The Market Harborough company, R. & W. H. Symington, which began to make corsets for fashionable Victorian ladies in the 1850s was one of the largest corset manufacturers in Britain. Inevitably based where the cotton mills were in the Midlands, they never marketed under their own name but produced many trade names of their own and for other companies such as Marks and Spencer.

The Symington collection of their products was presented to Leicestershire County Council's Museums Service in 1980. Although it includes some pieces made by their competitors, the collection essentially tells the story of the Symington company over a period of one hundred and thirty years from the 1860s to the 1990s. The collection used to be displayed in a Leicestershire museum but now is confined to the Collection Resources Centre at Barrow-on-Soar. Viewings are available by appointment only.

In their centenary book, 'In Our Own Fashion', the history of Symingtons is recorded from 1856 to 1956 and I must say, the 1956 corset looks quite fearsome! I do like the counterpoint on the right 'A corset and brassière of today'. The girdle is called a corset and the brassière is correctly accented.

We are looking back 55 years to an era when attention to detail was far more highly regarded than today. Symingtons spread their corsetry across the empire and opened factories in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Dundalk in Ireland (below). Like many industrial concerns in the textile industry, good lighting was of paramount importance. The factory was more of a family and cutters and sewers would spend an entire lifetime working for the same company, enjoying the organised outings and the social club facilities.

Regard the line of satin brassières of a quality unknown today.


William Pretty and Sons Ltd.


Symingtons took over the corset manufacturer, Wm. Pretty & Son who went into liquidation in 1930, hence the year in the company's title at this time.  Symington's kept the Wm. Pretty name as it was such an established brand. The photograph of one of the working floors was taken in 1938 when they published a brochure about the business. The factory eventually closed in 1982, then under the Courtauld Group.


The new factory completed in 1881. When finished it was the largest corset factory in this country.

The previous factory is shown to the left, and a bridge connects it to the new factory.

 Photograph taken in June 1931. This view is showing the opposite side of the factory to the previous view. Detached at the right hand side of the photograph is the office accommodation. The bridge had been removed by this time.


The William Pretty & Son (1930) Ltd. factory at Tower Ramparts, Ipswich, Suffolk.

The 'corset stitching and finishing' department.

The interior of part of one floor, titled 'Underwear Machine Room' (1938). Following the First World War, corset sales fell.

The factory diversified by making what was termed 'Artificial Silk Underwear'.Artificial Silk was later known as Rayon.