19 November 2016

Kayser Bondor, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2016)

copyright © D. Sharp
When the new Kayser Bondor Factory opened at Portslade in 1957 the Press called it a Palace of Industry.

Background

The firm that eventually became internationally known as Kayser Bondor was incorporated on 17 April 1928; in the early days it was called the Full Fashioned Hosiery Company. Production started in 1928 at Baldock, Hampshire.

In 1931 the Board was re-organised and John Goodenday became managing director.

In 1937 a new company, Kayser Bondor, was formed. Although the firm had started producing underwear in 1935, it still specialised mainly in stockings or hosiery as the term was in those days.

Second World War

The Second World War led to the Kayser Bondor factories in Baldock and Biggleswade being requisitioned for the war effort. But this did not cause the demise of the business because production continued in a converted cowshed.

After the war ended, Kayser Bondor became the first firm in Britain to produce and sell 15-denier stockings in nylon mesh.

Portslade

Portslade became part of the Kayser Bondor family by a happy coincidence. John Goodenday came to Hove in 1949 to visit his mother. While he was there he heard about the desperate need for light industry in the south and lost no time in contacting Brighton Labour Exchange to see if they could come up with 200 young ladies that he could employ as machinists. He also needed to know if suitable factory space could be found. Amazingly enough within the course of just four days a building in Portslade was acquired for the purpose. 

The factory space was on the second floor of a building formerly occupied by St Andrew’s Church of England School for Girls. The firm of Monnickendam, diamond merchants and diamond cutters occupied the ground floor until they moved to Medina House in the 1950s.

The Portslade factory was such a success that Kayser Bondor decided to open a new factory in Southwick in 1951.

Then Kayser Bondor decided to invest in an entirely new factory at Portslade. By then the company had acquired the whole site; the old school premises were demolished and a new factory built.

By 1957 Kayser Bondor was still entirely British-owned but there was close co-operation with the Julius Kayser Company of America.

When John Goodenday, chairman of Kayser Bondor, celebrated his 60th birthday, Nigel Woodhouse, general manager of the Portslade factory, presented him with his portrait in oils painted by Sir James Gunn. Sir James had painted a memorable full-length portrait of Queen Elizabeth II wearing her coronation robes.

 A New Factory
copyright © Walter E. Owen
Famous ballerina Alicia Markova 
opened the new factory at Portslade.

On 9 October 1957 the world-famous ballerina Alicia Markova (1910-2004) officially opened the new factory. Despite her exotic name she was an English girl, born in London. It is fascinating to recall that as a youngster she was sent to ballet classes to help strengthen weak limbs but subsequently went on to achieve the rare distinction of being recognised as a prima ballerina assoluta. After the great Diaghilev spotted her talent, she joined his Ballet Russes shortly after her 14th birthday. She and Sussex-born Anton Dolin founded the Festival Ballet in 1952.

The new factory covered 38,000 square feet. It was an ultra-modern design with an enormous amount of glass, which provided wonderful natural light to aid the work of the machinists. 

When fully staffed the Portslade factory would employ 650 people, which was a huge rise in numbers from the 50 employees who started off there after the war.

The Press went to town in their descriptions of the building, calling it the Palace of Venus or a Glass Palace of Industry.

In the canteen the artist Basil Armstrong of Poynter Road, Hove, painted an impressive 80-foot mural. He chose to illustrate the Lanes at Brighton in the present day but with a background of figures wearing Regency dress. The canteen was large enough to cater for 200 staff at a single sitting.

By 1957 the combined output of the Portslade and Southwick factories was 50,000 bras and foundation garments a week.

By 1960 the Sussex output was 84,000 garments a week.

Another Kayser Bondor factory was built at Worthing in the early 1960s. It too produced foundation garments like its sister factories in Portslade and Southwick.

New employees had to take a three-part aptitude test, followed by six weeks in the factory training school.

Advert courtesy of the National Library of Australia  (see citation below in 'sources')

Products and Shops

Kayser Bondor had a string of its own shops throughout the country in the early 1960s. There were nearly 200 of them specialising in hosiery and underwear. The company also had concessions with large department stores. In fact at one time the company was one of the main suppliers of undergarments to Marks & Spencers. 

The company produced slips, panties, briefs, nightdresses, pyjamas, bras and suspender belts but gloves were a recent innovation.

 copyright © J.Middleton
This petticoat / slip was manufactured by Kayser Bondor in the 1950s 
in nylon jersey. It was in a shade of pale lemon with tan-edged frills.
 In this photograph the garment is folded and the frill around the
 hem is seen at the top. There was a matching pair of panties. 
The same style was also produced in white with pink-edged frills

Other Factories

Kayser Bondor employed 4,000 people and other factories were at the following locations:

Baldrock
Biggleswade
Dowlais
Pentrebach
St Neotts

There was also a weaving mill in Cumberland.

A Bra Out Front

Portslade-by-sea was so often seen as a hotbed of heavy industry such as the Gas Works and the docks at Shoreham Harbour that it comes as a surprise to remember that there was once a creative centre for female fashion in undergarments.

At Kayser Bondor, Portslade, there was a dedicated team whose task it was to dream up new designs and lines for production. In fact, all the designing was done at Portslade by 1968.

A design known simply as ‘style 100’ was a plain, cotton bra but it was first manufactured at Portslade. One of the most popular designs featured a half-cup of broiderie anglais and was called romantically ‘young star’ but more prosaically ‘style 177’.
Advert courtesy of the National Library of Australia  
(see citation below in 'sources')

Social Life

The management of Kayser Bondor at Portslade took pride in providing their staff with social facilities and a sports club. There was certainly a precedent for this in the example of the famous Ronuk factory at Portslade.

In 1958 Kayser Bondor even went so far as to sponsor the Kayser Bondor Womens’ National Golf Tornament.

Staff with a social conscience could join the Tupenny Club. Two pence from their weekly wage was placed into the kitty and at Christmas time the accumulated fund was used to give donations to local widows and pensioners. Tickets for a pantomime visit were also provided for the girls of Brighton & Hove Girls’ Orphanage. 

In the 1950s and 1960s the management used to put on a Christmas party for its employees at Hove Town Hall.

The majority of staff at the factory was female. There was almost a family feel about the place because there were examples of daughters, sisters, mothers or aunts employed there at the same time.

Staff

Pam Slade was the quality manager and was with the company for 29 years. Marion O’Brien started off as a machinist 32 years previously and worked her way up to become production manager of the factory floor overseeing the work of 146 machinists. The two women remembered the styles popular in the early days when there were only two colours for bras, white or peach, and the cups were much more pointed. By 1984 bras were produced in ten different colours but each one could take up to 30 different stages to complete.

End of the Road

Textile giants Courtaulds took over control of Kayser Bondor in 1966.

Kayser Bondor was still heavily involved with large department stores and with Marks & Spencers in particular. Perhaps it was a case of putting too many eggs in one basket. When the management of Marks & Spencers decided to ditch its patriotic policy of buying British-made goods, it was the death knell for Kayser Bondor. No British company could hope to compete with the marked-down costs of garments produced in overseas sweatshops.

In 1972 the Southwick factory closed and the last Kayser Bondor factory closed its doors in 1978.

Sources

Encyclopaedia of Hove & Portslade
Upton, Judy Inside Shoreham and Southwick (June 2015)
Kayser Wardrobe of Slips advert:- Advertising (1952, October 15). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 24. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article46229517
Treasured in Kayser Nylon advert:- Advertising (1953, September 9). The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), p. 19. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41407890

Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp