During the dark years of the British hand-knitting yarn manufacturing business through the 80`s and 90`s, his tenacity, determination, eye for detail and entrepreneurial spirit saw him succeed and grow when many big names in the industry were struggling. This gave him the opportunity to buy struggling businesses and brands, turn them around and make them successful. Consequently the portfolio of well known names in hand knitting grew pretty sizeable. Gateway Ballers was his very first acquisition and others soon followed including Alfred Haley Ltd who had been a limited company since 1897, and who were actually founded in the 1880’s! Big names such as Robert Glews, Carter & Parker, Sunbeam and Argyll were all destined for the history books until Tom Ramsden stepped in and saved the brands. Our second oldest parent company is Carter & Parker from whom we inherited the Wendy and Peter Pan brands, and their history is worth a deeper look:
The capital to bring the Company into being in 1898 was provided by Samuel Carter, he was a woolcomber by trade, as was his father James, but he had a minimal part in the actual running of the company. His son Arthur, a salesman at heart, was to run the company, but Samuel wanted a partner for his son and knew a younger business colleague, named Edwin Parker. Carter & Parker therefore, was a partnership when they started trading in 1898. The partnership was dissolved in 1916, due to policy differences and Arthur Carter bought Edwin’s share. As a sole proprietor Arthur continued until 17th August 1925, when he incorporated Carter & Parker, i.e. it became Carter & Parker Ltd. The majority shareholding was divided between Arthur Carter and his four children.
Carter & Parker’s chief qualities were Cock o’ th’ North and Paragon. In about 1928 the brand name Wendy appeared; the name Wendy was derived from J. M. Barrie’s novel ‘Peter Pan’. Arthur was an acquaintance of Barrie and obtained his permission for the use of the name. He also obtained the use of the name Peter Pan, the only other organisation given permission to the rights was Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Carter & Parker’s standing in the trade, considering its size, was high and at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, Queen Mary commented favourably on the Carter & Parker stand. Unfortunately she did not buy, had she done so, we could have had ‘Wendy By Royal Appointment’!
During the inter-war period the Company employed 100-150 people. During World War II, the Company only just ticked over and post-war austerity made recovery and growth slow. However, by the early 1950’s Carter & Parker were trading well and qualities such as Fashion Fleck, Wendy Nylonette and Wendy Wisp became best sellers. The Company was the first hand knitting spinner to use Courtelle.
Arthur Carter died in 1954 and was succeeded as Chairman and Joint Managing Director by Ewart G. Carter, who had joined the Company in 1929 and his brother Michael, who joined in 1936. In the late 1950’s the Sales force was expanded to become the spearhead of a more professional market-orientated Carter & Parker. Throughout he 1950’s and 60’s the Company grew and flourished and in 1965 launched the Peter Pan brand. With it’s boutique outlook, it was one of the most successful concepts in hand knitting and established to this day our leadership in baby yarns.
With the strength of sales generated by Peter Pan, in 1973 the Company took over Richard Poppleton and Sons of Horbury. Carter & Parker continued to expand with new buildings, warehouses and machinery built and bought between 1958 – 1981. the Company shared fully in the big boom in hand knits which was between 1976 and 1979 and further consolidated its high rating in the trade. In 1950 the company ranked 15th in the trade, but by 1981 this had improved to give a placing of third in the trade.
On 8th May 1978 Ewart G. Carter died very suddenly and David E. Carter was elected as Chairman. Through the 1980’s and early 90’s UK hand knitting shrunk as an industry by an enormous amount. With the rise of cheap ready to wear garments being imported from abroad people stopped knitting as a means of producing cheap clothes. They were able to buy finished garments cheaper than by knitting them. At the same time there was a sudden influx of trendy man-made fibres such as fleece. This was the final nail in the coffin for some businesses and in 1992 Thomas B. Ramsden bought Carter & Parker as a going concern and moved his existing business and brands onto the site in Guiseley.
Today, there are 3 generations of Ramsdens working in the business. Tom Ramsden, now in his eighties, is still Chairman and not only attends Board Meetings, but calls into the Mill regularly to keep an eye on us all!!
His son, Austen Ramsden joined the company in 1998 as Managing Director after a distinguished career in the Army. During the 2000’s he steered the company through some monumental and fundament changes. Whilst virtually every other major competitor in the industry closed their manufacturing in this country, thereby becoming solely distributors; he fought to retain the Company’s roots. A passion for manufacturing using superb fibres and great people, who are willing to produce the best. In 2007 with unrelenting financial pressure from cheaper suppliers abroad, we finally, and with great reluctance, were forced to close the spinning department. However Austen was determined to keep what he could in terms of jobs and processes. Today we employ around 80 members of staff and still retain UK manufacturing including a balling, relaxing and finishing mill. There are still many of the staff from the early days, some with more than 50 years service!
His wife, Gabrielle, joined him in the business, after completing a Fine Arts degree at Leeds University, and heads up a busy Design Department. After a few years of trying to turn the proverbial oil tanker around we believe the leaflet and book support of recent years is a significant improvement on the past. The department has made huge efforts to modernise both the content and presentation of its design support and the latest Peter Pan and Wendy collections show all their hard work has paid off.
The latest member of the family to join the business is our Sales Director; Thomas Ramsden (he had to really, with a name like that!!) who joined in 2011. He is the oldest of Austen and Gabrielle’s 3 sons, and whilst it is still early days for him, he has already started making his mark on the company by heading up projects such as regeneration of the website, creating a social media presence, implementing B2B online ordering, and getting out on the road with the Sales Representatives to meet, greet and listen to customers. His younger two brothers have also played their part in the business; you might have seen them modelling garments in some of the Wendy patterns!!
Our hand knitting design and yarn collections are manufactured using the finest fibres and materials and offer discerning knitters the widest choice of options, styles and colours available from any single company. Our principal brands Wendy, Peter Pan, erika knight, Twilleys of Stamford and Robin are well recognised and known around the world where they are synonymous with quality and value.
The pinnacle of our brands and at the top of the market is the erika knight brand. Erika started out as a fine art student in Brighton but couldn’t keep from raiding the stores in the fashion department in search of textiles. She co-launched what became a hugely successful hand-knit label ‘Molto!’. Design and fashion forecasting work followed for a range of top brands including Marks & Spencer, Nicole Farhi, H&M, Whistles, Rowan Yarns and Coats PLC. Alongside this were her real passions; projects that celebrated the things she really cared about – the craft element of design and the very human scale and pace of knitting or crocheting unique, personal treasures, as well as the desire to respect the natural world and sustain its resources. Erika has published more than 25 books on knitting and crocheting with her ‘simple’ ethos. Having launched her own eponymous hand knit yarn label in 2012, determined to support British manufacturing and share her unwaveringly-held belief in the importance of treading lightly on the earth whilst celebrating traditional British skills, Erika’s style has developed into a covetable brand. She states, “My yarn collection is a small selection of yarns in a muted palette of colours with fashion highlights that I hope will inspire you to create, craft and covet…My ethos is simple: to keep sheep grazing our beautiful landscape, to promote our distinctive British sheep breeds and to make it all here in Britain, supporting British manufacturing. Wool is naturally soft, comfortable and sustainable, making it the ultimate fibre for the hand knitter. All my yarns are dyed with environmentally friendly dye stuffs to European standards.”
Sitting in the middle of the market, due to its outstanding value, is the Wendy collection. We think of it in two distinct parts, firstly and most importantly is the Wendy Classics. This 21 yarn range collection has established long lasting classic yarns, consisting of a mix of blends and pure natural fibres (17 of them are 75% natural fibre or higher!!!). These are classic weights and traditional twists, perfect for making the heirloom pieces knitters enjoy creating for themselves. Our Wendy Fashion is a more diverse collection, encompassing everything from all natural fibre alpaca and wool blends through to pure polyester hairy yarns, and sophisticated adult design to fun kids scarf kits. This collection is on trend and can react and change to the swings and fads of fashion. We aim for each fashion yarn to be in the collection for 2 years at the outset, although if it is really desirable and fits the brief it might even find its way into the more established Classic range.
The Peter Pan design and yarn collection is the epitome of stylish and fashionable hand knitting and crochet perfect for babies, toddlers and children. The Peter Pan DK range has an incredibly wide selection of colours from the most delicate soft pastels through to bright and vibrant fashion shades and fun special effect colours that really appeal to the fashion conscious. Peter Pan only uses the finest quality fibre blends that are known for their softness, durability and also non-allergic properties. Merino Baby DK and Merino Baby 4ply, recent additions to the range, break with tradition as they are 100% pure merino wool. With a multi-end “Italian twist” construction these two yarns are now the flagship of the range and offer incredible softness with amazing stitch definition.
Twilleys of Stamford:
The Twilleys of Stamford design and yarn collection is at the forefront of modern yarn crafting. Freedom Wool, which is a 100% pure natural fibre, whilst being great for normal knitting or crochet, is amazing for felting. The latest design collections from Twilleys have really pushed this angle with many projects designed specifically for felting. Goldfingering is also a great all-round craft yarn, the metallised thread is the quintessential embellishment yarn!
However it is not just hand-knitting yarns and patterns we produce. Twilleys of Stamford have not only a wonderful needlecraft collection, consisting of Cross-Stitch, Long-Stitch and Tapestry; but also a range of craft fabrics for general sewing, quilting and crafting. They also have a range of knit & crochet kits which are perfect for gifts, and they have a range of children/beginner kits across all the crafting disciplines. They also provide a haberdashery range to support the knitter, crocheter or crafter, including pins, hooks, buttons and needles.
The Robin collection of yarns offers knitters truly outstanding value at modest prices. The majority of the collection is 100% acrylic, it is our bread and butter range and we sell more Robin by volume than all the other ranges put together. In Robin DK 100g alone we sell nearly 5,000,000 balls every year!! It is the entry level yarn that is superb for learners, charity knitters or experienced crafters alike. The Robin collection is one of the largest of its type offering a fantastic range of shades as well as ranges of neps and fashion yarns. We only use the finest quality materials available be they wool (and we only use British Wool in our Robin yarns), acrylic, nylon or polyester.