Royal Designers for Industry & Britain Can Make It, 1946

Black and white portrait of Allan Walton in a striped suit and tie posed sideways looking into the camera.

Allan Walton

Black and white portrait of Allan Walton in a striped suit and tie posed sideways looking into the camera.

Textile and Interior Designer (1892-1948)

Born at Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire on 20th October 1891, Allan Walton was educated at Harrow School. He went on to study architecture in 1911 with Arnold Mitchell’s practice – the two men most probably met at The Arts Club to which Walton had been elected the previous year. However, Walton quickly abandoned his studies to go to Cornwall where he was taught to paint by Stanhope Forbes. In 1913 Walton returned to London to continue his art education at the Slade School of Art, then at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, and finally with Walter Sickert at Westminster School of Art. Elected a member of the London Group in 1925, where his work was frequently on display, Walton served on their Executive Committee for the Group’s retrospective exhibition in the same year he had his first solo show at the Beaux Arts Gallery (1928).

Walton expanded his sphere of work to include an interior design for Boulestin’s Restaurant Francais in Leicester Square (1925), as well as designs for gardens, carpets, electric fires and furniture. When Harrods held a selling exhibition of ‘Modern Art for the Table’ in 1934, under the direction of Clarice Cliff, Walton produced ceramic designs for her Bizarre range as well as Foley china. The family’s textile firm in Manchester provided Walton with first hand experience of the industry and in 1931, with his brother Roger, he set up his own company to experiment with limited runs of artist-designed textiles, including some of his own designs. Screen printing was ‘a more suitable vehicle for the reproduction of the personal and particular flavour of an artist’s work’, he said. Walton commissioned textile designs from members of the London Group, notably Duncan Grant RDI. After viewing Walton textiles at Zwemmers’ ‘Room and Book exhibition’, the artist  Paul Nash wrote in The Listener for 27th April 1932 that ‘Mr Walton is a painter and it is to painters rather than craftsmen that he has applied for textile designs…that experiment has been completely successful.’ The reason for this success, he believed, was due to the fact that ‘Mr Walton has faced his problem squarely and practically without any oblique high mindedness…He secured a block cutter able to interpret instead of copy the vagaries of a painter’s technique..the result has been a number of excellent fabrics of original design which can be bought a reasonable price.’ Six years later Allan Walton furnishing fabrics were being exhibited at the Mayor Gallery, Cork Street, London. The firm closed at the outbreak of the Second World War never to reopen.

His paper to the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) on ‘Furnishing Fabrics’ in 1934 saw him elected a Fellow the following year. Five years later, in 1940, the RSA made him one of their early Royal Designers for Industry (RDI). Sir Gordon Russell RDI wrote that he ‘was peculiarly fitted to see how the Faculty could take its place in grading up the standards of design as a whole’ and he added, ‘had no wish to see it become an exclusive and complacent body’. Walton not only served on the RSA Council, but from 1941 he acted as a judge for the RSA’s Industrial Art Bursaries Competitions and, in 1947, he joined Gordon Russell and other RDIs on an official visit to Edinburgh to see the ‘Enterprise Scotland’ exhibition of design.

A Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists (1945), a member of the Design and Industries Board, Walton was one of the original members of the Council of Industrial Design (COID). For the first three years he chaired their Scottish Committee ‘with conspicuous success’, while also acting as Director of the Glasgow School of Art (1943-45) and an external assessor in textile design for four Scottish Art Schools. As Chairman of COID’s Training Committee, Walton expressed his concern over lack of technical training for designers for industry in a letter to The Times (27 December 1945).

Walton’s textiles featured at the 1935 ‘British Art in Industry’ exhibition, organized by the Royal Academy (RA) and the RSA. He was present at the first meeting of the COID’s 1946 Exhibition Policy Committee, as well as sitting on the Design Committee and the sub-committee to select designers for ‘Britain Can Make It’. He was also an exhibitor and wrote a piece on interior design for Design ’46.

It was said that Walton had a great sense of style. ‘He loved the elegant and pretty and hated what was pompous and dull’. An educationalist at heart Walton, a member of the Council of the Royal College of Art (RCA), unexpectedly died at the age of 56 just before he was due to become their first Professor of Textile Design, on the recommendation of his old friend Robin Darwin.  Walton had been looking forward to this new challenge and Russell wrote that they would miss the great privilege of working with Walton ‘in a venture for which his life’s experience fitted him in a quite exceptional way.’

In The Times obituary Walton was described ‘as a designer and a painter of great distinction…he was above all creative with people and there are many now…who know how much they owe to his intuitive perception of their possibilities’. Russell wrote an appreciation of Walton for the RSA Journal. He said that, ‘his obvious sincerity and fund of experience gave him the confidence of every other member and time and again his name came naturally to the lips of those present for a special job for which it was difficult to suggest an alternative nominee… He was not a rich man and much of this work was done at his own cost, always in his own time and the sheer physical effort of travelling must have been very considerable. But he made light of it and only occasionally he would say how nothing but a strong sense of duty would have brought him to a London meeting when he had to leave a row of peas unplanted on a perfect day!’

Allan Walton died at St Pancras a month before his 57th birthday on 12 September 1948.

Britain Can Make It Exhibition Catalogue 1946

Walton is featured in the Britain Can Make it Exhibition catalogue as follows:
  • Council of Industrial Design – pages 227, 228
  • Exhibition Selection Panels – page 229
To view and search the catalogue online, please visit our digital document library.
To learn more about the work of Allan Walton, his relationships with other designers, and further resources, visit the Exploring British Design prototype web portal.


Original image reference: GB-1837-DES-DCA-30-1-POR-W-9-2. Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.

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Sirpa Kutilainen • June 6, 2016

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