John Smedley: The World's Finest Knitwear


The brand that has been worn by everyone, from James Bond to Superman, has an incredible history. Peter Nightingale (related to Florence), and his business partner, John Smedley, established their textile business in 1784 at Lea Mills in Matlock, Derbyshire. The company is still family owned, and the mill remains the world's oldest manufacturing factory.


Lea Mills (Estd. 1784)

Originally, the business produced muslin cloth and spun cotton yarn to supply the  local cottage industries that worked hand frame looms, and by the end of the 18th century, the company had expanded into knitting and hosiery manufacture. John Smedley's son, John, was apprenticed to the company in 1829, and six years later took the helm at the age of 24.


John Smedley Jnr. (mid C19th)

In addition to vigorously expanding and modernising the business, John Smedley Jnr. was a great philanthropist, establishing the Smedley Hydro in Matlock to treat illnesses with hydrotherapy. He also built Riber Castle, which became the family home until 1880. 


 The Smedley Hydro (1870)

John Smedley Jnr. died in 1875, without heir, and the business was passed to his cousin, John T Marsden-Smedley, who in turn handed control to his son, John B Marsden-Smedley, in 1877. He thrust the business to even greater heights, remaining chairman for an impressive 70 years, and overseeing the installation of the most modern knitting machinery and developing the product range into underwear and swimwear.


Tatler Advertisement (1938)

By the mid-20th century, the company's product range had extended into other areas of apparel that would evolve into the classic Smedley knitwear collection that we recognise today... the tennis shirt developed in the late 1930s and early 1940s being a case in point.


 The John Smedley Tennis Shirt (c.1940)

During the 1950s and 1960s, the John Smedley brand was discovered and adopted by the elite of the music and film industry, including Marilyn Munroe, Audrey Hepburn and The Beatles. It also caught the attention of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who took a tour of the Lea Mills factory, after which, the brand became the official knitwear supplier to the Palace.


HM Queen Elizabeth II at the Lea Mills factory (May 1968)

John Smedley is an icon amongst British brands, with a glorious history, peerless heritage, and a timeless product that has maintained its modernity both independently, and though collaborations with esteemed designers, including Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Margaret Howell, Yves St Laurent and Prada.



Click here to view the current John Smedley collection.

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