210 years of rain and shine

Richard Ince

Over 210 years ago members of the Ince family came to East London almost penniless and set up a business making and repairing umbrellas.

They came to Spitalfields because the silk industry was thriving there and it was a good spot from which to sell into the city.

The umbrellas produced by James Ince & Sons Umbrellas Ltd were hand-sewn by gas light and sold on markets in London and Suffolk. Umbrella frames were made of cane, ivory and whalebone. The arrival of their first Singer sewing machine in the mid-1800s and the first steel Umbrella frames changed the business drastically, as did the arrival of electricity later on.

Times were hard until a leisure boom in the late Victorian era brought a surge in demand and the company diversified to offer garden, golf and fishing umbrellas, tents and garden shelters. At its biggest, the company had a staff of over 50 and supplied globally around the Empire, especially India and Burma, via the Army & Navy Stores, NAAFI (Navy, Army and Airforce Institute) and Harrods catalogues. During the First World War the business made umbrellas for officers and they made machine gun covers during the Second.