When He Took Over The Furniture Factory Three Years Ago Alstons Furniture – A Brief History

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Alstons Furniture – A Brief History

The Alston family has been in the furniture business for over two centuries. As early as 1776, the Alstons were repairing furniture in their Chelsea workshop.

The direct ancestors of the present family 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 master cabinetmakers in the mid-19th century. William Alston later also became a furniture merchant, selling from premises at 95 North Street, Sudbury. The Alstons Furniture business prospered and in 1875 moved to 9 Old Market Place, Sudbury. William Alston’s two sons, Hammond and Percy, worked in the business and together they created one of the first all-electric workshops.

The premises of the Old Market also became a furniture retail store with other workshops. One of them was to eventually form the beginnings of Alstons Furniture Upholstery much later. In 1921, Percy Alston’s son Leslie began an apprenticeship with his father and then completed it at Fisher Trade Woodworking in London’s East End.

In 1937 Leslie started his own manufacturing business in a redundant coir mat factory in Long Melford. The business was founded with a £6,000 bank loan. Leslie’s brother Roy joined him to help run the new business. The company later adopted the Albro trademark as an acronym for the Alston brothers, which continued into the 1980s.

During World War II, the Long Melford factory switched its production to “utility” bedroom and dining room furniture. Extra labor was also put into making coffins for the war effort.

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

The Alstons Furniture cabinet business has remained on this site to this day. During this time, a new headquarters was built and a program of continuous investment in machinery was maintained. Alstons Furniture produced almost exclusively bedroom furniture during this period. In the 1950s and 1960s, it concentrated on sets of bedroom furniture in veneered teak, walnut and mahogany (a set consisted of a ladies’ wardrobe, a men’s wardrobe and a dressing table). In the 1970s, series of modular bedroom furniture in veneered and lacquered designs were introduced. In recent years, Alstons have become a market leader in the production of traditional and contemporary bedroom ranges with laminate and lacquer finishes.

Leslie Alston remained in charge of the store until his death in 1976, when his eldest son Rex (John) took over as managing director and Leslie’s brother Percy (Roy) as chairman. In 1979 Alan, Leslie’s second son, became chairman and managing director of Alstons Furniture, assisted by his bother Rex and their cousin Noel (Percy’s son) as commercial director. John P Alston joined the family business Alstons Furniture in 1974 and became a director in 1987 and managing director in 1995. In 2008 David Alston became chairman of Alstons Furniture, taking over the role directly from his father. Also 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 1980s saw the decline of Alstons furniture and the satellite factories were closed and production and investment consolidated at the Colchester site. Alan Alston continued to be responsible for running Alstons Furniture until 1995. In 1995 David Alston, Alan’s youngest son, became CEO of the company and the responsibility passed on. In 2008, John Alston took over the role of chairman of Alstons Furniture from his father.

During the company’s existence, it produced sofa sets, sofa beds, sideboards, armchairs and recliners.

Alstons Furniture continues to manufacture all of its production from its Colchester factory and is now one of the UK’s leading upholstery manufacturers.

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