The Nassau Shop by Braemar International: As seen at Housing Works Thrift Store

February 21, 2011 § 1 Comment

A Tale of Two Sweaters: A brief history of the Scottish woolen industry as it pertains to my thrift shop expeditions.

I picked up this cute wooly cardigan for like $6 at Housing Works the other day.  The magenta color was so rich and beautiful I was compelled to buy it, despite the fact that it’s slightly too small for me.

The label looks old-timey, but the sweater actually looks brand new.

There’s no pilling of any kind, and it almost looks as if it’s never been worn.  Curious as to its “vintage,” I did a little research, and here’s what I found.

The Nassau Shop was a famous upscale department store in the Bahamas, a destination shop for cruises and tourists that sold luxury goods in an area known as the Straw Market.

Cruise Travel magazine, in October 1980, notes that “Bay Street boutiques which have been in business for decades include: Solomon’s Mines, Bernard’s, Treasure Traders, Xanadu, The Nassau Shop, The John Bull Store, and Mademoiselle.”  In an April 1986 piece they state that “The Nassau Shop has fine women’s fashions, perfume, sweaters and watches.”  And again in August of the same year in an article about shopping The Bahamas: “Sweater bargains can be found in the Scottish Shop on Charlotte St. and the Nassau Shop on Bay St.  Both feature lovely imports and reasonable prices on goods from Italy, England and Scotland.”

There’s some great photos of The Nassau Shop on the website Old Bahamas, but the site owner has a sternly worded copyright policy, so I direct you there for your viewing pleasure.

Although I haven’t been able to pinpoint the date, at some point The Nassau Shop was sold to John Bull, a neighboring luxury goods department store.

According to The Bahamas Investor, John Bull was first opened as an English-style tobacco shop in 1929 by Bahamian politician and businessman Sir Asa H. Pritchard.

Sir Asa named his store after a top hat-wearing character from the 1712 British satire Law Is A Bottomless Pit.

Throughout the forties, fifties, and sixties, the company meticulously expanded into a wide variety of luxury goods, and became known among locals, tourists, and abroad for high-quality merchandise.

In 1996, John Bull moved to new headquarters at 284 Bay Street, the space that had once been the home of The Nassau Shop.  According to the cruising website 7BlueSeas, John Bull now sells “The Nassau Shop” items as one of their brands.

I contacted John Bull several weeks ago through their customer service email to ask them if they had a company history they could send me, or any information on The Nassau Shop.  To date I have not received a response.

Having not exactly hit the information jackpot on The Nassau Shop, I turned my sites on Braemar International.  Who might they be?  Once again I was thwarted.

Using my crack librarian skills I learned that Braemar is one of a group of brands licensed by a company called Dawson International.

But short of that I found very little.  Around that time, coincidentally, I came across another sweater at Housing Works.

Adding Barrie to my search terms, I soon learned that the history of Braemar, Barrie,  and a whole host of my other favorite sweater brands, including Ballantyne and Pringle, are somewhat “knitted together” with the history of Dawson International.  So to speak.

I contacted Dawson International for any history on the brands Braemar and Barrie, and hopefully, the mills from whence they came.  Very helpfully they sent me a brief write-up of Barrie.  I inquired further if they knew anything about Braemar, and was told:

It was a brand owned by Dawson International, and sold to a third party in 2003 who, I understand has since sold it to another party.

Another dead end.  Here are the known knowns:

Braemar is a town in Scotland, home of the Braemar Gathering.

According to The Making of Scotland: A Comprehensive Guide to the Growth of its Cities by Robin Smith and Alan Lawson, “Innes, Henderson & Co.’s Braemar Hosiery (Victoria) Works were founded in 1868.  They made underwear on hand frames for, as fashions changed, production was shifting from hosiery towards underwear.”  The “Works” were greatly enlarged in 1908 following what was an apparently profitable switch from itchy woolen underwear to more comfy pullovers and cardigans (go figure.)  In 1920 the firms of Innes and Henderson merged and they began to make ‘Braemar’ cashmere knitwear.  I find the facts a little sketchy here, because weren’t they merged at the time they owned Braemar Hosiery together in 1868?  Known unknown.  Or, in this case, known un-owned.

What I do know is as follows:

  • In 1953 Braemar made woolen underwear for a successful Everest expedition.
  • Also, Braemar Knitwear was briefly owned by the Baird Group beginning in 1964.
  • In September of 1966 a Braemar Knitwear factory opens at Elliot.
  • Braemar was taken over by Dawson in 1970.
  • In 1974 Dawson was merged with Pringle to form Braeburn.  According to Smith and Lawson, “Braemar production was run down and ceased by the mid seventies,” making Dawson an unpopular name in Hawick.
  • On Feb. 28, 1975, the Braemar Knitwear factory at Elliot closes, according to the Abroath Timeline.  (I’m not sure where Abroath is, either!)

But there’s a few other stories to be woven in somewhere.  I keep coming across on the Internets this “History of Peebles.”  No idea how Peebles, Hawick, and Braemar all fit together geographically, although I’m sure Scots find the Queens-Brooklyn-Bronx-Manhattan-Staten Island combo just as confusing.  Anyways, the History of Peebles folks say this:

In 1969-70 the March  Street Mills again came under new ownership when they were acquired, along with  other woollen and knitwear interests, by Dawson (Holdings) Ltd (now Dawson  International Plc). D. Ballantyne & Bros. and the other textile firms that  comprised Braemar Knitwear within the SUI were acquired by Dawsons at the same time  as the firms of Ballantyne Sportswear Co. of Innerleithen and Galashiels, and  the Ballantyne Spinning Co. of Innerleithen. However, shortly after this  acquisition there occurred a sharp economic recession which placed a  considerable strain upon the Dawson Group’s resources and to assist liquidity a  fairly drastic restructuring exercise took place which closed the Ballantyne  Spinning Co. at Innerleithen. Robert Noble Ltd became the new management  company at the March Street Mills and their ultimate…

What are the March Street Mills?  When did Braemar Knitwear begin to be comprised of these other textile companies?  What is SUI?  All good questions.  Well, wonder no more, because according to the Robert Noble Timeline (Robert Noble being the weaving business of Ballantyne, also owned by Dawson), the March Street Mills were built by Ballantyne in 1884 in Peebles!  However, “Robert Noble was originally established in Galashiels under the name of David Ballantyne during the same year as the Great Fire of London,” 1664.  Ballantyne was sold to Sir Hugh Fraser in the 1960s.  They were later bought by Dawson, and the Robert Noble brand was sold off in the mid-nineties.  Confused yet?  But wait, there’s more!

At the turn of the 20th century, two entrepreneurs, Walter Barrie and Robert Kersel, opened a factory in Hawick to manufacture knitted hose and underwear

On April 12, 1977 there was a trademark application for the Braemar International stag:

And in approximately 2000 most of the Mill was demolished “to make way for the new Hawick Community Hospital but the canteen and warehousing blocks lingered on in increasing dereliction until the demolition men arrived at the start of 2011,” thereby putting to rest any hopes my poor magenta sweater ever had of knowing who its parents are.  Poor magenta orphan!  I will give it a good home where it will live happily ever after.  The End.

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§ One Response to The Nassau Shop by Braemar International: As seen at Housing Works Thrift Store

  • Greg S says:

    When I was young, an uncle worked for a high-end men’s clothing store in Indianapolis, IN. The owners wanted to open a store in the first mall in Cincinnati (middle ’60s) and wanted my uncle to move there to manage it for them. I received several Braemar sweaters for Christmas gifts. Even at a young age, I could tell how well they were made. They are the nicest sweaters I’ve owned. I wore them for several years until I couldn’t fit in them anymore. They barely show any wear at all. I still have them but not sure what to do with them. I don’t want to give them away (Goodwill, Amvets, etc.) for fear that the next owner won’t properly take care of them!

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