Obituary: Eric Crabtree

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The Independent Online
In Derek Granger's obituary of Eric Crabtree [19 September] the picture caption reads "Crabtree: maverick", which is apt, as is evident from the account of Crabtree's endless flitting from trade to trade all his life. Where I found a passage of acute interest to myself and my family, writes Patrick Heron, was when the writer said:

he became managing director of the clothing firm Berkertex and later ex-

ercised his own entrepreneurial flair

by acquiring a moribund retail house and factory which he relaunched, in the early 1950s, under the name of Cresta, a chain of dress shops elegantly designed, tastefully fitted but shrewdly aimed to attract middle-class women . . .

That is a statement quite monstrous in its inaccuracy - not least in its suggestion that Crabtree invented the name "Cresta".

In the early Fifties, my father, Tom Heron, who had founded Cresta Silks in 1929, and directed it single-handed for 24 years, became ill and regretfully decided to hand the firm over to other hands. Unfortunately "other hands" were Crabtree of Debenhams, a man who was patently blind to the historic aesthetic record of Cresta Silks.

Cresta represented an achievement on the British scene, from 1929 onwards, which was unique in terms of design. From its beginnings my father commissioned some of the most remarkable avant-garde artists in Britain at the time. For instance, for the textile designs he approached Paul Nash, Cedric Morris, Bruce Turner (the Leeds Cubist), Graham Sutherland, John Armstrong and others; for the firm's stationery, and for the cardboard boxes for dresses, and other graphic features, he went to E. McKnight Kauffer; and for the epoch-making Cresta factory and shops my father commissioned Wells Coates - in fact it was Coates's first commission.

And what did Eric Crabtree do? He ordered the burning of all Cresta blocks and screens and dismantled every surviving Wells Coates shop, installing in their place pastiche Regency pediments, columns and pilasters. Thus shops which had heralded the Modern Movement in architecture in Britain now looked like 10th-rate 18th-century stage sets.

If Derek Granger has never perhaps heard of Wells Coates, I can tell him that Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and every other member of the British avant-garde of the Thirties I ever met, always saluted him.