On Monday 13th December 2021, in the Lifford Memorial Hall, starting at 7pm, Martin Blakeman will give an illustrated talk on Gordon Russell Ltd and some of its people.
Martin Blakeman joined Gordon Russell Ltd 60 years ago in 1959 as an apprentice cabinetmaker, and worked for the company throughout his career. During that time he worked on special commissions in the company’s contracts department, became a foreman in the assembly shop and was later appointed Production Manager. His work took him to Japan in 1973 to establish a production warehouse for Gordon Russell furniture, and to Kuwait installing furniture at the headquarters of the Arab Organisations in the 1990s. Martin has volunteered at the Gordon Russell Design Museum in Broadway since it opened in 2008, researching and cataloguing the Archive, chairing the Education Committee and giving talks and tours both at the Museum and elsewhere.
All welcome to attend the talk, non-members of the Society will be charged £3 on the door.
HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited Broadway on Friday 15th March 1968, when he paid a visit to the Gordon Russell factory and the Lygon Arms Hotel. During his visit, the Duke met several villagers, workers and former workers of the furniture manufacturer Gordon Russell Ltd. Afterwards the Duke had lunch at the Lygon Arms with directors of the hotel, Gordon Russell Ltd, and Sir Gerard Nabarro MP for South Worcestershire, before a tour of the hotel which had recently been extended and refurbished.
Gordon Russell Ltd was first awarded a Royal Warrant in 1938 by Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen1, the firm having supplied pieces of furniture on a number of occasions to King George VI and his family. In 1957 the firm were commissioned to make another piece of furniture by the Royal Family. Employee, John “Jack” Blakeman of Broadway, was involved in the manufacturing of an occasional table, designed by Richard Drew “Dick” Russell, depicting a map of the D-Day Landings2. The table was presented by HM Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke, to President Eisenhower during their stay at the White House in October 1957. It was following this special commission that the Duke was invited to tour the Gordon Russell factory in Broadway.
Amongst the villagers the Duke met on 15th March was Philip Chinn (see photo below) whose father worked in the Drawing Office at the factory.
After lunch at the Lygon Arms, the Duke toured the hotel meeting members of staff. Following his visit, one of the new conference and entertaining rooms in the newly built Orchard Wing, The Edinburgh Room, was named after the Duke.
The following newspaper report of his visit to Broadway appeared in the Birmingham Post the following day, 16 March 1968:
An informal Duke of Edinburgh put workers at their ease yesterday when he visited the Broadway furniture factory of Gordon Russell Ltd. He questioned them in detail about their training, work and home lives. Barriers of reserves and shyness broke down, and he received uninhibited answers.
The Duke’s arrival brought rousing cheers from the scores of villagers lining the main street. After signing the visitors’ book, he was shown around the factory by Sir Gordon Russell and the firm’s chairman, Mr. D.G.S. Russell. He was welcomed to Worcestershire by the Deputy Lieutenant of the County, Lt.-Col. I.W.D. Smith, representing the Lord Lieutenant, who was abroad.
The Duke was shown current and historical displays, and he put dozens of probing questions to his hosts about the furniture. In the contract room, he met 15 pensioners who had been specially invited back to their old place of work for the occasion. One of them was Mr. Lawrence Boyes, aged 67, who retired from the firm two years ago. Mr. Boyes, who was in a wheelchair, told the Duke that he had worked at the factory for 36 years. Also among the pensioners was Mr. H. Alloway, who was mainly responsible for the lecture bench and lectern which the Duke, as President, presented to the Royal Society of Arts in 1957.
The Duke was introduced to 5 apprentices who have gained Premier awards in the craftsmanship competition organised by the Gloucestershire and South Worcestershire Productivity Association. The award winners, Jonathan Millichap, Nigel Warner, David Boston, Robert Bearcroft, and Roderick Goodman, stood behind examples of their work as the Duke spoke to them. In another department, the Duke chatted with Michael Horne, aged 20, of Mill Avenue, Broadway, who was compiling lists of orders. The Duke was surprised to hear that Michael travelled all the way to Birmingham in the evenings for classes in cabinetmaking and design.
Martin Hall, age 25, explained to the Duke that the details of a plan he was preparing for the furnishing of a hostel at Bedford College of Education.
When he crossed the factory yard, the Duke stopped and spoke to wives of employees, who had left their housework to see him. Mrs. Hilda Jones, of Orchard Avenue, Broadway, told the Duke that her husband, Bert, had been working at Gordon Russell Ltd. as a cabinet maker for 40 years.
In the crowd was Mrs. Lillian Blakeman, whose late husband, Jack, made a formica-top table which the Queen presented to General Eisenhower several years ago. After leaving the factory, the Duke walked along a sunlit pavement, to the sound of enthusiastic clapping, to lunch at the nearby Lygon Arms. There he was introduced to Sir Gerald Nabarro, MP for South Worcestershire; Mr. J.D. Wilson, chairman of Evesham Rural Council; Mr.W.R. Pritchard, chairman of Broadway Parish Council, and Prof. R.D. Russell, the design consultant of Gordon Russell Ltd.
After lunch he toured the hotel, visiting the new kitchens, the Orchard Wing, which will come into use in a few weeks, the Garden Wing, completed a few years ago, and some of the 17th century rooms in the original building.
It was the first occasion that the Orchard Wing could be used, and this was made possible by the special efforts of the architects, Russell and Hodgson, and the builders W.A. Cox (Evesham) Ltd. The first advance copy of the Gordon Russell’s autobiography, Designer’s Trade, was sent from London so that he could present it to the Duke. The book, published by Alan and Unwin, will be on sale from May 23. Gordon Russell Ltd, was founded by Sir Gordon in 1919, after he returned from war service. His father, Mr. S.B. Russell, had an antique business which he started shortly after taking over the Lygon Arms in 1904.
Debbie Williamson Broadway History Society
Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon (4 August 1900 – 30 March 2002), later known as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Her Aunt, Lady Maud Bowes-Lyon lived at Orchard Farm, Broadway.
The table was manufactured in English walnut, the top was in Formica with a screen-printed map of the D-Day Landings used by President Eisenhower (reproduced by Thomas De La Rue & Co Ltd.) and topped with plate glass. The legs and rails of the table were covered in black calfskin which an inscription referring to the presentation of the table by the Queen to the President. The table took 4 weeks to make and travelled with the Queen and the Duke on their aeroplane to North America.
Today, the Gordon Russell Design Museum, Russell Square, in Broadway, is reopening its doors after a period of closure. The Museum will only be open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am-4pm. Visits must be pre-booked and tickets are available via the Museum’s website.
The Gordon Russell Museum tells the story of the Gordon Russell furniture company, which was based in Broadway for over 60 years, and explores the influence and legacy of Gordon Russell’s designs on a broad spectrum of 20th century design.
The Museum has implemented new safety procedures to ensure visits are as safe and straightforward as possible, and visitors who pre-book will have the whole museum to themselves during their booked time slot.