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Last Updated: Friday, 27 August, 2004, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Queen Victoria's undercover secret
Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria was one of Pryce Jones' many prestigious customers
Undercover secrets of Queen Victoria are set to be revealed in the unlikely surroundings of a Welsh county hall.

Documents from a company thought to have supplied Britain's longest-serving monarch with her underwear are also expected to unveil its links with most European royal families.

The documents have been gathering dust for more than 130 years at the former headquarters of the world's first mail order business in Newtown, Powys.

They are now being handed over to the local council which could expose some unknown history of Victoria's reign.

Sir Pryce Pryce Jones, who founded his Pryce Jones company, went from a shop assistant to a multi-millionaire responsible for 4,000 workers and 250,000 customers.

He supplied Queen Victoria with her underwear - it was a piece of woven flannel that was very soft
Historian David Pugh

Newtown historian David Pugh said: "There will be some reference to Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale in the documents.

"He supplied Queen Victoria with her underwear - it was a piece of woven flannel that was very soft.

"The details from Pryce Jones' company are expected to contain business records and accounts, photographs, newspaper cuttings and other memorabilia from the Victorian era.

"Pryce Jones employed a cuttings' agency to keep a record of all the newspaper articles about his business.

"People have been concerned about the records and there's been claims that some crucial documents may have already gone missing."

He said it was vital that the council's archives service had stepped in.

Mr Pugh, a former mayor of Newtown, added: "Sir Pryce supplied Florence Nightingale and other Royal houses of Europe with goods too.

Sir Pryce Pryce Jones
Sir Pryce founded the world's first mail order business

"He also supplied both the British and Prussian armies with what we now know as the sleeping bag."

The Pryce Jones records are currently stored by Shop Direct, the catalogue company which owns the firm's former headquarters.

Powys' archives manager, Catherine Richards, said the collection was a bit of a mystery.

"We'll find out more next week when we start to catalogue the records," she said.

"I contacted the company and, after a few months, it agreed to let us have the collection of accounts, minutes and catalogues dating back to the 19th Century."

David Boardman, of Shop Direct, said: "Powys archives said that we could retain the rights to the records, but they would catalogue them and store them in a proper environment."

Sir Pryce was born in Llanllwchaiarn, near Newtown, in 1834, and became an apprentice at the age of 12 to a drapery business in Newtown.

In 1859, he opened his own shop in Newtown. It was from here that he first tried out his ideas which were to lead to the promising beginnings of the first mail order business in the world.

1834: Pryce Jones is born
1859: He opens his first shop
1880: Customers number 250,000
1887: Pryce Jones is knighted
1920: Sir Pryce dies aged 85

He began to send samples of flannel to the local rural gentry for sale in the mail, and then started sending parcels by stage coach.

By 1880, he had 250,000 customers in all parts of the globe.

As a mark of his success, Pryce Jones was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1887.

Sir Pryce died in 1920 at the age of 85.

However, his company was hit badly by the depression of the 1920s and 1930s and was eventually taken over in 1938.

By then, mail order had become a global phenomenon and a way of life, especially in the United States, providing a lifeline for its sparsely populated, rural communities.

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23 Jul 04  |  Magazine


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