John Smedley was founded in 1784 at Lea Mills, Matlock, Derbyshire by Mr. John Smedley and Mr. Peter Nightingale (Florence’s great-great Uncle). The pair were Inspired by Richard Arkwright who had pioneered the factory system 13 years earlier, at the beginning of the industrial revolution – just a couple of miles away, in Cromford. They set about building a spinning mill, Lea Mills was in ideal setting; the brook that runs through the village provided motive power and a constant source of running water. The Lea Mills factory is still John Smedley’s home, making it the world’s oldest manufacturing factory in continuous operation.
Initially John Smedley produced cotton thread, not dissimilar from other mills in the Derwent Valley, before expanding production to underwear, vests, athletic trunks and long john’s. During both World Wars a major part of production was turned over to the war effort – mainly producing knitted underwear for the forces. In the late 1950’s the decision was made to begin manufacturing fine gauge outerwear for men and women. The iconic John Smedley Polo Shirt, crew, V and Roll necks for men and elegant twin sets and jumpers for women were key pieces that propelled John Smedley into the heart of British fashion – these garments still remain a very important and popular part of our collection.
John Smedley has a long lineage of local families who have worked at Lea Mills over several generations. They bring years of experience and a level of craftsmanship that can’t be found anywhere else. At John Smedley we take pride in creating knitwear that is designed and crafted in England. We also take pride in our Derbyshire roots – our Lea Mills factory and the people who help make us who we are.
Although John Smedley’s scale of operations and indeed produce may have changed slightly throughout our 233 year existence, our home (Lea Mills) has remained the same, meaning that our garments are crafted with as much care and quality as they always have been.