Jessie Vera Lawford Brown

Nurse and Himlayan style textile designer

Jessie Brown first trained as a watercolourist at Oxford and then attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London. In 1910 she began her training as a nurse at the new open-air hospital for crippled children in Baschurch, Shropshire, under the founders Dr Robert Jones and Nurse (later Dame) Agnes Hunt. Here she learnt the new practices in orthopaedic nursing, becoming the country’s first orthopaedic aftercare sister. In the First World War Jessie went to nurse the sick and wounded soldiers in France, returning in 1917 to Baschurch where she was put in charge of several of the new aftercare clinics there. Her mode of travel in the 1920s was a motorbike on which she visited her patients and also dashed about the country persuading doctors to set up clinics for clubfeet. In 1923 she moved to Oxford to join the orthopaedic surgeon G. R. Girdlestone in establishing orthopaedic aftercare clinics there. In the same year, Sir Robert Jones received an urgent request from the British Residency in Kathmandu for someone to advise on nursing Princess Nani, the five-year-old grand-daughter of the prime minister of Nepal, who had poliomyelitis. Jessie Brown was approached and within a week had left for Nepal where she spent the mornings on physio with her young patient and the afternoons painting the marvellous landscape. She remained on the staff of the Wingfield (later Nuffield) Hospital at Oxford, building up the clinics there, but paid many visits to Nepal over the next ten years, and it was while there that she came across the local craft of hand block printing on fabrics. She carefully observed the technique, noting that it could be done with only one hand, and collected numerous traditional designs from Nepal, India, Persia, China, Egypt and Australia. Princess Nani died in 1934, and Jessie resigned from her post at Oxford and came home to Yateley to look after her mother - and to try out a new scheme for helping the disabled. She enlisted the help of a young disabled friend, Grace Finch, whom she had nursed while suffering from polio, and the two experimented with hand block printing such as she had seen in Nepal. In a garden shed and with a large tin bath as almost their only equipment, they taught themselves all the processes from mixing the dyes to cutting the wood blocks, to see if it might be a rewarding occupation for the physically disabled that would allow them to earn their livelihood, and to live with some independence - like other people. She felt sure that the beautiful and very varied designs would find a ready market. By 1937 the project seemed promising enough for her to set up a small workshop in Moulsham Lane for eight disabled girls, enthusiastic friends helping to raise the money required. She next persuaded an architect cousin to design residential accommodation as well. So “Yateley Textile Printers” was born, and flourished until it had to close at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

She must have met the Baileys during her time in Nepal, it is clear from correspondence in the archives that Mrs Bailey recommended the museum as a home for her collection. Her Yateley textiles it seems featured designs taken from Mrs Bailey's own tracings and drawings that she gave to the museum in the same year, 1965.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
    Artist/maker, Artist/maker
  • Nationality
    British: English
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
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