Gillingham-based glove maker Chester Jefferies is closing its doors in early June after nearly 90 years in business. The company has enjoyed a worldwide reputation for excellence in traditional glove making since 1936, supplying gloves for various members of the Royal family, including her Majesty the Queen.
Mark Pearce has been working for the company since he was 14 years old, currently alongside his son Shaun, who has worked at Chester Jefferies since he left school 17 years ago. “The company was founded in Slough by Mr Chester Jefferies and my grandfather, Mr Gilbert Pearce,” Mark said. “The two of them had developed a new set of knives that were excellent at cutting leather for gloves. They started using a new leather called hog skin (which comes from wild South American peccaries and carpinchio, also known as capybara). This leather was perfect for gloving because it was soft and supple yet very hard wearing. We, the Pearce family, took over the running of the business in the 1950s, moving the business to Gillingham in 1963. At the time there were so many glovemakers in the area that the Yeovil Town Football Club was, and still is, called Glovers.
“Our records show that for a man’s hog skin, hand-sewn, unlined glove in 1936 we received 42 shillings per dozen pairs; today that would be £2.10 per pair.”
Chester Jefferies seems to have been a wonderful place to work, with people leaving school, going straight to work in the factory and staying until retirement. “The factory employed over 50 staff in its heyday,” Mark said. “Many of us went to the Gillingham Comprehensive together. There have been some very happy times; we have worked hard, laughed hard and are all very proud of Chester Jefferies’ achievements over the years.”
“But sadly, we cannot find the staff to fill the gaps of those wanting to retire. We have tried, and have spent a lot of money trying to train up the young, but times have changed. It takes a long time to become a glove maker and I don’t think people have the patience anymore. It takes six to nine months to become a machinist and learn how to cut gloves. However, to master the skilled craft of cutting and make gloves by hand you have to be an apprentice for five years.
“The factory will close sometime this summer. Obviously, it will be hard for the family closing the doors on so many years in the industry, but we have many happy memories, and plenty of stories to tell.”
Chester Jefferies invites everyone to visit for an open day sale at their premises on Buckingham Road (Gillingham SP8 4QE) on 25 June. There are hundreds of gloves still available as well as machinery, tools, fabric, craft material, work benches, shelving, office equipment and furniture.
by Katrina Ffiske