Alstons Furniture – A Brief History

By | March 2, 2017

The Alston family has been involved with furniture for over two centuries. As far back as 1776 there were Alstons repairing furniture in their Chelsea workshop.

The present family’s direct ancestors started the business that became the Alstons Furniture business we know today in Sudbury, Suffolk. William Alston (1839-1919) and his brother Ambrose (1834 – 1902) were both master cabinet makers during the middle of the 19th century. William Alston later became a furniture dealer as well, selling from premises in 95 North Street, Sudbury. The Alstons Furniture business prospered and moved to 9 Old Market Place, Sudbury in 1875 Both of William Alston’s sons, Hammond and Percy worked in the business and together they then created one of the first all electric workshops.

The premises at Old Market Place became a retail furniture shop as well, with additional workshops. One of which was to eventually form the beginnings of the Alstons Furniture Upholstery operation much later on. In 1921 Percy Alston’s son Leslie started an apprenticeship with his father and then completed this at Fisher Trade Woodworking in London’s East End.

In 1937 Leslie started his own manufacturing business at a redundant coconut matting factory in Long Melford. The business was set up with a £6,000 bank loan. Leslie’s brother Roy joined him there to help run the new venture. The company later adopted the trade mark Albro as an abbreviation of Alston brothers, this continued into the 1980’s.

During the Second World War, the factory in Long Melford switched its production to ‘utility’ bedroom and dining furniture. Extra work was also taken on to manufacture coffins for the war effort.

Later in the war, the Long Melford factory was burnt out and new premises were sought in Ipswich. Initially production was resumed within Wrinch’s factory in Nacton Road, Ipswich. Land was also purchased adjacent to Wrinch’s and a factory was built by joining war surplus Nissen huts together to form a linear building and a continuous furniture production line was created within it. This temporary structure survived until 1971 when a new building was erected over the old huts ensuring that not an hour of production was lost.

The Alstons Furniture cabinet business has remained at this site to this day. During this time a new head office had been built and a programme of continuous investment in machinery maintained. Alstons Furniture has manufactured almost exclusively bedroom furniture during this period. In the 1950’s and 60’s this was centered on suites of bedroom furniture of veneered teak, walnut and mahogany finish (a suite comprised a ladies wardrobe, a gents wardrobe and a dressing table). The 1970’s saw the introduction of modular bedroom furniture ranges in veneered and painted finishes.In more recent years the Alstons have become a market leader in the production of traditional and contemporary bedroom ranges of laminate and painted finish.

Leslie Alston remained in charge of the business until his death in 1976 at which point his oldest son Rex (John) took over as Managing Director with Leslie’s brother Percy (Roy) as Chairman. In 1979 Alan, Leslie’s other son became Chairman and Managing Director of Alstons Furniture, assisted by his bother Rex and with their cousin Noel (Percy’s son) as Sales Director. John P Alston joined the family business, Alstons Furniture, in 1974 becoming a Director in 1987 and Managing Director in 1995. In 2008 David Alston became Chairman of Alstons Furniture, taking on this role directly from his father. Also in this year John’s daughter Jessica Alston joined Alstons Furniture as a design assistant.

The Upholstery business flourished and within 10 years, further satellite factories were opened in Hadleigh, Suffolk and Clacton, Essex.

The recession of the early 1980’s saw a contraction of Alstons Furniture and the satellite factories were closed down and production and investment consolidated at the Colchester site. Up until 1995 Alan Alston continued to be responsible for the running of Alstons Furniture. In 1995 David Alston, Alan’s youngest son became Managing Director of the company and the responsibility passed on.In 2008 John Alston took on the role of chairman of Alstons Furniture from his father.

During the life of the company it has manufactured sofas, sofa beds, sideboards, chairs and recliner chairs.

Alstons Furniture continues to make all its production from its factory in Colchester and is now one of the leading producers of upholstery in the UK.

Source by Hugh A Thomas

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