A research scientist enters the world of textiles and couture fashion.

Charles Lester, photographer
Picture from ‘Hello’
Designers Charles and Patricia Lester at home
Photograph Paul Massey

Charles Lester his life and work – The family history

Charles Lester was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire, England in 1942. His parents were English, with his mother’s ancestors being traced back to the year 352 AD. This fascinating family tree is one of the oldest such chronicle of a family history in Britain being authenticated by the Lord Lyons Court of Scotland. Many illustrious people are listed in the tree including royal personages such as Alfred the Great, Charlemagne and Sir Walter Scott. His great grandmother, Laura Ormiston Chant, was the instigator of Sir Winston Churchill’s first speech of his political career – recorded in his memoirs as the unofficial maiden speech.

Laura Ormiston chant was a famous suffragette and social reformer – a friend and confidant of Bernard Shaw with whom she had lively discussions and correspondence about the conditions of the less fortunate in society, including prisoners and fallen women. She advocated that if society paid people decent wages then there would be less crime and less need for women to earn a living on the street.

Charles’s father was a commissioned officer in the York and Lancashire Regiment. His mother became a respected artist and author when she retired, publishing two books of paintings and memories of her childhood and life in Banbury.

North Oxfordshire Secondary Technical School Banbury.

Charles Lester was educated at North Oxfordshire Secondary Technical School (NOSTS) where he was appointed Head Boy in his final year. His education continued at Oxford College of Advanced Technology where he studied Physics and Mathematics leading to the qualification Licentiate Member of the Institute of Physics. After Oxford he joined the Research Department of I.C.I. Fibres in Pontypool, South Wales. Patricia joined Charles in South Wales when they married in 1963.

Careers in Education and Science

During the twelve years in the Research Department he was the ultrasonic and particle size analysis specialist. He was also involved with a team of scientists in the development of a new synthetic fibre that they were experimenting with that would have the handling qualities of silk while retaining the ‘easy care’ qualities of the synthetic fabrics. Charles enjoyed the science and invention in this work, but unfortunately ICI decided to rationalise its research and development operations and the decision was taken to centralise this part of the business in Harrogate in Yorkshire.

Charles and Patricia did not want to move to Yorkshire because they were in the middle of restoring their large Georgian house – a Grade II listed building which they had bought in an almost derelict condition. It had formerly been the home of Crawshaw Bailey, the Iron Master. The business was beginning to show great promise and they decided that Charles should take the redundancy offered by ICI and have a change of career. Many people leaving the Research Department at this time decided to go in to teaching Mathematics and the Sciences. Charles, however, was very excited about the potential of the new subject of Design, Craft and Technology and decided that this would be a more challenging and interesting subject to teach. He considered the method of teaching original thought, brain storming and invention much more exciting than subjects that are more orientated around learning formulae and scientific rules.

Design Craft and Technology at Monmouth School

When Charles obtained his teaching qualification his first post was at the Comprehensive School in Abergavenny. After three years he applied for the post of Head of Department at Monmouth School for Boys, a private school managed by the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers. Design, Craft and Technology was a new subject for the school and Charles’s remit was to introduce the subject as a modern topic of learning while at the same time equipping the new department. In his short time at the school he changed the emphasis of the subject from ‘handicrafts’ such as making tent pegs – into a lively centre for invention and innovation, teaching the children to approach learning from the imagination rather than from a set of disciplines. They undertook projects such as ‘the great egg race’ on water, which included experimentation with hull structures and propeller design. Charles was very keen to teach the children to combine the subjects of science, design and craft to achieve the best results, as well as being able to work in a team and communicate their findings to others. His own experience in industry had taught him the practicalities of learning and its applications to real life problem solving.

Charles Lester in the World of Fashion Design

Charles thoroughly enjoyed this part of his career, but in 1983 the business was becoming more and more demanding and successful and he decided that he would leave teaching and join Patricia full time working in the world of fashion. Up to this time he had only been able to be involved in the business in the holidays and at weekends. It was a new challenge to help take the fashion design business to the next stage.

Charles has a number of interests – he is an accomplished photographer using his skills both for the business and pleasure. He enjoys working with wood and is making a copy of a 50ft Victorian steam launch. Both Patricia and Charles have a passion for follies being members of ‘The Folly Fellowship’. This interest has lead them to undertake projects such as building a ruined chapel by the side of a recently constructed water feature in their extensive garden. His inventive mind has more recently become absorbed in complexities of web design.