Hidden in the roof of the John Smedley factory is a cluster of rooms, with wooden floors and exposed beams. It’s a maze of corridors and winding staircases to get there, but finally (after a lot of wrong turns) you come across a large green door, opening a world of history and true knitwear heritage. Shelves are stacked high with boxes, still sealed and waiting to be opened. This is the John Smedley archive. The days are never quiet at John Smedley so when I was given the chance to explore this rare archive, I jumped at the chance.
Our archivist, Jane, began with an overview of the John Smedley knitwear, covering everything from the practicality of knitted undergarments through the 19th century to the staple Long Johns & original John Smedley Classics of the 20th century. Boxes were opened to reveal the knitted swimming costumes that the 50s and 60s were renowned for- very impractical but beautifully made with a strong attention to detail.
The computer database uncovered further pieces; boys undershirts from the early 1800s and a hunting shirt only made in yellow for unknown reasons. The use of lacework became the topic of conversation, with it being used for both men’s and womenswear and knitted as early as the 18th century. This database is a work in progress with thousands of garments still packed away, waiting to be discovered.
The archivists are always looking for lost company history or garments to piece together the archive. If you have or find any pieces of John Smedley knitwear that you think would be a useful source, please contact us here.