A LIVING HERITAGE
Newbridge Silverware - A Living Heritage
Vision is the power of anticipating that which will or may come to be. If the founding fathers of Newbridge Cutlery had a vision of a successful thriving business at the heart of the local community, one could be safe in assuming they would be well satisfied. The business has grown and prospered step by step alongside the Irish State and people and is deeply embedded in the heart of County Kildare.
The history of the company is long and varied, and as we approach almost ninety years in business it is fitting to look back at the key events and people that shaped that vision into the thriving company we have today.
When the company was founded in 1934 Newbridge town was, like most of the country, trying to find its feet in the new reality of post-independence Ireland. Cut off from many centuries of being a Garrison town, Newbridge now struggled. The local shops, factories and craftspeople that supplied and maintained the armies that fought from the Crimea to India were now struggling to fill that void. Poverty was rife, and the old skills of Blacksmith, farrier and saddle maker were fading. That deep heritage was still there though, waiting to be coaxed back to life by someone with a vision of what could be and not what was.
Speaking of heritage, the craftspeople that are central to the Newbridge Silverware family today have continued an art form that stretches back through recorded history to the banks of the Liffey in Newbridge, where it is recorded in the Annals of the four masters that; (“It was by Tigearnmas first established in Ireland the art of dying cloth of purple and other colours and the ornamenting of drinking cups, and goblets, and breast pins for mantles of gold and silver and procured his goldsmith named Ugden, who dwelt near the Liffey to make Gold and Silver pennies”).
Bill Gamble and Joe Kearns in the Plating Shop at Newbridge Silverware in 1935
Newbridge itself sits on the Curragh plains, in the heart of Ireland’s ancient east. The town is sheltered by the river Liffey and the ancient Hill of Allen, where the great warrior and touchstone of Irish heritage and history, Cuchullaun, sallied forth to smite his enemies.
Perhaps then it is fitting that the Normans, and their successors the British Empire, used the Curragh plains to train armies that would wage war over the entire globe. The modern town itself sprang from the presence of the British army, as did the skills that Newbridge Silverware would harness and hone over many years.
Vision is a constant theme in the life of Newbridge Silverware, and among the first people to see what could be, was Senator Cummins, a local school teacher, the leader of the Labour party William Norton, and Joe McGrath Snr who was involved in negotiating Irish independence with the British state.
They had a unique vision for an enterprise that would go on to become an Irish success story in a time of stagnation and retrenchment. Newbridge Cutlery would look to the future and carry the past skills of the town into a new era.
The fledgling business would be set up in the now unused Military barracks in the town, with the help of the Free State and local business people, funds would be raised and the necessary skills and knowledge would be brought over from Sheffield, England. Among the people from Sheffield was a man by the name of Mr JW Haigh who would become the first managing director of the company.
Newbridge Cutlery began crafting cutlery and tableware products and by 1939 the company was making major inroads and had taken a majority share of the Irish market.
This greatly pleased the government who were keen to see home grown companies thrive and prosper and reduce reliance on imports. Over the many decades to come the company would endure many challenges but always rise to meet them head on.
The first of these major challenges came in the way of the second World War, when metal and steel in particular was extremely hard to come by and impossible to import. The company even used the old Dublin tram lines to keep in operation. A major fire and wartime restrictions could not stop Newbridge Cutlery and in testament to the resilience of the company it even grew in this period.
The company purchased a share in Sandersons, a factory in Newbridge that specialised in steel work. Profits increased, and the workforce had increased to 600 by August 1948. The company used its increased capital wisely and purchased a new cutlery factory in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford and other major investments throughout Ireland and the UK.
Entering the 1950s
By the 1950s Ireland was still an economy in full protection mode, and consequently, entrepreneurship and indeed the whole economy was struggling. Newbridge Cutlery still held on to a vision of a company that would innovate and not just react to market trends. To forge ahead and predict trends was always a hallmark, and the company began to develop into holloware. Coffee and tea sets, sugar bowls, pots and kettles, water jugs and platters to compliment an already excellent cutlery range would provide a boost to the company. These items would go on display in St Stephens Green, Dublin and give a glimpse of the future where the company would become a brand leader in advertising throughout Europe.
Pictured right; Dominic Doyle in Ireland’s first delicatessen which he founded
However, a major challenge was waiting on the horizon for the company, Ireland would begin preparations to join the single market and the step by step history of both Ireland and Newbridge cutlery would change radically.
The first of January 1973 marked a very tough time for the company, Ireland was now a fully fledged member of the EEC. All protections and tariffs were now removed and Newbridge would have to compete on a Europe wide basis. Facing unprecedented competition, the company stays afloat, but is bought out by Harcourt Irish Holding and faces an uncertain future. However a group of local businessmen rallied around current MD Donal O’Rourke and purchased the company. One of those men was Dominic Doyle, a true visionary who would guide the company back to the summit.
Dominic was an already successful businessman who had sold his pork processing business and invested his profits in purchasing a stake in Newbridge Cutlery. The new board of directors would include Dominic Doyle, JH Hayes, Joe McLoughlin, Alan Rountree and Richard White.
Dominic was from the very start involved at the coalface of the business, never content to sit back he took on the role of production manager and learned the business from the ground up.
Within three years Dominic had remortgaged his house and bought out his partners, and the stage would be set for a dramatic turnaround in the struggling companies fortunes. Dominic had a clear vision of the future of the company however in order to arrive there he had to first set about the difficult process of rationalising both the company and its work practices.
He wanted to reposition the company as a high end, competitive entity, that would shed outdated work practices and reposition as a heritage brand in keeping with the best traditions of Irish craft work, design, and quality.
Dominic had a very focused vision for the company, he shed non performing lines and tight margin product, focusing on formal dinnerware amongst other high end brands. He had a zeal for advertising and understood any high end product must embrace the power of modern media. The company now started to make inroads into the UK market and secured many lucrative contracts in the hotel and retail sector.
There is no doubt that Dominic saved one of Ireland’s oldest companies by running a tight ship and bringing his vision to fruition. However the best was yet to come for Newbridge Silverware. The solid foundations laid by Dominic would be built upon and expanded by his son William and daughter Oonagh who would prove that the potential of the company was yet to be fully realised.
William Doyle was educated in Newbridge College and Trinity respectively, he graduated in Business Studies and Economics. William would gladly admit that his real education happened on the floor of the factory his father owned, where hard work was a minimum requirement. His father Dominic always encouraged and nurtured an entrepreneurial spirit in William and this would serve him well when he took over the helm. William’s time would come when his father passed away in 1993, both William and Oonagh would now be responsible for a large workforce and a busy factory. Despite the day to day challenges, William’s vision, just like his fathers was to place the company in a position to face the future and not just react to trends but to predict them.
The economy whilst still not realising its full potential was radically different to when Dominic took over. William foresaw that luxury items and high end jewellery would be in demand as disposable income rose and set about preparing the company ahead of time to take best advantage of this demand.
William now began to develop and encourage in house training to orientate the company towards designing and crafting jewellery. This was helped in no small way by Barbara McMahon of the lifestyle and fashion show, ‘’Head To Toe”, which was a very popular TV show in Ireland. She also saw this was a company with a vision and no small talent at its disposal and promoted the company accordingly.
Indeed the employees were encouraged to up-skill in a time when this was unheard of in Ireland. Any employee looking for these opportunities were encouraged and financed to do so. The first range was released to widespread acclaim and was a great success. William, Oonagh, and the team at Newbridge would now go about making Newbridge Silverware a household name and one of Ireland’s premier companies.
The power of advertising was not lost on William and this would become one of the hallmarks of the company. As a now world wide recognised design innovator and advertising powerhouse, producing luxury giftware, Newbridge Silverware owes a lot to the foresight of the Doyles who would capture a new spirit for the company. William’s entrepreneurial spirit would be recognised in a nomination for the Ernst and Young entrepreneur of the year award in 2005. This began by partnering with the foremost celebrities of the day as brand ambassadors for publicity drives.
Supermodels Naomi Campbell, Sophi Dahl, and Yasmin Le Bon, took part in photo shoots.
The actual list of celebrities, sports stars, and public figures who have worked with and represented the Newbridge brand is quite spectacular. A short list includes. the Princess Grace Foundation, the Audrey Hepburn Estate, the Greta Garbo Estate, the family of Kurt Cobain and Maureen O’Hara. Designers - Dorothy Draper and Co., Phillip Tracy and Paul Costelloe, Guinness and Avoca Handweavers. , Dallas Stars - Linda Gray, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Charlene Tilton, Miss World Rosanna Davison, model Andrea Roche, actress Amy Huberman and presenter Anne Doyle. Rugby stars Keith Wood, Rob Kearney and Ronan O’Gara to name but a few.
Newbridge Silverware whilst remaining at heart a busy factory producing the ideas our in-house artists and designers create, is now a hugely diversified brand. Newbridge Silverware’s home base has become a unique visitor experience unrivalled in its uniqueness and professionalism. There are many facets to the operation, each one finely honed to a particular taste. The experience caters for people who are interested in a high end product whilst not forgetting customers looking for a bargain. The company provides a personal shopping assistant, and interpreters among the staff. Domo’s Emporium serves Artisan food and coffee and takes as its inspiration Dominic Doyle who set up Ireland’s first Delicatessen before taking the helm at Newbridge Cutlery.
A factory tour was started in 2018 and has been a great success increasing footfall and allowing our products to become more accessible. Alongside these offerings is arguably the jewel in the crown of the visitor experience, The Museum of Style Icons. The company offers one of the finest collections of Hollywood fashion and Royal memorabilia in Europe if not the world. From Princess Diana, to Elvis Presley, and Marlyn Monroe, to the Beatles, all beautifully curated and preserved for the public to enjoy.
Right; Actress Olivia Newton John visits the Museum
All of this has allowed Newbridge Silverware to take its place in the top five visitor attractions in Ireland.
William Doyle’s vision for the company has become a reality, his forward thinking and planning came about in 2007 when he spotted a dress belonging to Audrey Hepburn from the film ‘Charade’ and the future path of the company would change once again.
Working hand in hand with Julien’s Auctioneers of Los Angeles, Newbridge Silverware began not only to buy memorabilia but to display some of the world’s finest fashion from the golden age of Hollywood. Contemporary displays from Nirvana right through to Dallas alongside Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana would catapult Newbridge into the public consciousness. The British monarch HRH Queen Elizabeth II would use Newbridge Silverware on her visit to Ireland at the state banquet in Dublin Castle in her honour.
The vision of a small factory utilising local skills and producing cutlery was indeed brought to fruition by the founders of Newbridge Silverware. But this company has realised a potential far beyond what was originally envisioned, the current CEO William Doyle and directors Oonagh Doyle, Paul Keane and Brendan Waters, are now at the helm of a growing company with a track record of innovation and steady growth. The workforce at the company has in many cases worked their entire lives at Newbridge, many have served over 50 years and in a very meaningful way are part of a large extended family. Every challenge the company has faced over its long history has been met and overcome, recessions, wars, fires, and political upheavals. Let there be no doubt that the future of Newbridge Silverware will be as long and innovative as its past, the long and storied heritage of Irish craftsmanship is in safe hands.