History 1685 to 1950
To have served the public for more than three centuries is an achievement and when it is realised that during fifteen reigns, a business has been guided through all the changes by members of one family it is indeed something of which to be proud. The Toyé family arrived in England in 1685 as Huguenot refugees after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV.
The Edict of Nantes was a decree by which Henry IV of France granted religious freedom to the protestant Huguenots in 1598. Louis revoked these freedoms and applied punitive restrictions on the Huguenots. Many fled France in fear for their lives and their livelihoods.
Huguenots fled to America, South Africa and England. This exodus comprised a large chunk of the educated and skilled French middle-classes.
The Toyé family sailed into the Thames in 1685 disguised as cattle-dealers. They settled in Hope Town, now known as Bethnall Green, close to Spitalfields. Here they resumed the traditional family business of weaving, lace-making, embroidery and gold and silver wire making.
In 1784 we find Guillaume Henry Toyé engaged in this industry and living with his family in Hope Town. He had four sons and three daughters. It is interesting to note that the latter each marries Englishmen, all of whom served under Nelson.
The youngest son, Jonas, born in 1785 was the only one to follow his father’s industry. In 1800 he was being trained in using the latest weaving machinery by his relative Jacques Jacquier who had been an apprentice to Joseph Marie Jacquard, the French inventor of the machine which revolutionised weaving and gave such an impetus to the industry.
On the completion of his training some five years later Jonas settled down in Spitalfields near to his father, and with the knowledge gained by his apprenticeship began to take in work on his own behalf through the weaving and allied trades, which he executed, as was customary in those days, by working hand-looms in his own house.
In due course he married and had two sons, William and Alfred. The elder, William, followed in his Father’s footsteps as a weaver of gold laces and plain and figured velvets then used for theatre curtains and clothing. He gained a reputation for this work and continued the family business.
In 1835 William acquired larger premises at George Street, Bethnall Green. His enterprise prospered and he married and raised a large family. At first he applied himself to broad weaving but other forms of weaving soon appealed to him, particularly the making of ribbons, as there was then a far larger demand for this commodity.
At that time Gardener in London, and Stevens in Coventry, had perfected their rack and pinion batten, and the marionette was introduced. This was an ingenious device attached to the side of the batten to assist the weaving of a large number of ribbons in the loom at once and allowing a greater range of colours by moving different shuttles into operation at the required moment.
William Toyé was also interested in the making of tissues and armour cloths which were woven with a silk or cotton warp and weft of tinsel threads, and were often used for theatrical dresses. They also made military sashes, previously these had been entirely hand-made but with Gardener’s invention hand-labour had been replaced.
In 1861 as the business continued to prosper it was necessary to transfer to larger premises at Colin’s Place, Bethnall Green (now renamed Surat Street). William, with the assistance of his children continued to build the business until having amassed a small fortune he retired in 1875 and died in 1886. He was an active and prominent Freemason in several Degrees, and a Founder of the Burdette Coutes Lodge number 1278 in the year 1869, and so commenced an association with Freemasonry that has continued up until the present day.
The business was left to his elder son, William Henry Toyé (born 1844). As trade continued to increase, he decided in 1878 to move to Old Ford road, Bethnall Green, where he acquired the freehold of several houses and built a modern factory on the gardens attached. He resided in one of the houses, which allowed him to keep in close touch with his business. He invented a power loom worked by a gas engine, which was one of the first of its kind in this country.
In 1865 William married a Miss Louisa Elisabeth Ward. His business continued to expand rapidly and he obtained a great deal of gold lace work for the Army and Navy, manufactured the braids and ribbons necessary for the production of regalia and supplied most of the houses then engaged in Masonic and Socities outfitting.
It was found necessary to open retail establishments further west in London in addition to the factories. A shop was opened in 1888 at 18, Little Britain and a short time later a further establishment was opened up at 17, Clerkenwell Road.
About this period, for the first time since the foundation of the firm, a decline occurred in the demand for Army and Navy laces, caused through the change of policy in the uniforms of the British defence forces. From the old spectacular, style to the modern khaki. This change was brought about by the great improvement in the range and sighting of rifles which enabled snipers to pick out and shoot down British Officers from great distances due to their highly conspicuous uniforms.
It became apparent to William Toyé that a new outlet for the firm’s productions must be sought and he began to turn his attention to the making of a similar class of goods for civic uniforms, and Masonic and Friendly Societies regalias. Thus the House of Toye embarked on a new era which has continued with subsequent additions to the present day.
His three eldest sons, William, Frederick and Herbert, after completing their scholastic education were trained in new skills outside the business which their father in due time planned to add to the business.
The eldest son, William was put to the weaving industry, while Frederick and later Herbert were apprenticed to the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths trade. Their Father was aware that the company lacked expertise in the production of gold, silver and metal-work.
On the completion of his apprenticeship William joined the business and for some time Father and Son worked together as weavers and braid makers, improving production, the business being highly technical and requiring much skilled labour.
By 1890 the weaving of heavy, double-twilled silks, nine-feet wide, for trade-union and Friendly Societies became an important part of the business. The banner department used painting and embroidery to illuminate the designs. In 1893 Mr Timothy J Mister joined the firm to manage the embroidery section.
In 1897 Frederick had completed his apprenticeship and the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths department was opened under his jurisdiction. So rapid was its growth that it became necessary to add stamping, engraving, enamelling, gilding and plating, and all trades essential to producing the finished article from raw materials.
With these increased and varied activities it became apparent that the old Ford Road factory was inadequate. The Masonic section was rapidly becoming more important, therefore it was essential to move the factory nearer to the headquarters of Freemasonry in Great Queen Street. Premises were acquired in 1898 at 57 Theobalds Road where show rooms were opened, the factory being placed at the rear and continuing right through the block into Red Lion Square.
At this time the acute was dropped from the Toyé, and a more English pronunciation was adopted. William Toye Senior retired, leaving the business in the hands of his two sons and T.J. Mister. The move to the new premises proved very successful, especially from the business gained in the Masonic and Societies market where the firm’s products gained a reputation for high quality and fair price, due to the advantages they had in having a thorough technical understanding of the work, and being able to take orders and produce them entirely under one roof.
In 1903 Herbert Toye joined the business, a step made necessary by the considerable expansions that had taken place. In 1909 it became necessary, in accordance with the Companies Act 1908, to register the firm as a Company. From then on all business was transacted as Toye & Co. In 1910 William Toye, Senior died and in the terms of his will his sons William, Frederick and Herbert and Timothy J Mister, all became partners in the business.
By 1912 demand was rising for flag-day and electioneering buttons and other celluloid covered dance and carnival novelties. Seeing a new avenue of business opening up, the company turned their attention to this work. Celluloiding could not be done at the Red Lion Square factory and so it was necessary to open a factory elsewhere. So the old premises as Surat Street, occupied by the firm since 1861 were re-opened for manufacturing this class of goods. This location was also useful due to a large quantity of female workers being readily available.
This venture prospered and during the Great War demand rose for flags of Allied Nations, Patriotic novelties and celluloid buttons bearing pictures of the King, the Union Jack and many War time celebrities. So large did this section of the business become that it was necessary to form a separate company known as the Universal Photo Button Company.
The parent company continued to make good progress until the outbreak of the Great War when difficulties were encountered. Timothy Mister and Herbert Toye volunteered to serve their country, leaving two important departments without proper management, and the responsibility of these sections fell to the two eldest brothers, Frederick and William, during the War years.
Government contracts were obtained and the soft goods side of the business thrived, although the metal section suffered owing to the shortage of jewellers and men for this class of work. Many times during the war, the firm had over nine months work in hand with open dates for delivery and unlimited work had to be refused owing to the inability to obtain skilled labour for luxury trades.
At the end of the War Timothy Mister and Herbert Toye returned to their departments and reorganised them to in order to accommodate work during the boom years that followed the armistice, however the firm did not truly get back on it’s feet until 1921. Expansion quickly followed; a publishing department was created for the sale of Masonic Rituals and publications of all descriptions, with a subsidiary section to deal with printing and stationery requirements. The fraternal societies, which provided the bread and butter of the business, invariably met during the winter months, which meant a slack summer period. To overcome this and keep the workforce busy, the company began making sporting trophies and cups, medals, shields and enamel badges, Honours Caps and other sporting awards and accessories followed.
In 1930 it was necessary to rebuild and enlarge the main factory in Red Lion Square, London. Then came a fresh crisis. Britain was hit by the Depression and three million people were thrown out of work. During these dismal days of dole queues and empty larders Toye maintained full employment, an accolade for the management.
In 1937 the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth gave the company another great trade boost and provided an outlet for the skilled crafts of their staff. They worked day and night for six months producing banners, emblems, robes and insignia for that historic occasion. The velvet cushions on which the Royal Crowns were carried into Westminster Abbey were made by women at Toye in conjunction with the Royal School of Needlework.
Two years later Britain was at war with Hitler’s Germany and soon fighting for survival. J.W.A (Jack) Toye, who had just been appointed to the Board, immediately joined the RAF. He never returned, dying in a prisoner of war camp in Borneo.
Once again, Toye were reminded that their business progress was a series of peaks and troughs, not solely in terms of financial loss or gain but human sacrifice, for several others in the firm fought and died in defence of their country.
Peace brought it’s headaches too. There was a tremendous backlog of orders to meet and three years were to pass before the staff had returned from every theatre of war and the company was once more on an even keel. In 1949 Miss H.E Toye , who had completed thirty years service on the sales side, was elected to the Board. Few firms at that time had recognised the vital role that women could play at Board level.