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 is 1188 AD.  The Guild of Dyers was granted rights of self regulation in 1311 but 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.
Plants and animals were the exclusive source of natural dyes until William Henry Perkin, aged 18, accidentally discovered the first synthetic dye “Mauveine” while searching for a cure for malaria, and a new industry and era in dyeing was begun.
As part of the celebrations marking the 550th anniversary of the first Royal Charter two artworks depicting the timeline of natural and synthetic dyes were commissioned from Neil Bottle and installed in the Binding Room.

The Dyers’ Company support for the Dyeing industry
As the centuries passed, the need for the Dyers Company to regulate the dyeing industry waned.  The textile trade gradually moved further north and today there is almost no dyeing done in the London area. Instead, the industry is overseen by the Society of Dyers & Colourists (‘SDC’) which was founded in Bradford in 1884 with the encouragement of the Dyers’ Company, and is now an international body providing education and training.

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

In 1908 the Dyers’ Company instigated a research medal to be awarded annually to the best published research paper in the SDC’s Journal.  More information on the Dyers’ research medal winners is here.

The Dyers’ Company also supports the industry via grants for education, training and research:

Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers – for tuition support
Bradford Textile Society – prizes for student competition
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 Research 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, an international centre of excellence in resourcing technological and industrial knowledge.

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.