'Story of Wool' sculptural mural, International Development Centre, Valley Drive, Ilkley, West Yorkshire


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Statutory Address:
International Development Centre, Valley Drive, Ilkely, West Yorkshire, LS29 8AL


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Statutory Address:
International Development Centre, Valley Drive, Ilkely, West Yorkshire, LS29 8AL

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Bradford (Metropolitan Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Sculptural mural. 1968 by William Mitchell for the International Wool Secretariat. Bronze-faced glass reinforced plastic (GRP). Located on lecture theatre of former technical centre of the International Wool Secretariat of the same date by Richard Collick, which is not of special interest.

Reasons for Designation

The ‘Story of Wool’ sculptural mural, of 1968 by William Mitchell for the International Wool Secretariat, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Interest of the artist: William Mitchell was a leading public artist in the post-war period who designed many pieces of art in the public realm and was highly skilled in using mundane materials, such as concrete and glass reinforced plastic (GRP), in imaginative and innovative ways; * Aesthetic quality: the bold design depicts an abstracted flock of monumental, sculptural sheep with side panels representing manufacturing processes and the scientific analysis of wool; * Historic interest: the sense of place inherent in the design has historic resonance and the design is relevant both in its general and specific locations, being situated in the West Riding of Yorkshire, historically the main centre of the woollen industry in the United Kingdom, and at the new technical centre of the International Wool Secretariat, an organisation formed to promote the use of wool; * Innovative materials: the mural was constructed using bronze-faced, glass reinforced plastic (GRP) as the finished artwork rather than as a mould, a method Mitchell had pioneered the year before for the doors at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool; * Contribution to the public realm: a good example of the commissioning of public art in the post-war era as a means of adding a degree of human interest, individual identity and aesthetic pleasure to otherwise rather bland, anonymous buildings.


The International Wool Secretariat (IWS) was initially founded in 1937 by the wool growers of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa with the aim of facilitating the sale of wool produced in the Southern Hemisphere to buyers in the Northern Hemisphere. During the 1940s and 1950s offices were established in various European countries to promote the use and international trade of wool, and in 1964 the Woolmark logo was created. In 1968 a new technical centre was built in Ilkley, easily accessible from Leeds and Bradford, the centres of the British woollen textile industry. The building was designed by the Yorkshire architect Richard Collick, of Chippendale & Edmonson. It incorporated a first-floor lecture theatre which projected at the front of the building with the main entrance beneath. Collick commissioned the artist William Mitchell to create a sculptural mural with a wool theme to cover the external walls of the lecture theatre.

Mitchell created a mural of sculptured panels designed to tell the ‘Story of Wool’. The front panel represented a central ram flanked by interlocking ewes. The side panels were more abstract, representing manufacture on the left-hand side and the structure of wool fibre on the right-hand side, with patterns formed by tangles of wool and images of its fine structure as revealed by microscopy, electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography. The approximately 2.3m high panels were produced in his workshop in Forest Hill, London, and delivered to the site for fixing. Working on a tight budget, he used glass reinforced plastic (GRP) not as a mould but as the finished artwork, a technique he had pioneered in 1967 for his doors at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool. The designs were cut into polystyrene slabs using heated rods, the finished sculptural forms having to be visualised ‘inside-out’. The surface was covered in a thin layer of warm wax onto which a generous coat of polyester resin mixed with bronze particles was applied. The weight of the bronze particles made them sink down to the surface of wax to form a bronze facing. The back was then coated with six layers of woven glass fibre sheets soaked in polyester resin. It was left to dry overnight before the polystyrene mould was removed to expose the completed design. A backing panel of GRP was applied and inside the hollow backing copies of daily papers, names and photographs of the makers were placed.

William Mitchell (born 1925) was a leading public artist of the time who had studied art at the Southern College of Art, Portsmouth and at the Royal College of Art. He established the William Mitchell Design Consultants group and produced sculptures, relief murals and mosaics using a wide variety of materials, but often using concrete. From 1953-65 he had been employed as an artist by the London County Council, along with Antony Holloway (1928-2000). Mainly due to his specialisation in the casting of concrete relief sculpture he worked with many architects, including Sir Basil Spence and Sir Frederick Gibberd. A number of Mitchell's commissions have been listed, including a series of relief heads at Harlow Civic Centre Water Gardens in Esssex (now moved), the free-standing sculpture Corn King & Spring Queen in Wexham, Buckinghamshire, a mural at the Three Tuns public house, Bull Yard, Coventry, a mural at the City of London Academy, Packington Street, Islington, and three totem sculptures outside the Allerton Building at the University of Salford. There are also works by him included as part of the special interest of listed buildings, such as the CIS tower, Manchester, Liverpool's Roman Catholic Cathedral, the Roman Catholic Cathedral, Clifton, Bristol, the Egyptian escalator at Harrods, Knightsbridge, London, and the auditorium of the Curzon Cinema in Mayfair, London.

The IWS moved out of the building in the late 1990s and it is now used as private offices for a number of companies.


Sculptural mural. 1968 by William Mitchell for the International Wool Secretariat. Bronze-faced Glass reinforced plastic (GRP). Located on lecture theatre of the former technical centre of the International Wool Secretariat of the same date by Richard Collick, which is not of special interest. DESCRIPTION: the flat-roofed lecture theatre projects at first-floor level over a recessed entrance hall and its three elevations are completely covered in the sculptural mural panels. The panels are coloured a green-bronze patina with a charcoal-coloured undertone, giving a greater depth to the sculptural forms. The front, south elevation comprises two planes which are both angled slightly back from the central point. Covering these planes are a number of vertical panels depicting a stylised flock of monumental sheep. Spanning the central point is a huge ram depicted face-on with curled horns, a thick, textured fleece, and cloven hooves. Flanking the ram are two ewes to the left and three ewes to the right, depicted from the side and facing inwards. The mural utilises both relief and recessed elements which give the sheep a monumental sculptural form. A range of textures are also deployed and it is possible to read the mural both as a whole and as a pattern of shapes such as the curve of the horns and the cloven hooves. The left-hand, west elevation comprises a single plane covered by a number of vertical, textured panels. The design is more abstract here, but is intended to represent the manufacturing of wool yarn, the basic processes of which are washing, carding, spinning and weaving. To the left are clusters of small circles, which could be read as soap bubbles, with an area of tangled fibres in the centre and more vertical forms to the right, which could be read as shuttles of thread. There are several areas of discolouration. The right-hand, east elevation comprises a single plane covered by a number of vertical, textured panels. Again more abstract in nature, the panels use images of the close-up structure of wool to form a decorative pattern. Flowing vertical fibres are interspersed with two large, circular discs representing microscopic views. EXCLUSION: the 1968 former technical centre for the International Wool Secretariat, to which the mural is attached, is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing.


Information on execution of sculptural mural by William Mitchell.


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

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