a lad growing up in the Cotswolds, Nigel's grandfather, Colin
Smythe (1885-1968), never much cared for toys, but was enthralled
by the boxes, chests, and bags in which they came. Though his
parents thought it odd, soon enough those were the only toys he
got. As Colin himself reported in a journal that the family still
keeps, "It made for unusual Christmases, it did. My boxes never
had nothing in them, they didn't, and I was happy with that! My
younger brother gave me the boxes his presents came in, and so
I always thought of my Christmases as doubles, as doubles."
did he put into the boxes? Clothing, non-perishables snacks, and
clean leaves. His father buckled under the stress of raising an
odd-duck, so Colin and his mom and sister hit the road without
a permanent home. But since boxes were too cumbersome to drag
about, bags-which were squashable-became the substitutes.
back, Colin reported in his journal that "I credit my mum for
seeing that my fascination with boxes or bags and such dinna hurt
nobody, and I was lucky to marry me an Irish woman who, like mum,
dinna think I was daft for it. Bully for her!"
1905 Colin, having a fondness for thistles, moved to Scotland
and married a local lass, Brighid. To support her, he started
making bags for carriages, doctors, and travelling salesmen. The
first bag he ever made still exists, but, tragically, the son
of its senile owner won't part with it. It's a long story.
1907, Brighid gave birth to twins, Christopher and Emily. By the
time they were old enough to be trusted with scissors, the children
helped the family business grow and thrive-Emily cutting patterns,
and Christopher setting rivets. By the time the twins turned 16,
demand had grown to 500 bags per month, and the small family couldn't
supply it. What made it worse was a growing market for bags made
to look just like the Smythes. Father Colin accepted this as a
natural consequence of having created a popular brand, but young
Christopher was furious, and thrice was arrested for vandalizing
the "spurious Smythes" as he called them, from local stores and
on bikes whenever he saw them. Because these were his only run-ins
with the law and because of his dad's good standing, he was let
off lightly, spending only a week in the local detentiary. He
was 30 years old.
was a seminal period in Christopher's life, though. In the adjacent
cell was Hannah Mboglio, a native of the Belgian Congo (now Zaire).
She had arrived in London just two days before, and, not knowing
the local laws, was arrested when she failed to pay a cab fare.
She thought the driver was offering her a free ride out of kindness.
To make a long story short, a year later she and Christopher were
married, and a eight months later gave birth to twins-Nigel, Hanna
(no second h). In the same year, Emily-who had married in '36-gave
birth to daughter, Anna.
Colin Smythe died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1940, Hannah,
who had become like a daughter to Colin, took his passing as hard
as any of his blood family, and it was she who gave his eulogy-causing
quite a stir in the then lily-white England. Historians generally
agree that was the start of the civil rights movement in all of
the United Kingdom-beating the U.S. by more than a full score.
Hannah's urging, Christopher and Emily continued the family business,
much to the delight of their mother. In 1942, at the peak of WWII
and as the carriage bag business was dwindling, Emily suggested
they introduce cycle bags to replace them. At the time, Carradice
was the "cycle bag to beat," and another British bag, Karrimoor,
also enjoyed a good reputation. Fortunately there was plenty of
business for all, and each covered a different part of the U.K.
Trade secrets were shared freely, and all brands flourished marvelously.
Young Nigel was passionate for cycling, and by the time he was
16, it was assumed he and Anna would take over the business. But
Hanna moved to the United States to marry a sailor, so Nigel carried
on alone. Nigel married Cora Fitzgibbon in 1944. They had two
sons, George and Christopher, who carry on the business today,
with Cora handling all the paperwork. Nigel, now 67, works only
four days per week, secure in the knowledge that the future of
his company is in good hands. He still oversees designs and aesthetic
details, and is known to his materials suppliers as a "tough bear"
but fair & friendly.
George and Christopher Smythe are keen cyclists, and in fact neither
owns a motorcar. As a matter of fact and trivia, George was named
after our own George Washington, whom his father deeply admired.
Christopher was named for Christopher Plummer, the reknowned stage
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