Miss Louisa Pesel was a traveller and collector and one of Bradford's unsung celebrities.

She travelled in Greece, Turkey, Egypt and India between 1887 and 1914, collecting fabrics and embroidery dating back to the seventeenth century (the still-vibrant colours and intricate detail are well worth a visit to the University of Leeds International Textile Archive, where they are currently on display).

She was also an extremely skilful needlewoman herself, becoming the first President of the Embroiderers' Guild 1920-22 (now at Hampton Court), and some of her own work is on display.

Louisa Pesel was born on April 17, 1870, at 11 Mornington Villas, Manningham. Her father, Frederick Robert Pesel, worked in the stuff merchant business of his uncle Robert Kell (who built Heaton Mount, near Emm Lane, now part of the University of Bradford School of Management), but later became a stockbroker, Pesel & Hunt, Charles Street, Bradford.

In the 1880s the family moved to Oak House, Oak Avenue, Manningham. This house is now the Dubrovnic Hotel, but her father's initials are still on the front facade.

Louisa and her four sisters attended Bradford Girls' Grammar School, a new establishment which attracted public disapproval by teaching girls mathematics and sciences and encouraging them to take part in sports. After studying art and design in London, then specialising in decorative stitchery, Louisa's embroidery won a competition at an exhibition at Earl's Court in 1900. In 1903 her career took off when she was appointed the Director of the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens.

She worked closely with Lady Egerton who had set up the school and with the Greek Royal Family who were great supporters of it. She attended the 1906 Athens Interim Olympic Games and was mentioned in a report in The Times when the British Royal Family, in Athens to see the games, visited the Royal Hellenic School.

During her time at the Hellenic School she travelled in Europe and also in India, studying needlework techniques and collecting fabrics. While in India she went by camel through the Khyber Pass. In 1910 she visited Egypt, exploring the antiquities by donkey.

Louisa returned to England in 1907 and became an inspector with the Board of Education. She also set up the West Riding branch of the Needlework Association (which became the Embroiderers' Guild in 1920).

She wrote several books (published by Percy Lund Humphries of Bradford) on the techniques she had learned and the history and symbolism of the embroideries she had collected, tracing the motifs used along the trade routes. The books were dedicated to Queen Mary who had become very interested in Louisa's work.

She was much in demand as a lecturer at such places as the Victoria and Albert Museum (which commissioned embroidery from her in 1912), Egyptian Exploration Fund, Liverpool University and Royal Society of Arts.

Miss Pesel spent the First World War at Oak House, Manningham. Through needlework, she did much-needed therapeutic work with the Khaki Club for shell-shocked soldiers, assisted Belgian refugees stationed in Bradford and was much involved with raising money for ambulances for the front line.

In 1920, her father died and Oak House was sold. Louisa eventually settled in Winchester, Hampshire, where she undertook, with a team she trained, the enormous project of the Winchester Cathedral embroideries - 360 kneelers, 62 stall cushions, 96 alms bags and so on. In 1934, Queen Mary went to Winchester Cathedral for a personal viewing of Louisa Pesel's achievement. The collection is still in use today.

While living in Winchester, Miss Pesel also indulged her other hobby - growing irises. She created a magnificent garden, housing possibly the largest iris collection at the time. She became internationally renowned and in 1937 jointly published a book on iris cultivation.

Louisa Pesel died in 1947 in Winchester, but she bequeathed her entire textile collection to the University of Leeds Clothworkers' Museum. She also had family connections with Leeds in that her maternal grandfather, Francis Carbutt, had been Mayor of Leeds in 1847, as had her uncle Sir Edward Hamer Carbutt in 1877. Also her sister, Gertrude who had married a doctor, Frank Mayo, lived in Headingley.

Louisa Pesel's obituary reached the national newspapers, including The Times.

  • The University of Leeds International Textile Archive is housed in a state-of-the-art archiving unit, specially designed to fit the central area of St Wilfred's Chapel, Moorland Road, Leeds. The exhibition is open until October 12. Further details can be obtained from ULITA, 0113 343 3919 or www.leeds.ac.uk/ulita.