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A History of Dyes, from Ancient Egypt to Cancer Treatment

by Adam Pursell, Hon Secretary of SDC’s North of England region.

The Mike Crabtree Memorial Lecture was a big success again this year, building on everyone’s enjoyment of last year.

The evening started off with a hot buffet which was enjoyed by everyone in attendance, over 50 people sharing a meal over stories and experiences. A broad spectrum of people had gathered to listen to Dr Christine Holdstock’s fascinating talk on “a history of dyes, from ancient Egypt to cancer treatment”. After the meal, formalities had to be undertaken, and it was time to present a couple of awards. North of England Chair Dr Muriel Rigout took the floor and introduced SDC Past President Trevor Larkins.

Trevor’s first award was to John Wyles, a member of almost 62 years. John served as secretary to the North of England region whilst Trevor was chair. John received his gold medal in 1983, and his award on the night was the very prestigious Honorary Membership. John stressed the importance of the SDC, which he says allowed him to enter into a vital world of networking.

Next, it was time for Michael Norman Pearcey to receive his award, a 50 year member award. Having studied at Bradford University, and joining the society in 1967, Michael said one of the highlights of his time as a member was having an undergraduate research paper published In the Society’s journal.

Andrew Filarowski, Technical Director at the SDC gave a quick update on the Lifelong Colour Education pathway that is being developed. If you have any questions about SDC’s plans, then please email edu@sdc.org.uk.

Dr Christine Holdstock was up next, to give the audience the lecture they were waiting for.

A dye is somewhat of a broad term, generally thought of as something solely to give something a colour. Christine talked through the origins of dyes. How 40,000 year old cave paintings led to fabrics reserved only for the highest of ancient society, with dyes being obtained from plants and animals. Dr Holdstock told the group that despite the misconception that ancient times were monotone, colour was very important to give people a place in the social hierarchy of Roman Britain, something that still happens today, with the Pope for example. The talk advanced its way through the 21st century, with the emphasis shifting to functionality, rather than fashion. The designer, be it artistic or technical, has the option of selecting dyestuffs that serve a purpose other than aesthetics. Chromic dyes, for example, are dyes that react to a stimulus. These can be incorporated into products that can tell you when an infant is too warm or cold, or when someone has been exposed to too much sunlight. Following from that, dyes are now being used to treat illness and injury. Dyes combined with light therapy can be used to heal wounds, and can even lead to a cure for cancer.

The talk was very well received by all in attendance, with a good discussion on the topics after the lecture.

The North of England region would like to thank all those who gave their time to make the event a success, with a special thank you to Dr Christine Holdstock.

For details of future SDC events, please visit the website.




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Comments (2)

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    Vanessa Yoxall


    This was a fantastic evening. As cancer effects so many people this day in age it was interesting to understand how the dyeing industry can help. Obviously a lot of work needs going in to the area and I hope one day the medical facilities can see the potential.


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    John Ciesielski


    What a fascinating lecture and superbly delivered. Just how were these natural dyestuffs and mordents’ were discovered by chance in the early days. We even found out why the Pope still traditionally dresses in purple.
    I fully endorse Vanessa’s comments on potential for cancer treatments to move on form Chemotherapy. Disappointing in slow progress by the Pharma companies over past 20 years-I cannot understand why?


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