R. E. Littler woodblocks were used to produce fabric for Liberty of London, with river water that was renowned for its purity and could even be drunk unfiltered.
Littler and Company was an established family calico and silk printing business with sites at West Ham and Waltham Abbey in the Lea Valley. In 1831 Littler also bought premises at Merton Abbey by the River Wandle, which had a similar environment to the Lea. The purity of the water that flowed past these Abbey sites was vital for the bleaching of silk. The sheets were often laid out in the surrounding meadows with an armed guard keeping watch.
The company employed their own ‘block cutters’ who carved the intricate pattern designs onto pear woodblocks with great skill and accuracy for each colour in the design. They were then pressed onto a dye-soaked pad on a trolley before being weighted down onto fabric for printing.
The Littler works at Merton outlived his factories on the Lea and by the 1890s Litter produced nearly all the goods for the prestigious Liberty of London. In 1904 Arthur Liberty bought the Merton premises from Littler Jnr. and continued to produce Liberty’s fabric there until 1972.