BERISFORDS RIBBONS HERITAGE

BERISFORDS RIBBONS HERITAGE

IN THE CUT-THROAT BUSINESS OF TEXTILES, WHICH HAS SEEN SO MANY COMPANIES FALL TO THE INFLUENCES OF FOREIGN PRODUCTION AND IMPORTS, BERISFORDS HAS GOOD REASON TO CELEBRATE ITS SURVIVAL.

As a company, it all began for Berisfords back in 1858, with Charles Berisford and his brothers Francis and William. The John Clowes book “Ribbons and Bows” recalls that Charles was only 28 when he founded the company, but his association with the textile industry started at the tender age of nine. Working in a mill, he was so small he had to stand on a stool to reach his bench.

Gaining an education at Sunday school and later at nightschool he was eventually considered an educated man with a sound commercial knowledge.

By 1858, Charles realised his dream of founding a company of his own. The brothers leased part of Victoria Mill, on Foundry Bank. By 1872, they were able to buy the entire factory. Success for Berisfords continued and by the time of Charles’s death, in 1898, the company had offices in London, Manchester, Leeds and Bristol.

With the turn of the 20th century, Charles’s son Harry headed the business, assisted by his younger brothers Philip and Ernest. Philip moved to London in 1902, to manage the company’s offices there. He stayed there until he retired in 1924.

Trade was poor during the First World War, although railway orders and demand for uniform braids kept things going. As employees returned from the war, they found things had improved.

Hours of work were better and weavers no longer had to provide their own glue, scissors and candles. Progress continued in the 1930s, as work on converting mills from steam to electricity got underway.

Harry Berisford died in 1936 and Ernest became head of the company but was the last to carry on the company name.

Sebire was the name of the next generation, that being the married name of Charles Berisford’s daughter Lillie. Her son John spent a lifetime with the company and her other son Charles would one day become chairman. Then there was Harold Rippon, a nephew of Harry Berisford’s wife, who joined the firm in 1909, eventually becoming joint managing director. As with so many, Berisfords survived its fair share of upheavals during the Second World War.

John Sebire saw active service in the Far East and was awarded the Burma Star. His thoughts were never far from the business, though, and while visiting a market in Calcutta he found a ribbon stall. He sent samples home which later led to the creation of an attractive range of ribbons.

And so the company moved on. The 1950s saw the introduction of woven label manufacturing and the quest to keep up to date with the latest trends and techniques led to fact-finding trips around the world. The Sebire connection continued with John’s eldest son Stephen joining the firm. After working in a textile factory in Germany and receiving private lessons in weaving, not to mention being called up for National Service, Stephen was appointed production director and was eventually to become managing director.

Berisfords became a public company in 1961 and continued to look further afield for new business opportunities. By now the firm was able to dye and finish it products – a task previously undertaken by specialist companies – and the need for diversification led to the introduction of the trimmings process to the firm. The 1960s and ’70s saw Berisfords take on the world, boldly venturing into new markets in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, the USA and Europe.

Berisfords survived the upheaval of two world wars and in 1992 became part of the Swiss-based Kuny Group.

By the mid-70s export sales amounted to £1.5 million and the company was employing 800 people in Congleton and elsewhere, including Wales and Ireland. The Berisford Group eventually became part of the Ferguson Group. But the trimming and ribbon manufacturing sides were offered to management, with Stephen and Julian Sebire taking on the ribbon side of the business.

By 1992 Berisfords Ribbons merged with the Kuny Group, from Switzerland, specialists in velvet ribbons, which was followed by a large investment in machinery and systems – and so began the latest chapter in the firm.