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Explore England's Past

Thomas Burberry of Basingstoke

Victorian Basingstoke was transformed by the coming of the railways and by a group of innovative entrepreneurs who made it an important manufacturing centre. They grasped the railway’s ability to bring in raw materials and to distribute the finished product at home and abroad. Three clothing factories and companies were created, and by 1901 this industry was the largest in town employing 18% of all working adults in Basingstoke (or even more dramatically 36% of working women). The new machines for sewing and cutting and the larger market helped to shift clothes-making from home or workshop to the factory.

Thomas Burberry is the best known of these clothing pioneers, creating factories, developing an improved waterproof material for outdoor use, which he eventually patented as Garbardine, as well as a company that still survives. His first factory employed 80 people within a few years of its opening in 1868. In 1878 two of his associates (Gerrish and Ames) founded a larger factory, close to the station, for the wholesale manufacture of ‘ready to wear’ clothing, and by 1881 they employed over 200 workers. Meanwhile at the earlier factory, Burberry worked with Mares (a new partner) on expanding the bespoke tailoring business. When Mares bought the factory in 1892, he built up a mass wholesale business and greatly enlarged its buildings. Finally in 1892 Burberry created a third factory in which he concentrated on Gabardine products for the affluent outdoor sporting market. He soon developed a London base in the fashionable West End and branches in Paris, New York, Buenos Aires and Montevideo. His company provided the trench coats for officers in the First World War and clothed pioneers in the Antarctic, on Everest and flying across the Atlantic.

All three factories lasted until the 1950s of 1960s when company reorganisation or urban redevelopment led to their closure and the end of a forgotten phase of the town’s past.

Content derived during research for the new VCH Hampshire volume, Basingstoke and its surroundings.