Crafting the future for over 120 years
The Home of Craft is the new location for Thomas B. Ramsden: designers and distributors of erika knight, Wendy, Peter Pan, Robin and Twilleys. As a family business with a proud history stretching back over 120 years we feel well placed to establish ourselves as the home of craft. “Location, location, location” as they say, and the creation of this new site is our first step into the future of craft, maintaining our heritage at the core of everything we do but keeping our focus ahead to encourage and enable a wider community to share in our passion for the handmade. Here you will be able to access our unique digital archive of patterns, browse and shop our five respected brands, follow our blog for news, stories and updates, and find your local stockist.
Originally founded in Bradford and Wakefield you can now find three generations of Ramsdens residing in a newly refurbished office, design studio and warehouse in Guiseley on the north side of Leeds. Yorkshire has a rich heritage of yarn industry and we are extremely grateful to be able to continue this crafting culture. Whilst we no longer spin any yarn on site, our experience and knowledge of all aspects of the hand knit industry – from raw fibre, to spinning, balling, finishing and selling – affords us a unique position in the British craft business. Today, Thomas, the Grandson of the founding Tom Ramsden is sales director supported by a close-knit team, some of whom have worked for the company for over 50 years.
Tom Ramsden founded his eponymous company in the 1960s, having been a wool man for all of his life. From the age of 15 he worked as an apprentice learning with passion and interest the skills of grading raw fleeces and working in the scouring, carding and combing departments before becoming a master spinner. He created his first brand ‘Waterwheel’ soon after and with dedication and foresight Tom Ramsden succeeded in not only surviving the decline of the British hand knitting manufacturing industry in the 1980s and 90s, but with tenacity and determination he successfully grew his business. His entrepreneurial spirit prevailed and seeing an opportunity, Tom Ramsden bought up struggling brands to rescue them from the annals of history and re-energise them for a contemporary market. Gateway Ballers was his very first acquisition and others soon followed including Alfred Haley Ltd, which was founded in the 1880s. Important industry names including Robert Glews, Sunbeam and Argyll were all revived and nurtured by Tom Ramsden.
It is the iconic brands of Wendy and Peter Pan, inherited from another family business, Carter & Parker, for which Thomas B Ramsden is probably best known today, and the history of this business bought by Tom Ramsden in 1992 is worth exploring.
Samuel Carter provided the capital to establish the company in 1898, and although he was a second-generation wool comber by trade, he played a minimal part in the day-to-day running of the business. It was Samuel’s son Arthur, a salesman at heart, who was to run the company, partnered by a younger business colleague of Samuel, named Edwin Parker. After some years 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 the company, creating Carter & Parker Ltd. The majority shareholding was divided between Arthur Carter and his four children. At this time Carter & Parker’s principal yarn qualities were ‘Cock o’ th’ North’ and ‘Paragon’. It was around 1928 that ‘Wendy’ first appeared as a brand. The name Wendy was derived from a character in J. M. Barrie’s stage play and later novel, ‘Peter Pan’. It was Barrie himself who gave permission for the use of the name ‘Wendy’ and also ‘Peter Pan’ (which later became a brand in its own right), as he was an acquaintance of Arthur Carter. The only other organisation given permission to the copyright was Great Ormond Street Hospital, in 1929. Despite its relatively small scale, Carter & Parker’s standing in the trade was considerable and at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924, Queen Mary commented favourably on the Carter & Parker stand. Unfortunately she did not make a purchase; had she done so, Wendy could have been ‘by Royal Appointment’!
During the inter-war period Arthur Carter had nearly 150 employees, but World War 2 saw trade slow significantly and post-war austerity made recovery and growth slow. However, by the early 1950s Carter & Parker were trading well and yarns such as Fashion Fleck, Wendy Nylonette and Wendy Wisp became best sellers. Arthur Carter died in 1954 and was succeeded as Chairman and Joint Managing Director by his son Ewart G. Carter, who had joined the company in 1929, along with his brother Michael, who joined in 1936. In the late 1950s the sales force was expanded to become the spearhead of a more professional market-orientated Carter & Parker. Throughout the 1950s and 60s the company flourished, becoming the first hand knitting spinner to use the newly conceived synthetic fibre Courtelle, and in 1965 launched the Peter Pan brand. With its boutique concept, Peter Pan was, and remains, one of the most successful baby brands in hand knitting. The strength of sales generated by Peter Pan afforded the company to purchase Richard Poppleton and Sons of Horbury in 1973. Carter & Parker continued to expand with new buildings, warehouses and machinery built and bought between 1958 and 1981, and enjoyed the boom in popularity of hand knits between 1976 and 1979, which further consolidated its high rating within the industry, ranking third in the trade by 1981.
On 8th May 1978 Ewart G. Carter died very suddenly and David E. Carter was elected as Chairman. Throughout the 1980s and early 90s the UK hand knitting industry suffered huge losses, struggling to compete with the rise of cheap ready-to-wear textiles being imported from abroad, as consumers were able to purchase finished garments far cheaper than by knitting them by hand. At the same time there was an influx of technical man-made fibres such as fleece, and many hand knitting brands simply could not stay afloat. In 1992 Tom Ramsden bought Carter & Parker as a going concern and moved all his existing brands onto the current site in Guiseley. His son, Austen Ramsden joined the company in 1998 as Managing Director after a distinguished career in the Army. During the 2000s he steered the company through some monumental and fundamental changes. Whilst virtually every other major competitor in the industry closed their UK manufacturing, thereby becoming solely distributors, Austen fought to retain the company’s roots in spinning with his knowledge of fibre and passion for quality. It was only 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 maintain what he could in terms of jobs and processes, and up until 2017 we retained manufacturing in Yorkshire including a balling, relaxing and finishing mill. In September 2014 Thomas B Ramsden became sole distributors of the premium design-led brand of prominent knitwear designer erika knight, a natural and sustainable yarn collection.
Today, as we take up residence at The Home of Craft, we continue to be a family run business with Thomas Ramsden working alongside his brother Henry and supported by both his father and grandfather who still attend board meetings and take an avid interest in the business. 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 erika knight, Wendy, Peter Pan, Robin and Twilleys are well recognised and known around the world where they are synonymous with quality and value. Our mission is to sustain a simple and dependable ethos of quality and service supported by our history of manufacturing expertise and creative innovation.
Welcome to The Home of Craft.