The Flower Makers Museum is situated in a high street shop in Hastings old town (the building dates back to the 14th c.). At first sight it appears to be a shop selling artificial flowers, but there is a museum in the basement. The museum opened around 1991 and consists of a large part of the inventory stock of the Shirley Leaf and Petal Company: thousands of cutting tools and flower irons; presses for ‘veining’ fabric leaves; and a large array of samples, products and ephemera concerning the business.
The company manufactured silk flowers and leaves for shop displays, bridal dress decoration, confectionary, Christmas crackers and remembrance poppies. It was established in East London in the 19th century and moved to Hastings in 1910, where hundreds of homeworkers used hand tools to cut, press and make the flowers. The present owner, Brenda Wilson, bought the company in 1981 and moved the machinery and stock from an ex Mission hall to the present location. The business is still going and this is a working collection – the tools, samples and bales of fabric are used, and old presses on display have been converted to electrical power. Presently the company makes fireproof, artificial flowers and foliage for film sets, theatres and fashion designers.
Photo and text by Toby Butler