Our History


The Dyers’ Company and dyeing

Early history
The earliest records of dyeing go back to 5,000 BC in Turkey and the earliest mention of dyeing in England was by the Venerable Bede in 731 AD but the earliest record of dyers as a guild in London was 1188 AD.  The guild of dyers was granted rights of self regulation by the Lord Mayor of the City of London in 1311.  In 1352 King Edward III imposed a tax on dyed cloth.  It was not until 1471 that King Henry VI granted the Dyers their first Royal Charter, changing the guild into an incorporated body and granting powers of search and fines for poor quality dyeing in London.  Subsequent charters and byelaws were granted until the current one granted by Queen Anne in 1704.  The current Charter and Bye-Laws also granted the Company the right to train apprentices subject to certain conditions and limited to three per Master, and to charge its members a fee quarterly, known as quarterage,
Plants and animals were the exclusive source of natural dyes until William Henry Perkin, aged 16, accidentally discovered the first synthetic dyestuff “Mauve”, a basic dye, while searching for a cure for malaria and a new industry and era in dyeing was begun.
There is a timeline giving more information on natural dyes here and one for synthetic dyes here.  These timelines were put together as part of the refurbishment of the Dyers’ Hall in 2020 and they are displayed in the Binding Room on the first floor.

The Dyers’ Company support for the Dyeing industry
The Dyers Company ceased to regulate the dyeing industry as it gradually moved further north and it founded The Society of Dyers & Colourists (‘SDC’) in Bradford in 1884.  The SDC became a registered charity in 1962 and was awarded a Royal Charter in 1963.  It is now an international body with members in many countries and it provides education and training for those wishing to become professional dyers, awarding Associate membership which is accredited as a university degree equivalent.

The SDC’s website is at https://sdc.org.uk/

The Dyers Company has continued to support the SDC financially particularly, but not exclusively, with the development of its online education and training courses https://colour.network/.  A good number of members of the SDC are also members of the Dyers’ Company.

The Dyers’ Company instigated a research medal in 1908 to be awarded each year, provided the standard was high enough to merit, to the best published research paper in the SDC’s journal.  More information on the Dyers’ research medal winners is here .

The Dyers’ Company has created a committee to oversee its support for the dyeing industry;  it is called the Colour Committee.  In 2020 The Committee recommended the following items for support which were approved by the Court:

Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers – for tuition support
Bradford Textile Society – prizes for student competition
City & Guilds Livery Companies Skills Council – liaising with Livery Companies
De Montfort University – summer school in dyeing, prizes for students.
Royal College of Art – final year student specialising in dyeing.
Royal School of Needlework – education and conservation
University of Leeds –  MSc student
University of Leeds –  PhD research

The Company awards its Gold Medal annually to authors of papers of the highest merit which are published in the journal of the Society of Dyers and Colourists (SDC) in Bradford. The Company’s close affiliation with the SDC goes back many years through shared membership and commonality of interests. SDC are now held to be an international centre of excellence in resourcing technological and industrial knowledge for both developed and developing countries.

The Company is also particularly concerned to ensure a continued stream of able young people interested in learning the art (and science) of colour chemistry. The company therefore also awards bursaries, prizes and scholarships in a number of other, related areas.

  1. The School of Colour Chemistry at Leeds University
  2. City & Guilds of London Institute
  3. The Faculty of Textiles of Heriot-Watt University in Galashiels – previously the Scottish College of Textiles
  4. Royal College of Art
  5. Royal Overseas League

These are connections which have been established for many years. However, from time to time the Company is able to assist initiatives elsewhere to revive or refresh old skills, particularly in the renewed interest in using vegetable dyes. The use of colour as a diagnostic tool in medical and other fields is increasingly common. Indeed, our Research Medal of 1992 was awarded for a paper researching the electronic divergence of colour values to establish a uniform reference point where colour is judged from a computer screen. Recent pictures of the rings of Saturn from the Cassini probe have used colour to distinguish both content and temperature with stunning results!

As we go forward, we confidently expect the above list to expand. However, our focus remains on the promotion of excellence in the craft of dyeing and we are keen not only to maintain standards but also to raise expectations amongst our young people for the future.