Brand in Focus Bridgedale Socks

Little Things Matter

In 1915 in a shed at the rear of his parent’s garden on Bangor Road, Newtownards, Northern Ireland, a young man called John J. Black with the assistance of his younger brother decided to go into the sock business.

After he had come to the end of his apprenticeship with Messer’s Stevenson & Co, John J Black set about establishing a business that still exists over 100 years later.

With the help of his mother, who gave him his first financial leg up from her pitiful savings, and his brother Black & Company was born, making, and selling socks. John’s mother would work until the end of her days supporting her son to expand and grow his company. At the beginning of the company’s journey Johns mother would often dye, wash, and finish the socks herself.

In the beginning Black and Company had no machinery, all the raw materials were delivered to the shed at the bottom of the garden and then distributed amongst local Newtownards to hand knit in their own homes.

John and his brother George had an old bicycle that they would use to transport the materials to their knitters and then collect once they had been completed. When they returned to the shed, Mrs Black, their mother, would finish and wash the items whilst John and George, stamped, parcelled, and dispatched their products.

From a young age John was a savvy businessman and his shed was soon to become too small. Seeing the potential development of a surrounding property as a mill, John J Black and his new wife bought a dwelling house and yard very close to it in Thomas Street, Newtownards.

With the larger premises John was able to comfortably expand his business, adding winding, knitting, linking, and dyeing machinery.

By the 1930’s the business had 100 knitting machines and was in full production. In 1933 Johns eldest son George had joined the business at the age of 14. Under the guidance of his father, he soon learnt every aspect of the trade.

In 1939 and the advent of war Black and Company were primarily focused on the introduction of ‘Utility Socks’. With a reputation for keen pricing Black and Company acquired vast contracts.

Immediately after the war the contracts dropped away and with so many years being spent on supplying the war efforts many regular customers had been lost. Expansion plans had been shelved and short working time was introduced.

In 1946, after being demobbed another of Johns sons Harold joined the family firm. George was now in charge as his father was suffering from failing health.

In 1948, after completing his accountancy course William, Johns other son joined the firm, and it became a PLC with John as Governing Director and his three boys all taking Directorships. The change at the top was not the only change to happen and the company formulated a vast expansion plan and re-equipment program which was to begin a new era in the company’s history.

New fancy socks were now being produced as well as better quality and new styles in the gentleman sock range and were now marketed under the Blaxnit name.

In 1951 John J Black died. Crippling death duties had a huge impact on the company as well as the loss of the founding father. However, their fathers, impeccable business acumen had been passed through the genes and his sons pooled their knowledge and resources together in an endeavour to save the company.

Bridgedale Socks Factory workers in the 1940's

Step forward 70 years and you will see that Black and Company has become Bridgedale through several owners over the years, but the heritage has always been at the forefront of each new owner’s mind.

When Bridgedales created their first 12 new products in the 80’s they used three principles of Fit, Fusion Tech and Guarantee. Moving forward through innovative production has helped Bridgedale become one of the leading companies in the making of technological socks that feel brand new after every wash.

Producing socks for a range of outdoor activities from walking, trekking, and mountaineering to trail running, skiing and everyday wear. The company continues to be a market leader and now produces over 500 styles of socks which are dispatched across the world.

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