Date Posted: 3rd April 2014

Sekers' Silk Mills, Hensingham

The Kelly story keeps on unravelling.

When Percy Kelly gave up the sub post office in Great Broughton and moved to Allonby in 1958, he wrote to the big industrial firms along the West Coast for permission to paint on site. He was summarily turned down by all of them except the Silk Mills at Hensingham, Whitehaven. Director Nicholas (Miki) Sekers couldn’t understand why anyone would want to paint his factory so he asked Bill Hamilton, his chief designer, to see Percy and give him a polite refusal. Nobody had heard of Kelly then. They thought he might be a painter and decorator!

In a letter to Joan David  Percy recalls The meeting with Bill was noon on a Saturday – well instead of a quick ten minutes, come 6.00pm and we were still together all because Bill happened to see one of my paintings in the back of my A35 van which knocked him for six and he recognised my talent.

This was the beginning of a lifetime’s friendship. Bill and his wife Kitty arranged an exhibition in their home and invited all the leading industrialists and business people in the area at that time including Miki Sekers who was also on the board of Glyndeborne, the Royal Opera House and the Shakespeare Theatre Trust (he was granted a knighthood in 1965).  This led to a commission of 15 paintings of the interior of the factory for their boardroom, an exhibition at Rosehill Theatre (his first exhibition ever) and an introduction into the vast and influential Sekers’ gilded social circle. This was followed by a commission for several paintings for the inaugural voyage of the QE2 (I wonder what happened to those), an exhibition in Sekers’ London showroom in Sloane Street, an international travelling exhibition of industrial design and an exhibition at the Fermoy Gallery in Kings Lynn which he famously said was his last.

Bill, who died recently aged 97, was appointed to the post of Sekers’ Chief Designer in 1946 to develop silk production from the parachute silk they made during the war to fashion and later soft furnishing.  Bill was given the Duke of Edinburgh award for elegant design in 1962.

The Hamiltons were key to Kelly’s success from the late fifties onwards. They were faithful supporters and friends to both Percy, his first wife Audrey and then to Christine his second wife. When Percy and Chris left the area and were struggling in exile in Wales and then Norfolk, Bill and Kitty visited them to give encouragement and Percy and Chris stayed with them on their visits to West Cumberland.

Bill and Kitty (who died aged 95 a few weeks after Bill) were regular visitors to Castlegate House from its early days in 1987 and generously shared information with me. They kept in touch with Percy through his college days in the sixties and after he left Cumberland. They have left a large collection of his illustrated letters which have been carefully preserved. I am going to be allowed to sift through them again soon which is an exciting prospect. I know I will find something new in them.