On this day in history : 17th September 1985 – The death of Welsh fashion designer and businesswoman Laura Ashley, at the age of 60….

Laura Ashley 1960s – Unknown photographer

Laura had just celebrated her 60th birthday when she fell down the stairs at her daughter’s home in the West Midlands…. Suffering a brain haemorrhage she died ten days later in hospital in Coventry….

Laura Ashley store, Exeter

She had been born Laura Mountney on the 7th of September 1925 at her grandmother’s house in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales…. She attended school in Merthyr Tydfil until 1932 and then was sent to Elmwood School in Croydon…. However, at the age of 13 and with the outbreak of WW2 she was evacuated back to Wales….

On leaving school at the age of 16 Laura joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service…. She met Bernard Ashley and they were married in 1949 and went on to have four children….

It was while working as a secretary for the National Federation of Women’s Institutes in London that Laura became involved with a quilting project…. It rekindled her love of the needle-crafts she had learned with her grandmother…. She began to design napkins, table mats, tea towels and headscarves…. Then after being inspired by an exhibition of traditional handicrafts at the Victoria and Albert Museum she began to design fabrics…. Bernard printed her designs on a machine he made himself in their flat in Pimlico…. In 1953 they began to print Victorian style headscarves which became hugely successful – so Bernard left his job in the City to work with her full time…. The company was originally called Ashley-Mountney – but Bernard persuaded her to rename it Laura Ashley….

Image credit : Jim Linwood via Flickr

The family moved to Kent in 1955 and then to Wales in 1960…. The first shop opened in Machynlleth, Montgomeryshire in 1961, selling its own produce plus locally produced products such as honey…. Laura worked all hours making stock and introduced fashion lines such as smock shirts…. The family lived in the flat above the shop….

Central Machynlleth, where the first Laura Ashley shop was opened (look closely at the blue building on the left of the picture, opposite the clock tower – this is the location of the shop and where Laura lived with her family in the flat above) – Image credit : Celuici – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

And so the business grew and became more and more popular – until it became an iconic brand…. Two months after her death Laura Ashley Holdings was floated – and was 34 times over-subscribed….

1970s Laura Ashley dresses – Image credit Mabalu – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

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