In this paper I explore the story of Blighty Tweed, a company established in 1916 to provide employment for disabled veterans and which went on to become one of the most successful schemes of its kind.
In 1916 the director of an Edinburgh weaving company discovered that he could adapt traditional handlooms for use by amputees and provide employment for some of the thousands of unemployed and disabled veterans in the city. The company went on to employ dozens of amputee veterans and their dependents to create ‘The Blighty Tweed Company’. By producing a versatile product, popular and in-demand with the public, it was able to provide sustainable long-term employment for its workers and become successful where other rehabilitation schemes had failed, and by 1920, it had its own trademarked pattern and manufacturing technique.
Part of its success also relied on marketing strategies quite ahead of their time: the company specifically targeted women through their designs and with the notion of a ‘patriotic debt’ owed to the men injured fighting for their country. Workers and their looms were put on display in windows of Edinburgh’s department stores and each piece of tweed was labelled with the name of the man who created it, a tactic referred to as ‘sympathetic contact’ in the company’s advertisements.
At its peak, the company supplied clothes and furnishings to the Royal Family, it was publicly supported by the Director of Harrods and its entire stock for decade with exclusive rights to retail, was bought out by Burberry. Both the company’s goods and its business model were exported around the world and similar schemes, modelled on Blighty Tweed, were established in Australia and the United States.
Despite its success and the recent interest in the First World War’s Centenary, the Blighty Tweed Company appears to have been almost entirely forgotten. At the time of writing, no piece of the fabric could be found in museum collections and there are very few references in public archives. This paper is the first historical investigation into the company and was possible due to the recent release of files by The National Archives, Kew.
Keywords: Disability, First World War, Rehabilitation, Textiles, Veterans.
Biography: Sarah is a final year PhD candidate at Imperial College London and The National Archives. She is a researcher in The Royal British Legion’s Centre for Blast Injury Studies and Imperial College’s Pain Research Group. Her research focuses on the long-term impact of conflict wounds, in particular premature ageing and chronic pain. Her thesis explores how treatments and outcomes for blast injury have developed since the First World War, and whether this data can be used to benefit veterans with similar injuries from the most recent Iraq & Afghanistan conflicts.
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