LEMAN, James

James Leman (1688-1745)

james leman huguenot silk designer
James Leman (1688-1745)

James Leman was a celebrated silk designer and master weaver and one of the the first Huguenots to serve on the Court of the Weavers’ Company. The family came to London from Canterbury and possibly came originally from Tourcoing.

At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to his father, Peter, and lived in Stewart Street, Spitalfields. James Leman trained as a designer as well as a manufacturer, which was unusual for weavers at that time.The Victoria and Albert Museum’s earliest designs by him are dated 1706, just four years into his apprenticeship. In 1711 he was admitted as ‘Foreign’ Master’ to the Weavers’ Company, and on his father’s death in 1712 he took over the family business.

Leman rose to high office in the Weavers’ Company, becoming a Liveryman. This was exceptional; the Company was reluctant to make the ‘foreign masters’ liveryman men. In 1731 he was elected Renter Bailiff, second-in-command in the Company. 

james leman silk album at the VandA
James Leman’s album is held in the V&A

James Leman’s album is held in the V&A and is the oldest surviving set of silk designs in the world.  It contains ninety patterns created when he was a young man. The designs are most striking, mixing bold colours and natural and invented flowers, geometric patterns and architectural elements. On the back are explanations of how to translate the design into the woven cloth. They used metal threads which came alive by candlelight.




The silk industry in London, 1702-1766, Thesis (MA), University of London 1961:  Rothstein, Natalie

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