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Hidden histories: Britain's oldest family businesses - Episode 2

Updated Monday 6th January 2014

Traditional regalia-making company Toye and Co are the focus of episode two.

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Fiona Toye looking at the banners made by the Toye company Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC / Raw TV Fiona Toye looking at the banners made by the Toye company

About the episode

In episode two we meet Toye and Co who make items of regalia such as medals, uniforms and ceremonial clothing. One of only a handful of regalia-making companies left in Britain today, they use traditional techniques to make thousands of items for the military, exclusive societies, foreign leaders and even for The Queen. 

The business has been handed down from father to son for hundreds of years, but now, for the first time, a woman is in charge. Fiona Toye wasn’t born into the family, but became involved in the business after her husband Bryan had a near fatal heart attack. Now she’s Chief Executive, responsible for the firm’s showroom, two factories and 132 staff.

In this programme, Fiona goes on a journey into the history of the business to see how it’s evolved and survived for generations. Meeting with historians and other experts, she traces the roots of the family back to the mid-1700s, when the Toyes were illiterate, artisan silk weavers working in London’s East End. She discovers how a wedding between William Toye and his teenage bride - already seven months pregnant - brought Huguenot blood into the family, together with the cache of French silk weaving expertise.  

After the Industrial Revolution sent the East End silk industry into massive decline, Fiona learns how the Toyes survived in business by underscoring their specialist skills, capitalising on a growing taste for pomp and circumstance and diversifying their product range as the world around them changed. She learns why soldiers in the Crimean War had such resplendent uniforms, and how the company made items for friendly societies, the Freemasons, suffragettes, trade unions and even for The Queen’s Coronation. 

 

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