Famously made artificial flowers

Brenda Wilson
Brenda Wilson

TUCKED away in the Old Town is a working museum that invites you to take a step back in time to enjoy the social history of artificial flower making.

Shirley Leaf and Petal Company, in High Street, uses antique tools and machinery to supply artificial flameproof leaves and petals.

During Victorian times botanists travelled the world bringing back samples of unusual plants and flowers on behalf of Kew Gardens in London. Wax or plaster of Paris moulds were made of these rare species to reproduce authentic shapes for cutting tools and stamps to be forged for the huge artificial flower and leaf trade.

Victorian and Edwardian ladies would use artificial flowers and leaves sewn into their extravagant ballgowns. Milliners designed exotic creations for their hats and flower factories used velvets, silks and satins to produce exquisite hair wreaths, hat and dress accessories.

The business came to Hastings in 1910 from London. It began to expand and purchased other buildings to create a thriving bridal section. Waxed flowers and leaves were fashionable for bridal occasions with the company employing more than 100 home workers and their families, who used copper wax pots, hand tools and veining machines in their homes. A large number were also employed in the factory workshops where fruits and berries were also made.

The business is now owned by Brenda Wilson who bought it in 1981. She opened the working manufacturing museum to the public with the smaller premises in the Old Town.

There are more than 1,000 cutting tools and flower irons making it the largest working set of flower and leaf making tools of its kind in Europe. The business is a specialist supplier of leaves and petals to the film, television and theatre industry.

Brenda’s creations have been commissioned and used in films such as Gladiator, Reign of Fire and the Kingdom of Heaven where vast quantities of citrus leaves and twigs were required.

She said: “I absolutely love living in Hastings and am very proud that we can represent this fantastic town internationally with our leaves and petals. We have a thriving, unique business supplying artificial flameproof leaves and petals and we are now specialising in masks. There are so many festivals here, Jack in the Green and Fat Tuesday for example, where residents and visitors get involved by dressing up and we are again very pleased and proud to supply masks and garlands for these events. Famously Hastings is an excellent initiative aimed at raising the town’s profile and we are very pleased to be involved.” For details about Famously Hastings visit www.famouslyhastings.com.