Meet the drycleaner to the stars 27 Jul 2018

Meet the dry cleaner to the stars who salvaged Margaret Thatcher’s iconic blue suit, Prince Charles’ wax coats and a fly-stained Royal wedding dress.

  • Bradleys was first opened as a garment house in 1832 by Samuel Bradley Senior
  • In 1860 the family-run British business opened the largest fur store in Europe
  • Famous customers include Princess Anne, Lady Clementine Churchill, Brigitte Bardot, Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher, Lewis Hamilton and George Michael
  • Bradleys is now run from a small dry cleaning store in Milton Keynes... which still attracts famous faces and is restoring some of the nation's priceless treasures 

When Margaret Thatcher strolled into a London dry cleaners, her iconic blue suit tucked under her arm, she had the air of a strict headmistress… until she introduced herself as Godilocks, Howard Bradley remembers. Mrs Thatcher, before she became the Iron Lady, was standing in Bradley’s Dry Cleaners in East Finchley, a small, family-run business with a great British history, when she addressed three small children, exclaiming ‘it seems Goldilocks has met the bears’. Mrs Thatcher was not standing in any old dry cleaning store - and she was not holding any old suit. 

The soon-to-be PM was in Bradleys, believed to be the oldest of its kind in Britain, thanks to its almost 200-year history. Bradleys client list is a who’s-who of famous faces through the ages, beginning with Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine, French actress Brigitte Bardot, Prince Charles, the Saudi royal family and even George Michael. Dry cleaning royal wedding dresses, restoring Prince Charles’ wax coats and painstakingly cleaning Emmeline Pankhurst’s original Suffragette flag are not jobs many would want to be tasked with, but, it is a business the Bradley family knows well.

boots bradleys drycleaners dry cleaner laundry fur news
Bradleys was first opened in 1832 in this London street. The shop was later turned into a branch of Boots

Speaking from the final outpost of the family’s legendary stores, sole heir to the Bradley business, 57-year-old Howard recalled some of the toughest jobs – and customers – he has ever come up against since he began working in the shop aged seven. He said: ‘It was in East Finchley of all places that I first started seeing some recognisable faces coming into the shop as customers. 

East Finchley might not have been the most affluent area but dry cleaning shops were so rare in those early days, and something of a novelty that people travelled to us from far afield. ‘Margaret Thatcher was the local MP for East Finchley and although I only saw her a few times and chatted to her, it was like being up before the headmistress. However she was always polite, friendly, very sharp witted...and a bit scary.’

Bradleys was an obvious choice for the politician, since it has been trusted with garments belonging to the rich and famous since 1832, when a man named Samuel Bradley (Senior) opened a tailors and garment house. Years later, in 1860, he expanded his empire and opened London’s first fur store. Elite classes across the capital flocked to the firm to have their exotic wears kept safe.

At one point it was rumoured to be storing £500,000 worth of winter furs in its flagship store in Chepstow Place.

By 1912 Bradleys was the largest fur store in Europe and was trusted by the rich and famous across the content.

The business began making clothes at the same time, but, like many other British businesses it was changed by the outbreak of WWI. The business made dress uniforms for the army, and after the conflict continued to store, make and refurbish clothes.

During this era the rich would have their entire wardrobes repaired or remade at the end of each ‘season’.

Bradleys grew so popular over the coming decades in the 1920s the business commissioned six cars to offer their clients a bespoke taxi service.

Those clients included Winston Churchill and wife Lady Clementine.

An invoice from February 1937 shows they spent £3.90 in the shop - the equivalent of £264 today for 'storage of furs' and cleaning and restoration of a 'black velvet evening coat'.

Another invoice from 1936 shows the Churchills again used the shop to clean their coats and store furs.

The 1937 invoice is addressed to Winston Churchill' private residence in Morpeth Mansions, Westminster.

Although Bradleys was a success through the First World War, it was not so lucky in the Second.

The Blitz saw a hat making factory wiped out and Bradleys personnel were killed in the conflict. By the time war ended in 1945, the rich were far less keen to frolic around the city in furs and frugality became more commonplace.

Instead of folding altogether, Bradleys took a different path, taking the family talent for preserving fashion and turning the business into one of the capital’s first dry cleaners.

In the 1950s technological advances resulted in Commercial Dry Cleaning being carried out in a single self-contained machine, rather than huge factories.

Eric Bradley decided to try his luck and open up in East Finchley. In 1968, aged seven, son Howard began to work for him on Saturdays.

It was then he began to meet some of Britain’s most famous faces, still, after all this time, coming to Bradleys.

Source: Daily Mail

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