Kenmir’s – a family tragedy


Frederick Kenmir name

The name of Frederick Kenmir can clearly be seen in the central column (Spennymoor Today)

When World War I broke out, one of John George Kenmir’s sons, young Frederick went off to fight for his country, as did a lot of young men and women, both from Spennymoor and elsewhere.

Frederick, 23, became a sapper in the Royal Marines, and history records that he was killed in action on 15th January, 1917. He now lies in a hero’s grave in the War Graves cemetery in Aveluy, France along with many comrades – hero’s every one.

Aveluy village was held by Commonwealth forces from July 1915 until 26 March 1918. The extension to the communal cemetery, begun by the French who held this part of the line previously, was continued by our units and field ambulances from August 1915 to March 1917. In the latter month the 3rd and 9th Casualty Clearing Stations began to use it, the 9th remaining until November 1917. On 26-27 March 1918, the village and the cemetery were lost during the German advance but were retaken by allied forces at the end of August. Aveluy Communal Cemetery Extension contains 613 burials and commemorations of the First World War. Twenty-six of the burials are unidentified, and three graves, the exact locations of which could not be found, are represented by special memorials.

The extension to the cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Theodore Blomfield, who is famed as the designer of Regent Street, London (1920s), The Headrow, Leeds (from about 1929) and the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Flanders. In 1913 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and was elected to the Royal Academy the following year.

Before his enlistment Frederick had worked in the family business as a cabinet maker, ‘learning the ropes’ in readiness for the day when he would become a director of the company along with his brothers. Sadly it was a day that he was fated never to see. John George and his wife Margaret were plunged into deep mourning,as were many others of their day. It was possibly this that led Eric to design, and help in the construction of, the War Memorial that stands in the town centre today, a poignant reminder of a town that gave of its finest young men and women in answer to the call of its country, and the focus of the town’s Remembrance Day ceremony each year.

Parade Marshall Arnold W.Sanderson lays a wreath during the Remembrance Sunday Parade 2007 (Carl Marron/Spennymoor Today)

Parade Marshall Arnold W.Sanderson lays a wreath during the Remembrance Sunday Parade 2007
(Carl Marron/Spennymoor Today)

If you have any Spennymoor related memories or images you’d like to share, please contact us by email: spennymoor.today@yahoo.co.uk


The Great Fires of Spennymoor 2



1897 must have been, in every sense, a truly remarkable year! Nationally, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee – the 50th anniversary of her accession to the throne. Locally, Solicitor James J. Dodd, who had been elected a founder member of the new 21 seat Spennymoor Urban District Council as recently as December 1894, published his new ‘History of Spennymoor’. But perhaps most important of all, certainly insofar as the town was concerned, 1897 was the year when John George Kenmir of 13 Osborne Road, opened his furniture factory.

Kenmir’s started quite modestly in the Old Market Buildings on the South side of High Street, but the business grew quickly, to such an extent that by the time of the disastrous Kenmir’s fire of September 1929, they had a total of seventy employees. Of the fire it was said that there was not a single place in the town from which the flames from the burning building were not visible.

Undeterred, they rebuilt on a much larger scale, at the top of North Street: a three storey building, comprising machine shop, rack room and cabinet shop. On the first floor the parts were prepared and sanded down. From there they went upstairs to the rack room, where they were stacked in readiness for the next stage of their transformation. In the cabinet room, skilled hands assembled the parts into cabinets of all kinds, which went on to the polishing and spraying department. In the finishing shop locks, handles, mirrors and a variety of other accessories were added. Finally ready for dispatch, the cabinets were sent to all areas of the United Kingdom. With their quality furniture in such great demand, the company, by this time a family business, had soon expanded its payroll to about 100 workers. And a family business it still was; John George handed over the reins to his three sons: Eric, who became Managing Director, Frank and Carl.

Working conditions were poor by the standards of today, with just one week of paid holiday in the summer, plus Christmas and Boxing Day, but employees thought of it as a good place to work, and still have nothing but happy memories of the factory, of their employers, and of the time they spent there.

The big square chimney bearing the letter ‘K’ on its four sides, was a well known landmark in the town, and even folk visiting Spennymoor for the first time could not help but know where the home of fine, craftsman built furniture was.

Although the factory ceased production in 1965, by which time the payroll was reckoned to be over 200, the furniture produced there by its workforce of highly skilled craftsmen still remains a much sought after item, and pieces are known to command very high prices on the rare occasions when they become available.

Two reasons have been advanced to explain the closure of the business. Kenmir’s furniture was built to last – that was their proud boast – and not an idle one. Those who bought furniture crafted in Spennymoor would never have the need to replace it. Much more likely however, is the fact that, although John George’s sons happily followed in his footsteps, their sons had no feeling for the family business.

Sad to say, the premises were taken over in the 1960’s and put into use as a plastics factory – which was – most unfortunately – also burned down.

If you have any Spennymoor related memories or images you’d like to share, please contact us by email: spennymoor.today@yahoo.co.uk