Wendy Simpson (nee Greenhalgh) worked in Horrockses’ design studio on Stanley Street, Preston from 1954 to 1960. She began working for the firm as a typist and you can see her here nearest the camera (wearing a Horrockses Fashions’ dress). She came from an artistic family and did a night-school fashion diploma at the Harris School of Art, Preston.
Wendy worked alongside two other women – Jill Simister and Ann Parr. Parr had studied at the Central School of Art & Design and had previously sold a design to Horrockses Fashions. That connection prompted her father to write to Horrockses in 1951 asking for advice on his daughter’s behalf (LA: DDVC acc7340). Later Ralph Robinson joined the studio and worked for about a year alongside Wendy (he went on to be a freelance designer in London).
The job of factory design studio was by no means glamorous. For a while the team worked in an unheated pre-fab – until Wendy lobbied for a heater. They designed to instructions from head of the studio Mr Nuttall. This usually involved being given a theme. There were lots of books in the studio to help inspire them and they were allowed to go to the Harris reference library. Wendy remembers having to do a design of Grecian urns (pictured).
The majority of her designs were for dress fabrics, produced on paper using gouache paint – either for Horrockses Fashions, Horrockses Pirouette or one of the other brands the company manufactured. But she also designed for towellings, pyjama and flannelette stripes, jacquards and damasks, as well as re-colouring bought-in designs from French studios and putting them into repeat.
At least once a year all the employees could buy cut-price Horrockses Fashions’ seconds and Wendy remembers modelling when James Cleveland Belle from the London office came up to Preston.
On a Friday in 1959 the design studio closed and that day all its employees lost their jobs. Wendy went on to work for the Ribble bus company as a secretary – but one day she was spotted drawing and was asked to work as a designer – working on brochures, posters and the staff magazine.
Fortunately, Wendy has kept a lot of her design work from her Horrockses’ days – but she regrets not hanging on to the dresses. It is hoped that her collection will eventually be housed in the Lancashire Archives in Preston alongside its extensive Horrockses’ archive.
Many thanks to Wendy Simpson for taking the time to talk to me (in 2000 when I began working on Horrockses Fashions and recently in March 2016).
Below are a selection of Wendy’s designs: the images reproduced belong to Wendy Simpson and should not be reproduced without permission.
DESIGNS FOR DRESS FABRICS
DESIGNS FOR FABRICS FOR CHILDREN’S CLOTHING
DESIGNS FOR TOWELLING FABRICS