Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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John Smedley

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of Lea Mills, Lea Bridge, near Matlock, Derbyshire

Lea Mills was founded in 1784 by Peter Nightingale (a relation of Florence Nightingale) (former accountant to Richard Arkwright), and John Smedley (1764-1840) (father of the better-known son of the same name). It was set up on a hilly site straddling a brook at Lea Bridge, just outside Matlock. The brook was used to both clean yarn and power machinery. The mill specialised in the production of muslin and spinning cotton to send out to local cottages with hand frame looms.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the company had extended its activities to include knitting and hosiery manufacture - said to be the origin of Long Johns. By this time, John Smedley was running the business alone, although the Nightingale family retained an interest in the property.

1796 Partnership dissolved. '...the Partnership between John Smedley, of Wirksworth, in the County of Derby, and Isaac Smedley, of Maiden-Lane, Cheapsede, Hosiers, hath been this Day dissolved by mutual consent...'[1]

In 1819 the younger John Smedley (1803-1874) began work as an apprentice.

In 1825 he took over the running of the mill, and started an energetic expansion of its operations. The mill at this time had already diversified from cotton to wool, and from simply weaving to knitting. Smedley the younger's plan was to produce a wide range of finished garments, rather than simply manufacture cloth.

1853 Patent. '778. To John Smedley, of Lea Mills, Matlock, in the county of Derby, Spinner, for the invention of "improvements in machinery or apparatus for opening, cleaning, blowing, or scutching animal wool, cotton, or other fibrous substances or materials."[2]

1860 Serious fire at the Lea Bridge factory.[3]

Smedley died on 27 July 1874, and upon his death the business passed to his cousin, John T. Marsden Smedley, and later to John B. Marsden Smedley after Robert Wildgoose had managed the business as a trustee.

1893 The company was registered on 28 November, to take over the business of hoisery manufacturers and spinners, of the firm of the same name. [4]

2015 The designer label John Smedley is now familiar in boutiques, department stores and classic retailers around the world. The company sells to over 30 countries and has won numerous awards for its export achievements. The largest export market is Japan. There are concessions in some branches of Selfridges and Fenwick.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The London Gazette Publication date:31 December 1796 Issue:13966 Page:1274
  2. [ The London Gazette Publication date:29 April 1853 Issue:21435 Page:1239]
  3. Derbyshire Courier - Saturday 02 June 1860
  4. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908