Curator’s talk on knitwear trade of yesteryear

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A LARGE attendance turned out to hear museum curator Shona Sinclair give her Archaeological Society talk, entitled A Touch Of Class, about Messrs Innes, Henderson & Co/Braemar Knitwear.

Alexander Pringle Innes was born on March 29, 1837, at Robin’s Nest, Yair. James Henderson was born in Edinburgh in 1840 and served his time in the hosiery trade with Messrs Waterson, George Street, Edinburgh. Alexander Pringle Innes and James Henderson established Messrs Innes, Henderson & Co in Wilton Grove which many will know as White’s of Hawick.

There was mention of a strike in 1872 when the machines were moved to Edinburgh and the workers were invited to go with them. This strike lasted 11 weeks and after it was over power frames were moved in and this was to be the way forward. Innes Henderson expanded at a phenomenal rate and in 1875 the firm erected Victoria Mills. In 1885, after 17 years trading, for reasons that aren’t yet understood, A. P. Innes and J. Henderson dissolved their partnership.

James Henderson adopted the trade name Hendawick, a play on the word Henderson and Hawick; while A.P. Innes adopted the trademark Braemar and its iconic stag trademark.

Alexander Pringle Innes died at his home, The Firs, Sunnyhill, on May 9, 1889, in his 53rd year. James Henderson died at his home, Woodside, on January 12, 1901. He was 63 and was buried in Wilton Cemetery.

The two companies continued trading during the First World War and both carried on business as usual. However, with time, the government influenced production, offering contracts for supplying garments to the war effort.

During the war as men and apprentices left in droves to join up, women were recruited. At this time the convention was that married women gave up working and managed the home, but the majority of frame-workers were women. The war had a devastating effect on the Hawick mills as a whole. The world would never be the same again. The roll of honour from A. P. Innes is displayed in the museum.

In the August of 1919, Sir Thomas Henderson was knighted in recognition of his work for the community during the war years. Business was booming and the company announced “Purchase of premises for extension in Commercial Road.”

The following year, James Henderson and A. P. Innes entered into negotiations with a view to reamalgamation. These talks began in the North British Hotel, Edinburgh, on Monday, April 9, 1919. After the death of his father in 1909, Thomas became senior partner in the family firm of James Henderson & Son and on the reamalgamation of the companies became the first chairman of Innes Henderson and Co, remaining a director until he died.

Thomas Henderson took a keen interest in the welfare of his workers and over the years he became Hawick’s generous donor. In 1934 he was awarded the freedom of Hawick.In October, 1928, Sir Thomas realised a long-held ambition when, in order to further education of the town’s apprentices, he financed construction of the Henderson Technical College. The building cost £18,000 and the opening ceremonial key was presented to Lady Henderson. With the reamalgamation of Innes Henderson in 1920 the company was now the largest hosiery mill in Hawick, employing over 1,100 workers. In 1931, its underwear sales amounted to 23,646 dozen, with overwear sales at 25,228 dozen. Today the sales would be valued at over £22million.

In 1924, Braemar described its output as “knit wear,” using two separate words. By 1928 it is described as “knitted outerwear,” and finally the first mention of “knitwear” as one word comes barely six months later in the 1929 spring brochure. From this sequence it is interesting to speculate that perhaps it was Braemar which coined the phrase “knitwear.”

Business again carried on during the Second World War and the firm continued to flourish after the war. Sir Thomas Henderson, whose skill and business acumen oversaw the phenomenal growth of Innes Henderson, died on May 3, 1951. In August, 1952, Innes Henderson issued a press announcement to the effect that it was to be known as Braemar Knitwear Company.

In October, 1961, the chairman, Arthur G. Hill, announced the firm had accepted an offer from Scottish and Universal Investments Limited, whose chairman, Sir Hugh Fraser, made an offer Braemer couldn’t refuse. The company was sold and became part of a larger group which included Ballantyne Sportswear.

The 1953, the British Mount Everest expedition, led by Colonel John Hunt, was the first to conquer mountain, and they wore Braemar underwear and jerseys. In April, 1970, Dawson International took over Scottish Border Cashmere Limited which included Braemar Knitwear and the Ballantyne Sportswear Company. At this time Dawson’s also had several knitwear manufacturers including Pringle of Scotland, McGeorge of Dumfries, Barrie Knitwear and Glenmac.

Braemar Knitwear’s 1992 spring/summer range turned out to be its last classic range. Shortly afterwards a major shake-up was announced that would see the amalgamation of four companies into United Brands.

In February, 2004, Victoria Mills was demolished. After 136 years, Innes Henderson and Braemar Knitwear was gone! In its place is Hawick Community Hospital, which opened in July, 2005.

The lecture was accompanied by excellent slides of the factory and Braemar products from the museum archive. Shona also described the transition from knitted underwear to outerwear in great detail. A vote of thanks was given by honorary secretary Gerald M. Graham on what was an excellent lecture.