Records of George Brettle and Company Limited, hosiery manufacturers of Belper,Derbyshire, 1799-1984

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises:

  • Constitutional documents including: articles of partnership, agreements, certificates, trustdeeds, and associated papers concerning partnership agreements, family settlements and conversion toa limited company and then a public company. 1803-1901 (BBE 1);
  • Lease and tenancy agreements, correspondence, licences, land valuations and plans regardingpremises in Kings Alley, Paul's Court, Shovel Alley, Huggin Lane, Gutter Lane and Wood Street, Cityof London. 1820-1937;
  • Lease and tenancy agreements, contract for redemption of Land Tax and plans regarding premises inBelper. 1886-1945;
  • Lease and tenancy agreements regarding premises in Brixton and Albert Square, Lambeth, Surrey(1813-1862) and deeds of premises in Two Waters, Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire (1799-1864);
  • Patent documents relating to knitting and fabric machinery designed by William Cotton, WilliamLacey, Frederick Shaw, and George Brettle and Co. Ltd. 1860-1936;
  • Other agreements and legal documents with associated correspondence (1818-1954), balance sheets(1963-1967), directors reports and statements of account (1937-1963), and correspondence includingcopy letter books. 1801-1971;
  • Salary and staff records (1820-1872), production notebook (1912), photographs (c.1900-c.1980),inventories (1904-1939), illustrated notebook of Walter Bennett containing details about productionmethods (c.1926), costing book (c.1880), cancelled bills (1866-1867), printed price lists, includingillustrated volumes (1853-1984), newspaper cuttings (1960-1984), advertising material, dinnerinvitations (1892-1984), accounts, account books and ledgers (1805-1936), copies of the companymagazine, Yarns (1928-1932), printed reports (1932-1967), souvenir programmes (1928-1984),and an accounts book with copied references for account holders (1825-1837);
  • Records of Oberon Athletic Club. 1894-1951;
  • Records of Oberon Insurance Scheme. 1920-1951;
  • Records of The Society and The Library. 1830-1902;
  • Balance sheets of Samuel Farmer and Company, Leicester. 1904-1921;
  • Balance sheets and associated papers of Cook and Watts Limited including Brettle Sales.1967-1969.

Administrative / Biographical History

The firm of Ward Sharp and Company (established in 1801) had its origins in the hosiery businessconducted at Belper, Derbyshire by the Ward family. It was formed by John Ward and James Sharp whoalso opened a warehouse in London where they could sell their products produced at Belper. Followingfinancial problems, William Ward invited George Brettle (1778-1835) to join the partnership in 1803and the firm was renamed Ward Brettle and Ward. Prosperity soon returned and by the end of thedecade, the firm was employing 1,000 people. Its wholesale warehouse accommodation becameinsufficient and new premises were taken in Wood Street, City of London to supply London's draperswith cloth, hosiery, haberdashery and blankets. By the 1830s, it was one of the biggest hosieryfirms in the country.

The death of William Ward in 1833 left the firm in the hands of Brettle alone and he named thefirm, 'George Brettle and Co.' The Ward family, excluded from the business but still in possessionof the premises at Belper, set up the firm of Ward Strutt and Sharp. George Brettle purchased a sitenearby for his own warehouse in Belper. Brettle died in 1835, leaving the running of the firm tothree friends until his three sons were of age to succeed to their partnerships from 1843. By 1872all three sons were dead and, although steam power and mechanisation of production had beenintroduced, the firm had lost its dominant position to Wards of Belper. Problems with labour supplyand the workforce, growing competition from the German hosiery industry, and costly familysettlements restricted the growth of Brettles over the next thirty years.

From the 1870s, an increasing proportion of Brettles' output took the form of knitted underwearrather than stockings. The commercial side of the firm underwent little change beyond the employmentof travelling company salesmen and it was slow to respond to the demands of the new departmentstores. Following a succession of deaths and marriages, the Twyford family took control of the firm.In 1913, the firm was inherited by Lionel and Harry Twyford and a year later it became 'GeorgeBrettle and Co. Ltd'. Lionel died in 1920 but with Harry's skill and a boom in demand for hosieryand knitwear that began during the war, the firm was revitalised. The factory at Belper wasextended, a new factory was set up at Wirksworth, Derbyshire to tap a growing labour force there,and the firm began building its own machinery.

The firm was organised into a number of departments including lisle, haberdashery, bandannas,manchester, outfitting, cotton, fancy knitted goods, gloves, cashmere, silk, and half-hose. By thelate 1930s, the lisle department with its range of elastic ('Silkestia') stockings accounted forover half of the company's output. In 1936, Brettles had become a public company. For its employees,the firm set up a pension scheme in 1928, and built sports grounds in Wimbledon and Belper for thefirm's sports teams, the Oberon Athletic Club.

Brettles growth declined in the general austerity following the war. This combined with theproblem of finding a successor to Sir Harry Twyford led to a link with the Courtaulds textiles groupfor which Brettles became the main hose production in 1964. In 1974, the firm was bought outright byCourtaulds and became Courtaulds Hosiery Limited. By the 1970s, the factory at Belper produced onlyknitted stockings and tights. In 1997, Chilprufe bought Brettles from the Courtaulds Group and movedproduction to Leicester. Production returned to Belper in 2002 when Brettles was sold to lingeriemanufacturer, Slenderella by Chilprufe's receivers.


The collection has been divided by document type into series. Within these series, items havebeen arranged chronologically.

Conditions Governing Access

ACCESS: Pending full cataloguing, access to thecollection is limited and is possible only for registered users by advance notice and agreement.


Other Finding Aids

This description is the only finding aid available for the collection. Copyright in thedescription belongs to The University of Nottingham.

Conditions Governing Use

REPROGRAPHIC: Reprographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposesonly, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.

COPYRIGHT: Permission to make published use of any material from this collection must be soughtin advance in writing from the Keeper of the Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections(email TheDepartment will try to assist in identifying copyright owners but this can be difficult and theresponsibility for copyright clearance before publication ultimately rests with the person wishingto publish.

Custodial History

The collection was acquired by The University of Nottingham's Department of Manuscripts andSpecial Collections in May 1998.

Related Material

  • Derbyshire Record Office: Management papers, financial and personnel records, production andsales figures, site plans, promotional material and other miscellaneous papers of George Brettle andCompany Limited. Reference: D4759


Negley Harte, A History of George Brettle and Co Ltd, 1801-1964 (London: privatelyprinted, 1975)