A History of Cordings
In 1839, at the age of 35, Mr John Charles Cording opened his first shop at 231 The Strand as outfitter and waterproofers. The building stood in the shadow of the Temple Bar the famous symbolic entry point to the City of London. It was in 1839 when Queen Victoria paid her first official visit to the City with the grand procession passing right outside number 231; she had been on the throne a mere three years at the time. 1839 was also the year William Fox Talbot invented modern photography and Charles Dickens published Nicholas Nickleby.
John Cording started the business from his home with his sister Ellen and his mother Mary. In 1857 he employed his young cousin Henry Wilson, who eventually inherited the business, as John had no son or heir to whom he could leave the business. John's brother George was also employed for some years before establishing on his own in 1869.
The Temple Bar
The gate was built after "The Great Fire" had destroyed the centre of London in 1666. It is attributed to the architect Sir Christopher Wren, as were some of the surrounding buildings. The original gate or bar marked the boundary between the old city, controlled by the Lord Mayor and the Monarch controlled the rest of the country. The original building was moved, stone by stone, and rebuilt in North London as the Lodge to the Estate of a private individual. Today, it sadly lies in a state of disrepair.
Cordings' range of clothing soon expanded to include a complete tailoring service. An advertisement in 1860 refers to "nautical and sporting waterproofers and tailors", and lists such items as "the new dreadnought coat—warranted to resist the effects of any climate" and "sheet India rubber fishing boots". The Duke of Connaught frequented the shop and in 1871 Sir Henry Morton Stanley was kitted out in preparation for his famous journey to find Dr Livingstone. These famous waterproof garments were the predecessor to the famous Cordings rubberised Macintosh which was considered essential kit in the hunting field and by early motorists in their open top cars.
Cordings was quickly becoming synonymous with outdoor living and was an important shop for all city gentlemen to call at before venturing into the countryside.
In 1877 the business transferred to 19 Piccadilly, and in 1902 was incorporated into a Limited Company—J.C. Cording & Co Limited. Additional premises were acquired at 24 Jermyn Street and 35 St James's Street, still called Cording House today. Off-the-peg tweed suits were introduced and the famous covert coat appeared. The Covert coat was so named because of the protection it afforded the rider when riding through thick coverts. All tailoring and bootmaking took place in the huge basement of 19 Piccadilly, which extended right through to Regent Street. The waterproofs were still noted for their quality, hence the original shop signage which remains to this today.
In the early 1900s, Westminster Council announced a plan to widen Piccadilly, which entailed destroying the frontage of number 19 and of the hotel next door. Cordings resisted in vain although they received a compensation claim of over £30,000. Eventually the corner block was rebuilt with the original façade, which stands today. During the period of disruption, the business was carried out from 35 St James's Street. The Company expanded by acquiring both Grant and Cockburn Ltd and Stoney's of Charing Cross Road. Negotiations were concluded with Denman & Company to take over the first floor at number 20 Piccadilly.
Advertisements refer to the "Original Cordings" and jackets such as the Foray were made from Cording company material. The shop assistant would inform the Gentleman customer "tends to stream on both sides, Sir", a reference to the garment;s retention of heat. Cordings high-grade waders were long-lived because the rubber could not be of better quality. Sadly, the Croom-a-Boo cycle cover at twenty-five shillings was not such a lasting success. Invented in 1897 by Lord Fitzgerald and manufactured by J.C. Cording, the cover was made of stout waterproof canvas with strong leather straps. It completely enveloped a bicycle whilst still enabling it to be wheeled on to train or steamer.
Ann Wilson now took steps to hand the business over to her two daughters, Louisa Riley and Mabel Cottell. Ann was married to Henry Wilson, cousin of the original John Cording and she died in 1919 whilst still on the board of J.C. Cording and Co Ltd.1909 Burberrys v Cordings in the High Court
After the re-occupation of 19 Piccadilly, J.C. Cording & Company were granted the Prince of Wales warrant, as Waterproofers to the future King George V. Business was healthy, but a minor storm cloud arose from a smaller West End rival. Burberrys, who had been marketing rainwear since their foundation in 1894, brought legal action against Cordings over the use of the term "slip-on". The High Court agreed that the term had been in general use in connection with light rainwear since well before 1894 and Burberrys lost their case with costs awarded to Cordings.
In 1922, the young Prince of Wales adopted Cordings as one of his outfitters in the manner of his father before him. In the 1920s, the famous Newmarket and Idstone boots were patented. Cordings made Newmarket boots for the Queen Mother, the Duke of Windsor (his address book shown opposite shows the telephone number remains the same to this day) and Mrs Simpson. Its worth noting that the rugs used on the thoroughbreds trained at Newmarket were also the inspiration for the Tattersall shirts produced by Cordings and are now copied all over the world.
Unfortunately, at around that time, planning permission was granted to replace Nash's Regent Street designs with a new office development. Cordings lost their Regent Street side and their Air Street workshops. The depression of the late twenties and thirties was not good for Cordings and the St James's shop was closed.
As the war years approached, business resumed some of its stability, but the manufacturing capacity was lost. After the war, in the fifties and sixties the Company's image had become unfashionably antiquated. It was an era unwilling to accept tradition and quality on their own terms. Cordings is best remembered from that period by the famous Canvas/Leather Newmarket boot submerged in a water tank in the shop window to demonstrate its water resistance. It remained there both resilient and watertight until the early seventies.
In 1971 the Business passed out of the hands of the original family. It was acquired by the owners of the University Motors, the celebrated MG sports car dealers of Berkeley Square. Their chairman had been a customer for many years and regularly abandoned his office to stroll down Piccadilly to his favourite shop. Sadly, the day the opened topped two-seater was on the wane, Cordings was neglected as University Motors business declined and relocated outside London.
In 1986 a management team which included Jeremy Hackett and Ashley Lloyd Jennings took over Cordings. Two years later in May 1998, the Princess Royal made an official visit to the shop in her capacity as President of the British Clothing Export Council.
In 1991, the premises in Piccadilly were expanded to fill both No. 19 and No. 20 as originally occupied at the start of the century. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the business, 150 metres of special jubilee cloth was produced in conjunction with Reid & Taylor of Langholm on the Scottish Borders, also founded in 1839. In the year 2000, our special celebration millennium tweed was created and is still being sold today with great success.
In February 2003 the current management team approached Cordings best customer and asked if he would assist in a management buyout. A presentation was prepared for him and after 3 minutes of this carefully prepared presentation he declared he would support it, he never did hear the final 17 minutes! The best customer was Eric Clapton.
Since that date the emphasis has been firmly on tradition and re-establishing the reputation of quality. All merchandise is made to exclusive specifications from materials traditionally found in the UK. The marque of Cordings is now attracting back sons and grandsons of followers from previous decades.
The stylishly dressed guitarist moonlights as the co-owner and design Director and since February 2003 has been masterminding its re-launch. "My favourite pieces are the tweed shooting and hacking jackets," he says.
We now have a women's collection, this range was born out of the demand from women who came into the store with their husbands looking at the huge array of tweed on offer for men and requesting traditional hacking jackets made for women as well.
This range will be based on the five Cordings core products and specializing in items such as fitted tweed jackets, covert coats, rubberised mackintoshes,needlecord trousers and the softest knitwear.