Two years before the steamboat was invented, five years before the French Revolution, and a full 29 years before Pride and Prejudice was published, a cotton factory was founded in the Peak District by Florence Nightingale’s great-great Uncle Peter and one John Smedley.
Heard of him? Of course you have. His eponymous brand of knitwear has an unrivalled legacy, due in part to the Derbyshire factory, which having operated continuously for 235 years, is the oldest manufacturing factory in the world.
Situated near a small stream (crucially offering a constant water supply) the Lea Mills factory began by producing muslin and spinning cotton, which was then sent out to local cottage.
Shortly after, underwear, vests and athletic trunks were being made in-house, which was how John Smedley continued until the late 1950s, when the focus shifted to the outerwear synonymous with the brand today.
Since then, everyone from the royal families (obviously they have a royal warrant) in cosy gear to Mods overrunning roads on their Lambrettas have been seen snugly tucked inside some Smedley.
After all, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing more timelessly stylish than high quality, fine-gauge knitwear.
The year 1784 was a long old time ago. It’s way before Nokia brick phones and that weird end-of-programme-test-card-girl with the clown and naughts and crosses, and even before ‘the box’ itself. Imagine how big a birthday celebration you’d have if you were 235? Well, same goes for John Smedley.
Throughout the year there have been events and product releases dedicated to its quality craft, in association with the likes of The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust and Rémy Martin.
A stand-out part of the celebrations will be the 235 collection released this month as part of Wool Week 2019 (yup, it’s a thing). The collection will look to John Smedley’s history and the world’s finest noble fibres.
Naturally, the collection will be entirely knitted and hand finished by the 50 skilled craftspeople at the Derbyshire factory. The collection has a specific focus on the traceability element of craft, with customers being able to follow the garment’s journey from herd to store.
And the brand’s not finishing there. To finish off a year of celebration, another new collection entitled Legacy will launch in November, containing items inspired by the brand’s considerable archives.
The collection will be modelled by the three living generations of the John Smedley dynasty. Now that’s what we call keeping it the family.
For more information, visit johnsmedley.com