Hilary Bourne

1909 – 2004

Bourne spent much of her childhood in Ditchling. She learnt to weave in Palestine and worked briefly as a designer for Ethel Mairet just after World War II; it was at Mairet’s Gospels workshop in the village that Bourne learnt aniline dyeing from Margery Kendon and Phyllis Barron (Barron & Larcher).

In London, Bourne worked at Muriel Rose’s Little Gallery selling contemporary craft by new makers Enid Marx, Casty Cobb, Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada. She met her partner, costume and set designer Barbara Allen, in the late 1930s and they were particularly successful in the 1950s working with modernist architects, creating rich woollen textiles for brutalist buildings including London’s Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Cinema and the new Heathrow Airport. They also won the commission to design, weave and dye (using natural dyes) many of the costumes for the 1959 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer blockbuster film Ben Hur including Charlton Heston’s.

In 1972, Allen tragically died in a hotel fire in Cambridge. Bourne survived but was severely injured. She retained strong lifelong connections in the village and founded this museum with her sister Joanna in 1985.

We’d like to know more about Barbara Allen, if you know anything please get in touch here.