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Home / Culture and Heritage / First Garden City Heritage Museum / Letchworth Buildings / The Spirella Building / Spirella factory being built
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Spirella factory being built


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When the Spirella Company of Great Britain, manufacturers of corsets, decided to establish itself in Letchworth, the Garden City was only 7 years old. The only available accommodation was the wooden sheds that had been built by First Garden City Limited to temporarily house the labourers who were employed to construct the Garden City. Production commenced in March 1910, with 25 employees and 12 machines. The working conditions were cramped, with poor lighting and little warmth. At times the building was also inhabited by rats. Space for a more permanent factory was sought.

The Spirella Factory was designed by the architect Cecil Hignett and with its large windows and garden setting it became known as ‘The Factory of Beauty’. However, it began life quite controversially, as the company had chosen a site well away from the designated industrial zone and adjacent to the main shopping area. The factory was built between 1912 and 1920. An extension was added in 1939 with further additions in the 1950’s.

The company offered excellent welfare provision. Employees received subsidised medical care including optical and dental treatment. The factory had bathrooms that were available to staff for half and hour each week, during work time. Physical culture lessons were widely available and there were regular tea breaks. An educational department provided staff training at no extra cost.

The company was an American firm whose unique selling point was the ‘Spirella Stay’, the stiffening part of the corset. These were usually made of bone, but the Spirella stay was in the shape of a flat spring that provided the corset wearer with greater flexibility. Spirella lingerie was made to measure and sold, not through shops, but through local ‘corsetieres’ who were highly trained in fitting corsets. By 1950 the company employed around 5,000 corsetieres.

1922 was a very good year as the company received its highest ever order of corsets: 419,174. Corsets would never be quite as popular as at this time, employed as they were to create the perfect ‘flapper’ slimline figure, but the decline was not obvious until the late 1960’s. However, the company never exclusively made corsets. During World War 2 they produced abdominal belts to assist officers in looking smart in their uniforms. For ladies they made smart carry boxes for gas masks. In the 1960’s the company branched out into swimwear and a Spirella swimming costume was worn by Ann Sidney, Miss Great Britain in the Miss World contest in 1964. Around this period they were also producing ready-made underwear and clothes.

The company continued until its eventual closure in 1985. The building was renovated by Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation and is now used as offices.

13th Aug 2009

Art and Design, Citizenship, Design and Technology, Geography, History

Key Stages:
Foundation, Key Stage 1, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4+

architecture, Arts and Crafts, Letchworth, building, Garden City, Spirella

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