We are glove makers. That is really all we do. But we try to do it really well and we have been doing it for a long time. We do it because we think that gloves are important and because a good pair of gloves is a thing of joy. You may be surprised to learn that there are 2.5 meters (that’s 8 foot) of stitching in a pair of gloves and at Cornelia James we have spent over 70 years trying to make each stitch perfect. And we've got a Royal Warrant - glovemakers by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.
“Design student flees Nazi scourge, arrives in England with suitcase full of fabrics, finds fame and fortune as glove maker to the Queen”.
Cornelia had studied art and design in Vienna and arrived in England as a refugee in 1939. After the war, in a world made drab by rationing, the leather gloves that she made in a huge range of colours became fashion essentials. Vogue magazine profiled her as “the colour Queen of England” and Cornelia quickly established a thriving business supplying gloves to couturiers and leading stores.
MARRIAGE OF PRINCESS ELIZABETH TO LT. PHILIP MOUNTBATTEN
Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth ll – did not wear gloves for her wedding. But, when she made the short trip in an open landau from Buckingham Palace to Waterloo station to begin her honeymoon, the new bride, accompanied by her husband and Susan, her corgi, wore an outfit in mist blue by Norman Hartnell and gloves by Cornelia James.
Melbourne Cup Day
The world of fashion and society at large is rocked by the news that Jean Shrimpton – first of the super-models – has attended the Melbourne Cup race meeting, Australia’s premier social event – wearing a mini-dress and no gloves.
The Lord Chamberlain, by order of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll, is pleased to grant Cornelia James a Royal Warrant as ‘Glove manufacturer by appointment to Her Majesty’. A Royal Warrant is a mark of excellence that is instantly recognised all over the world. Royal Warrant holders are ‘united by a commitment to the highest standards of service, quality and excellence’. That’s the theory. In practice, what it means to us is that we try to treat all our customers as royalty and, when we see the white gloved Royal hand waving at the window of the big, black car as it pulls away, we know that it’s probably our glove on the hand. And that puts a spring in our step.
Disaster Narrowly Avoided
In preparation for the Queen’s visit to Korea, Buckingham Palace order a dozen pairs of white cotton gloves. The gloves are despatched. On the eve of Her Majesty’s departure Cornelia James receives an anguished (note – ‘anguished’ not ‘panicked’ – the Palace never panics) call from Buckingham Palace: the gloves have not arrived. Cornelia James reels and then rallies. Replacement gloves are found but – late on Saturday evening – delivery is a problem. As dawn breaks on Sunday – the day of the Queen’s departure – Andrew Lawson, Genevieve James’ husband, leaps heroically into the saddle of his powerful motorbike and roars off in the direction of London and the Palace... continue
The move to the Ripe 'Centre of Excellence'
Cornelia James has had four addresses since 1946. From 1955 to 2002 the company was based at 123 Havelock Road, Brighton in a building that had been built in the 19th century to house dairy cows and provide milk to the population of Brighton. Since 2010 our address has been The Old Cattle Stall, Hall Court Farm, Ripe. Does that mean that we have developed an affinity with cows? No - but good machinists are as rare as hen’s teeth these days and we are where the talent is.
Cornelia James & HeiQ Materials
The Pandemic Strikes
The pandemic hits the UK. The World is a sad and sombre place, united in gloom and despondency. At Cornelia James, moments of indecision give way to a mood of resolute determination. The message from the Prime Minister is: "If you can work from home, you must work from home. If you can't work from home, you should go to work." Sewing machines are trailered all across the county. Who will take the button-holer, who the pointer and who the binder? Some gloves need machining by three different machines. A skeleton crew remains at Hall Court Farm to manage cutting and distribution. There is some creaking and groaning (from the organisation, not the personnel) but, quite soon, operational viability is restored. There are some delays, some disruptions but we have a willing and resourceful team and truly wonderful customers with the patience of saints.
The factory reopens. During the lockdown we have reorganised, erected screens, moved machines, taken on more space, recruited new members to the team; we are ready.
Cornelia James partners with HeiQ Materials AG of Zurich, Switzerland to produce gloves treated with HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03. The Viroblock treatment uses a combination of silver and HeiQ's vesicle technology to promote the rapid breakdown of viruses and microbes on contact, while making no changes to the look or feel of our cotton. It is style and technology in perfect harmony and at Cornelia James we are back on the front foot.
Some of the machinery that we use is quite old. Our gloves are die cut using a manually operated lever press made by WH Hallett & Sons of Yeovil, Somerset over 100 years ago. We’re not sentimental about it – we use it because it does the job very effectively and, when it’s not actually cutting gloves, it’s completely silent; a large and brooding presence in the cutting room.
Our Singer sewing machines are of the epoch when such machines were still made in the USA and our button hole machine is a Pfaff – made in Germany and the best you could get in 1957 when it was purchased. It’s a mechanical marvel and now – 60 years on – just a little temperamental, as is its operator, who is Italian and passionate about perfect button holes.