Heritage: Remarkable story of a family company

The iconic chimney at Kent's Brush works (above) and the entrance to the Works at Apsley End, courtesy of Roy Wood
The iconic chimney at Kent's Brush works (above) and the entrance to the Works at Apsley End, courtesy of Roy Wood

It was back in 1777, during the reign of George III, that William Kent recognised a great business opportunity and established G B Kent & Sons, manufacturers of brushes of the very best quality.

Even from those very early days the brushes were all hand-made, exhibiting workmanship of the very highest standard. Believe it or not, the original method of delivery to their customers was by pack horses!

The Company became very successful, and history tells us that, in the 1820s, they were supplying toothbrushes for His Majesty George IV. This could mean that his Surgeon, Sir Astley Paston Cooper, Hemel’s very own celebrity, may well have been a customer of theirs.

The company’s reputation as providers of quality products, backed up with excellent service, grew and grew and they were duly rewarded with The Royal Appointment to Queen Victoria. Indeed, Medals of Excellence were presented to the Company at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Demand grew and the company found it necessary to move from the original premises in Great Marlborough Street,London, to larger ones at Victoria Park, where it was recorded that they were producing 60 gross of hand-made, bone handled toothbrushes every week.

G B Kent & Sons continued to grow, and, by 1882, it employed more than 600 people. They had obtained the reputation as pioneers in the use of machinery, drilling machines and bristle filling machines.

They were employers of both male and female workers, the latter of which were apparently picked ‘for the pleasing feature of comeliness’.

Kent’s moved again in 1900, this time to Farringdon Road, and it was then that they became a Public Company. They remained there until 1940, acquiring a diverse customer database.

Kent’s removed to Apsley in 1901 and had factories built alongside the river Gade, where goods were able to be delivered to their own wharf. It was in 1908 that the Companies’ horse-drawn van was taken out of service and replaced by their first motorised van.

The First World War kept the factories very busy, since they supplied all soldiers with no less than seven brushes in each man’s kit! However, things declined after the war, and difficult times came to the industry. Following the death of Arthur Kent, the last Kent brother, the Company was sold to Cosby Brushes which proved to be the beginning of a new chapter in the Company’s history. The Cosby family still maintain the business today as ’Kent Brushes’.

The old factory buildings were demolished 30 years ago, along with the iconic chimney which so many people will remember. Today, the Company continues to prosper, based in Apsley in their new modern facilities. They still maintain the skills of the past and all their products are hand-made from the finest quality base products.

It is believed that after more than 110 years in the town, Kent Brushes can be looked upon as ‘One of our Own’. They have contributed to the town’s history and heritage as much as any other company over the years, and fully deserve the accolade.

Marcia Cosby, one of the three Cosby family directors, has agreed to talk to the Hemel Hempstead Local History and Museum Society on October 28 2015 at 8pm at the Carey Baptist Church in Marlowes – it promises to be an excellent evening.