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Dartford’s royal silk producers rue the end of a unique production line

14:55 05 January 2011

The Ideal Home Exhibition, London 1948, Princess Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh inspecting the silk-making process

The Ideal Home Exhibition, London 1948, Princess Elizabeth and Duke of Edinburgh inspecting the silk-making process

Archant

With just four months until the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton, members of the family that supplied the silk for most other royal events of the last century rue the loss of a unique production line.

Tom Hart Dyke with his father and the certificate issued for the recreation land in Swanley

Lullingstone Silk Farm was started by Lady Zoe Hart-Dyke in 1937 and was the sole provider of silk in Britain until its demise just after the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in 1981.

Lady Diana wore a veil created on the farm, which Lady Zoe began as a hobby in the garage at her home in Surrey before the massive expansion when they relocated to Lullingstone Castle in Eynsford.

The business moved to Hertfordshire in the 1950s after she and her husband divorced and, after her death in 1975, it was bought by businessman Robert Goodun.

Lady Zoe’s granddaughter, Anya, said: “I so admire that she put everything she had into the silk farm — she invested a lot of time and money into it and made it a successful enterprise.”

Anya, who is the sister of Lullingstone’s World Garden creator and Times columnist Tom Hart-Dyke, added: “It’s a shame that there isn’t any silk production in the country any more, but it’s just not a financially viable business. We have to think of ways of generating money and attracting visitors and I don’t think that’s it. And the wear and tear of the machinery wouldn’t be good for the house. I would rather support Tom in his interest in plants.”

The 32-year-old, who returned to the family home last year after living in London, said: “I’d like to go to the wedding — it would be fun to get out on the streets and cheer them on, especially given our family’s connection to royal weddings. It’s amazing when you think of it — it’s a real achievement and it was all started as a hobby!”

Her father Guy Hart-Dyke helped out on the farm in the ’50s. He said: “The army took over the house during the war and we were booted out to one of the gardeners’ cottages, but mother still got the soldiers organised to feed the silk worms whilst they were there. I have wonderful memories of that time. She was a very persuasive woman, a terrific character.”

The silk produced at Lullingstone Silk Farm was used in Queen Elizabeth’s [the late Queen Mother] coronation robes in 1937, for the current Queen’s wedding dress in 1947, for the robes in her subsequent coronation in 1953 and for Lady Diana’s wedding veil.

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