Thomas Burberry inventor of gabardine
Thomas Burberry became famous for inventing a method of
waterproofing cloth, which he called gabardine. Burberry
lived in Basingstoke in the middle of the 19th century, where he ran a drapers
shop. The invention originated from a discussion one day with a local Shepherd.
Burberry remarked on the ability of the Shepherd's smock to resist the rain,
which the shepherd put down to the sheep dipping, where he thought the smock
absorbed some oily substance from the wool. Burberry thought about this idea and
finally came up with a method of waterproofing that he could apply to the yarn
before weaving, as well as to the finished cloth itself.
In 1868 Burberry set up a factory in New Street and the firm flourished until in
the early 1900's the Burberry store in Winchester Street was expanded to occupy
a large site. In 1892 a mill was built in London Street to manufacture the
cloth. This mill employed many local women and girls. It's well known of
Burberry's kindness that he showed to any of these staff who suddenly became ill
or widowed. Burberry was a devout Baptist and every morning staff would begin
with a prayer meeting.
A few years later, with his son, he started a small
business in a local hotel, giving fittings and taking orders. Two years later
work had become so demanding that a shop was opened in the Haymarket. This
eventually grew into the Burberry company of today.
In April 1905, a fire started in the Basingstoke store in Winchester Street. The
shop was completely gutted, causing £30,000 worth of damage. Burberry rebuilt
the store on the same site. In later life Burberry lived in Hook, and rode by horseback to
Basingstoke every day, even when he was well past 70. One day he fell from his
horse and was found in a ditch, from that day on he had to find another form of
transport. Thomas Burberry died in 1926 at the age of 91.
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