were engaged during the last war. He was severely wounded in France in 1918 and had to have both legs amputated. We were married when he came out of hospital and as that was before he got his artificial legs he had to be carried in and out of the church and sit by my side during the service. You see, I loved him too dearly to forsake him when he needed me most. He had lost his limbs fighting for me as well as for his king and country….We have had our share of trouble, but we have faced it steadfastly together, so I can say, after nearly 23 years, that I don’t regret one day of it…So I would say to the Bristol couple, I am sorry about the scarred face, but the beauty that counts most is the beauty of heart and soul.’ 

Arthur Fisher died 29 Nov 1957 aged 73 and Annie died in April 1985 aged 91. Both are buried in Abbey Lane Cemetery.

Arthur Fisher’s papers include many photographs showing various aspects of his work and life at the company, war documents including a diary, photographs showing his recuperation in Lincoln after being wounded and his wedding announcement in the local press.  They complement the official company records and give a personal portrait of one of Painted Fabrics’ most well-known men.

The Painted Fabrics archive (official company records) (ref. PF) and Arthur Fisher’s personal papers (ref. X210) can be viewed at Sheffield City Archives.  A number of photographs are on (search for ‘Painted Fabrics’).  A selection of fabric samples created by the company (including clothing, altar hangings, leather goods and tablecloths) are safely housed at Museums Sheffield.  All images © Sheffield City Archives/Picture Sheffield.