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.

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