Brighton Museum and Art Gallery houses more than 100 objects from Sierra Leone purchased in 1899 from Thomas Joshua Alldridge (1947-1916). Alldridge was in Sierra Leone for extended periods between 1871 and 1905, served as District Commissioner for Sherbro district between 1894 and 1905, travelled extensively throughout much of the country. Among the collection at Brighton are a small but important group of textiles. Sierra Leone textiles are extremely rare and the early dating and provenance makes this perhaps the second ranking group worldwide after those at the British Museum. The accession notes attribute all of them to “Mendiland”, indicating that the weavers were Mende, but given that Alldridge did travel widely in the area over a number of years the possibility that some came from other ethnic groups can not be rules out.
None of the cloths are currently on display but last month I was able to view them with the kind assistance of curators Helen Mears and Martin Pel. Due to the size of the cloths it was not possible to take full view photographs but I was able to get detail pictures that are worth sharing. The three textiles shown here are all display hangings, long and elaborate cloths that would have served as a backdrop for important village events and enhanced the status of the family and chieftaincy that owned them. All three owe a debt to historical links between Mali and Sierra Leone, both in the underlying structure of a blue and white checkerboard layout and in the use of tapestry weave patterning. All are woven from hand spun cotton.
Reference # BMAG.R3483.110c
Reference # BMAG.R3483.110f
Click on the photos to enlarge.