From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Wolsey Works

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Wolsey Works was located in Leicester, Leicestershire at Abbey Meadows close to the site of the Abbey.

In the middle ages wool was a staple product for clothing. It was spun into thread and then weaved into cloth. Hand knitting was a cottage industry in Leicester and Nottingham. It all changed when the stocking knitting frame was invented in 1589, this increased production and the knitters were able to sell to a wider customer base.

In 1778, Ann and Henry Wood, who was mother and son, entered into a partnership trading as Ann Wood and Sons. Her youngest son, Thomas, soon joined the business in 1780 and it thrived. Ann died in 1813 and her sons took control.

Robert Walker was hired in 1840, he had experience of the Scottish hosiery trade and used it to progress in the company. He was made a partner in the business in 1842 and went on to modernise the industry by housing the knitting machines together in a large factory and utilising steam power.

The company became the largest in Leicestershire and by 1883 it won the highest award for quality at the Chicago Great World Fair.

Staying ahead of it competition the company developed a brand of unshrinkable woolens but needed a brand to market it under. In 1897 they registered the 'Wolsey' trademark after the powerful ecclesiastic and statesman Cardinal Wolsey, who was buried in Leicester Abbey.

A new factory was built at Abbey Meadows in1910 at Leicester becoming the companies headquarters. During World War I most of the production from the seven factories, which was over 18 million garments, were given to the British and Allied troops.

In 1911, both Captain Scott and Roald Amundsen selected Wolsey underwear to keep them warm which the company soon capitalised on by placing adverts that they supplied both teams in their race to reach the north pole. They did the same again when Sir Ernest Shackleton selected Wolsey underwear in 1919.

A new direction was taken in 1919 when the company began to trade direct to the retailer with their own sales staff. Because of this, the company became public and changed its name to Wolsey Ltd.

Leslie Miller, was appointed Chairman in 1949 and he undertook a significant role in the marketing strategy of the business. He saw the value of advertising and over the next two decades saw the company successfully evolve its merchandising and product development in a rapidly changing fashion industry.

In 1966 Wolsey became part of the Coutaulds Textiles Group and in 1996 the company was sold to its management team.

In April 2002 the company was bought by Matalan, production was moved to China and the factories closed.