W Shillaker & Co Ltd
In 1902 William Shillaker and his brother Edgar set up business as belt makers in Half Moon Passage in the City of London and in 1908 formed W, Shillaker & Co. Ltd. with a staff of six making ladies’ belts and handbags.
The Shillaker brothers were pioneers in this country’s handbag trade and in 1916 they decided to move their business to Chesham, where the company would have more room to expand. Here they opened a small factory in Alma Road with ten employees and concentrated on handbag manufacture.
At this time the brothers were joined by Maurice Heistercamp from Ypres in Belgium, who became Manager of the factory. The handbag business prospered and the first extension of the factory was completed in 1919. When Maurice Heistercamp decided to return to Belgium to set up his own business, making handbags .and fittings, his place at Shillaker’s was filled by his brother Camille, who became Director/Manager of the company.
Company expansion continues
The company continued to expand and in 1925 a further extension was added to the Alma Road factory. By this time the company was employing fifty men and women
During the early 1930s the company launched a nation-wide advertising campaign, which was a new concept in marketing, to publicise the trade name “Shillacraft” and Camille Heistercamp visited the U.S.A. to learn the techniques of mass-production.
As a result, sales and output increased until by 1939 ·the company’s 125 employees were turning out 4,000 to 5,000 handbags weekJy. The company ·exhibited regularly at· the British Industries Fairs and customers included Queen Mary and other member of the Royal Family.
The outbreak of World War 2 put a stop to ‘Shillaker’s plans for further extension of Alma Works and in 1940 the factory was taken over by the Admiralty for the manufacture of condensers and other electrical components.
After the war, W. Shillaker & Co. Ltd. resumed trading and in 1956 Camille Heistercamp bought out the Shillaker family’s interest in the company and went into partnership with Jane Shilton of London.
By 1961 the company was producing 2,000 to 3,000 handbags a week, a third of which were sold abroad. In that year, Camille Heistercamp sold W. Shillaker & Co. Ltd. to Shilton Ltd and retired from the business while his son David, who had worked in the business since 1946, took over as Work Director.
Alma Works was badly damaged by fire in 1962 but production was quickly resumed and continued until 1981 when Shilton ceased production of handbags in Chesham.