Grenfell: Man of the Cloth 

This British heritage firm honours the memory of a prominent humanitarian who risked life and limb to care for the meek.

Most companies are named to bring glory to the owner. Not so Grenfell, which takes its moniker from theremarkableman whose needsand deeds inspired theestablishmentofthis British manufacturer of robust cloth and outerwear.

Theoriginstory of Grenfell,the brand,begins in1892,whenDr. Wilfred Grenfell first landedon the Newfoundland coast of Canada. There, Grenfell acted as a medical missionary, ministeringto thephysical and spiritualrequirements of colonial fishermenand the indigenous Inuit people,all ofwhomhe described assuffering in extreme “poverty, ignorance and semi-starvation”.Thoughriddled withtuberculosis, smallpox, rickets, anemia, scurvy and diphtheria, many in thescatteredcommunityof 30,000hadin factnever seen a doctor before Grenfell’s arrival.

To alleviate theirmiseryandtreattheir ills,Grenfellnot only provided medical care personally,butspearheaded the building of hospitals,schools,workers’ cooperatives,libraries,orphanages, and other essentialelements ofhumanitarian and social infrastructure.Heand his small team of medical volunteers would regularly risk life and limb to travel via husky-driven sled to remote locations to provide essential care,Grenfell himselfnarrowly escaping death on countless occasions.For hisselflessworks,hewas knighted in 1927.

A few years earlier,the good doctorhadconducted a speaking tour of Britain, in an attempt to raise awareness of the Canadian fishing community’s struggles and drum up funds for further philanthropic activities. Among the numerous basics lacked by the residents of Newfoundland and the Labrador Peninsula, Grenfell explained, was suitable attire towithstand the forbidding climate of this remote wilderness.

During a talk inBurnley, Lancashire,Grenfell— who once had to kill and skin three of his dogs, wearing their pelts as coats to survive a night adrift on the ice —discussed the need for a cloth that was both light and strong, as“the wearer’s life might well depend on it. It should be weatherproof, to turn both rain and snow, andwindproof to retain the wearer’s warmth. Above all, it must allow the body’smoisture to escape.”

Fortuitously, in the audience thateveningwas WalterHaythornthwaite, heir to a family-owned cotton-weaving mill nearBurnley.Spurred to action, hebegan developinga tightlyspun, super high-densitycottonthat fulfilledGrenfell’s tricky triple criteria of toughness, impermeability and breathability. After 12 months’ experimentation,Haythornthwaitefelt he’d succeeded and sent a sample of thecutting-edgematerial to Grenfell in Canada.

Grenfell was delighted with thefabricand immediately put it to work “on the ships, planes, sledges and for motoring,” he wrotein a letter of thankstoHaythornthwaite. “It really has been a boon to us all and I think the public should know of it. They will be grateful,” Grenfell said, agreeing to lend his name to what would soon becomerenowned as Grenfell Cloth.Thismiracle material would be used by countless adventurers, includingAmelia Earhart and fellowaviatrix Amy Johnson,mountaineer EricShipton,anddaring speedstersStirlingMoss,Malcolm Campbell and son Donald.

In the 1940s, just a few years after 75-year-old Sir Wilfred Grenfell died peacefully in his sleep, the companynamed in hishonourbranched out from simply milling textiles and started producing its own outerwear.They continue to do so today, under the stewardshipof theAzamfamily. Since acquiring the brand in 2002,theAzamshave transformed what was for some time a dormant concern into a thriving purveyor of top quality weather-resistant garments.

Now produced at a factory in east London, Grenfell’scontemporary range focuses on four key areas: trench and raincoats, field/country coats, overcoats, and casual jackets. Each garment is overseen by an individual craftsperson, responsible for ensuring the quality of its composition and construction — guaranteeing the performance and durability of any Grenfellitemyou order from The Rake.

The great humanitarian Dr. Grenfell himself once said, “The purpose of this world is not to have and hold, but to serve.”In that spirit, please, allow us to gladly satisfy your outerwear requirements.

Published

October 2019

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