Ep 1/2

Wednesday 23 October



Steph McGovern begins her two-part series on the global history of silk with a close examination of how the industry shaped one of the UK's main silk centres - Macclesfield.

Silk production began, according to legend, when a Chinese Empress dropped a silkworm's cocoon into her tea some 5000 years ago. Noticing the threads come loose, she started unravelling them and thus began one of the oldest and most fascinating of industries.

The production of silk helped drive trade around the world, creating a near global trading system long before the term globalisation was ever dreamt of. Along the way, it helped drive industrial development as a pre-cursor of the industrial revolution in 16th century China, and technological innovation which continues to the present day, with scientists examining the properties of silk in order to utilise its remarkable strength in a range of settings - including the military.

Steph looks at both the bigger story of silk production, and in this first programme, takes a close look at how silk shaped Macclesfield. Here, silk has been processed, woven and printed for four centuries and had a profound effect, not just upon the built environment, but also the social world in which its inhabitants lived.

She finds out about the history of the town where once over 70 mills stood proud, to the present day, with a couple of silk factories still trading on the town's history, and also a new generation of business owners weighing up how far they should exploit the town's connection with silk as a means of branding themselves.

Producer/ Geoff Bird for the BBC

BBC Radio 4 Publicity