WHEN south Worcestershire businessman James Gardner spotted a man wearing a really loud tie back in the 1970s it stirred his own passion for colour.

He was already involved in a family business running cafes and restaurants in the Evesham and Tewkesbury areas but, as a keen artist, wanted to establish an enterprise that used colour.

It was around the time of the oil crisis and silk was a high value commodity but also light to transport. It was the ideal creative medium – it ticked all the boxes for him, said his daughter Anne Hopkins.

So in 1975, James and his wife Marthe established Beckford Silk at their home – The Old Vicarage – in the tiny village of Beckford on the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border.

It is now one of the only textile producers in the country doing both screen and digital printing, the largest designer and producer of heritage silk in the UK and boasts some of the highest profile customers in the country including the National Trust, Tate and the V&A.

Anne, Beckford Silk sales director, added: “Beckford Silk is probably one of the best kept secrets of the area. We are very much at the forefront of textile development in the UK.”

James and Marthe’s original idea was to make items by hand using the exotic Eastern fabric in this beautiful corner of the Worcestershire countryside - in a similar vein to the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late 19th century.

While the first years were consumed with research, development and exploring potential markets, this family-run affair started to flourish and in 1978 James receive his first really large order from the National Trust - one of the pioneers of heritage retailing. It helped set Beckford Silk on the course of designing, hand printing and making exclusive textile accessories for the heritage market.

The business grew and moved to bigger premises after about 15 years. By the mid 1990s it had moved into fashion printing which involved learning new skills and techniques and using new equipment. Its customers included many UK and Irish-based fashion designers.

Despite the fluctuating fortunes of that part of the industry, the firm now works closely with a new generation of young designers.

As digital printing was introduced, the second generation of the Gardner family became involved with the firm. The couple’s eldest child Anne is now the sales director and their youngest child Robbie is production director and in charge of digital printing.

Anne explained: “My father has always had an absolute passion for colour. He did a lot of landscape painting. His own family business was in catering but he wanted to set up a business that used colour.”

There are now eight people working at Beckford Silk including James and Marthe – both in their 70s – who work six days a week.

“My parents are here every day. My father is the main dyer and he starts work at 6.30am every morning. My mother works in the shop,” said Anne, who originally started her career in graphic design.

She said because her father was forced to go into the family business, he did not want to do the same to his own children. “I trained as a graphic designer and worked in the British Library design office.

“When they finished the new building here in 1990 and opened it, they needed to find someone for the sales side with a design background.

“I got a phone call and thought long and hard and decided I would give it a go.” It was the right decision and Anne deals with their high profile customers including the National Trust, V&A, Highgrove, Tate, The National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts and the House of Commons as well as visitors to the shop at Beckford.

“I thoroughly enjoy what I do. My involvement is very creative and it is all about communicating with customers.”

A new addition to the premises is a gallery, which opened last Friday and will display work by local artists. Anne explained that the gallery was her father’s idea. He has taken up glass blowing and had the idea of a gallery in anticipation of showing his own glass making.

She said when he feels his glass is good enough to show and sell in the shop, it would go into the gallery. In the meantime three local artists – Conderton-based potter Toff Milway; award-winning milliner Lisa von Hallwyl, of Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire; and painter Antonia Black based in the nearby Gloucestershire village of Alderton are displaying their works.

Anne added: “Beckford Silk is very arts based, so having that connection with other artists is very important. The gallery is part of our main shop and it gives our visitors something else to look at. The idea is to have other artists displaying their work in the future.”

Antonia Black has worked with Beckford Silk for the last 25 years, designing a number of stunning prints for them over the years.

The exhibition will feature a selection of her still life paintings. She said: “It’s very exciting, I think it’s wonderful. What Beckford Silk does with its prints is to make art more accessible for people. You may not be able to afford to buy an artist’s prints, but you can buy a scarf and keep it forever. Now people will be able to see that art in real life too.”

Toff Milway said: “It is always a delight to be invited to exhibit with Beckford Silk. The quality of their work and perfect presentation forces us all to the top of our game and gives us a real chance to show our best work to an appreciative clientele, right here on our doorstep.”

Lisa von Hallwyl added: “We have a wide variety of talent in the Cotswolds and it’s a breath of fresh air that it’s supported so well, with events, local awards and gallery exhibitions such as this. I’m very much looking forward to being part of the Beckford Silk gallery launch and helping to showcase the extent of what we have to offer locally.”

More information is available by visiting http://www.beckfordsilk.co.uk/.

Beckford Silk is open to the public from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Saturday and visitors are welcome to tour the production areas and talk to staff as they work.