The Brilliant British Silk Escape Maps

December 14, 2012


 At the beginning of the Second World War , Clayton Hutton who had flown with the RAF in the First World War applied to join the RAF again but was rejected . He instead joined military Intelligence and was tasked with managing and helping evaders whose aircraft had been shot down over enemy territory  .Hutton's first task was to design and acquire maps that could be used by evaders and escapees. He unsuccessfully sought to obtain a copy of a small scale (1:2,000,000) map of Germany from the British War Department so in Spring 1940 he ventured unannounced to Bartholomew's, a famous Edinburgh map making company,  where he secured tourist maps of Germany, France, Poland, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, and the Balkans.

Clayton Hutton When he expressed his intention to print thousands of copies of the maps, the proprietor dismissed outright the notion of any remuneration for the use of the copyrighted maps, insisting that it was a privilege to contribute to the war effort. Obtaining the maps proved fairly easy; however, identifying a suitable material on which to print the maps proved more difficult.
silk ww2 map Hutton sought a material that was thin enough not to take up much space, light weight, while also being fairly durable and crease resistant, and finally because the maps would be used behind enemy lines they had to be silent when unfolded rather than making the usual rustle noise of the unfolding of a paper map.  He experimented with various tissue papers for a  few days, but quickly realized they were unsatisfactory.  They rustled noisily and the information along the creases was illegible after the maps were folded for a few hours.  He concluded that the only suitable material was silk.
Bartholomew Vintage 1930's map

After securing several bales of silk parachute, the silk escape maps became a reality.  The first maps produced were based on the Bartholomew maps. The Bartholomew maps are rectangular in shape and were printed in three colours: map details in black, roads in red, and international boundaries in green, although some of the maps were printed solely in black on white cloth backgrounds. He concluded that the only suitable material was silk.  But, after experimenting with a printer acquaintance using eight ink colours on silk samples, his results were disappointing: each time the silk was lifted from the printing apparatus, the ink ran, blurring outlines and rendering place names illegible.  Finally, by luck he mixed a little pectin with the ink and at once the pectin coagulated the ink and presented it from running.  Now, even the smallest topographic features were sharply defined.

  The maps were printed in large quantities; a conservative estimate is that over 400,000 of these maps were  printed between July 1942 and August 1943.

At Charlie Foxtrot we have paid tribute to this remarkable story and have produced two ranges of ties , one with a map tipping to the ties and the other range we have produced with the Stephen Walters Silk Mill in Sudbury , England . Stephen Walters who have been weaving since 1730 turned a lot of their production over to parachute silk during the war . We have worked with them to produce ties that are re creations of designs that they wove during the 1940's and have had these ties woven and made in the same premises and with the same care that they would have been made in the 1940's . We also have in the online store some Bartholomew's maps from the 1930's which were designed for "Tourist's and Cyclists " and are paper mounted on linen.

Charlie Foxtrot Spitfire tieCharlie Foxtrot tie with map lining
Charlie Foxtrot tie woven by Stephen Walters Silk Mill