John Smedley is renowned throughout the world as a leader in the production of fine gauge knitwear products. Still family owned, the company continues to innovate while retaining the hand-crafted finishing techniques that have established its reputation for more than two centuries.

Peter Nightingale and his associate, John Smedley founded the company in 1784 at Lea Mills, Matlock, Derbyshire. Lea Bridge provided an ideal setting for the mill, as the brook that ran through the village provided motive power and a constant source of running water.

In its early days 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 and by this time John Smedley was running the business alone, although the Nightingale family retained an interest in the property.


In 1819, John Smedley’s son John was apprenticed to the company, and after thorough training took over the helm six years later at the age of 24. With great energy and vision he set about modernising and expanding the company, with the intention that all the manufacturing processes required to produce finished product should be under one roof, using the finest quality raw materials available.

These principles continue to be the cornerstone of the company’s success.  A growing and dedicated workforce was established, indeed younger generations of original John Smedley workers can still be found at the factory today.

The younger John Smedley also took a keen interest in philanthropy, including hydropathy – the treatment of illness with water, and established the Smedley Hydro in Matlock, patronised by visitors from all over the world.  He also built Riber Castle, the family home until 1880.

Upon his death in 1875,  the second John Smedley had no heir, thus the business was passed onto a third John- a cousin- J T Marsden-Smedley, who after his death in 1877 entrusted the company to his son, the fourth John B Marsden-Smedley.

He was to thrust the company expansion even further, remaining chairman for an impressive 70 years. During this time, he installed up-to-the-minute knitting machines and made the decision to become a limited company in 1893, producing more versatile garments, such as underwear and knitted outerwear.

Over the next 50 years, the company extended its underwear production to incorporate swimwear and nightwear for men and women. During the 1960s, the signature sweater line was developed, which was responsible for the growth in overseas markets.

In the 1960s, John Smedley cemented their relationship with the British Royal family, hosting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth throughout a tour of the Lea Mills location, offering an insight into how their iconic knitwear was produced. Following this visit, it became known that John Smedley was the official knitwear supplier to the Palace.

“In January 2013, John Smedley received the Royal Warrant of Appointment from Her Majesty The Queen as ‘Manufacturer of Fine Knitwear’.”

Following this, John Smedley continued to develop the world market for fine gauge fully fashioned knitwear, with more than 70% of output being exported to over 35 countries worldwide. During that time, the company has worked with some of the world’s leading designers, from Margaret Howell and Paul Smith through to Vivienne Westwood, Yves St Laurent and Prada.

In January 2013, John Smedley received the Royal Warrant of Appointment from Her Majesty the Queen as ‘Manufacturer of Fine Knitwear’.

In July 2013, John Smedley cemented their contemporary style credentials, working alongside the British Fashion Council to showcase their seasonal collections via London Collections: Men – A worldwide champion of British design to both press & buyers. Both LC:M and the John Smedley showcase continue to go from strength to strength.

2014 brings further innovation to the John Smedley brand and see’s the re-launch of the childrenswear collections, alongside continued digital and international business growth.


2015 brought the re-launch of the iconic John Smedley womenswear line and saw the brands first ever London Fashion Week showcase. It also marked the kick off , of a new womenswear joint label project with some of the UK’s most promising new design talent including Phoebe English, Holly Fulton, Claire Barrow, Ashley Williams and 1205.