GEOFFREY PARKER - the man
Born in 1915 in Tottenham, London; Geoffrey grew up in a loving working class family, his father a Master Brewer and later cinema manager; he excelled at Grammar school in English, sport and art.
During his apprenticeship as a gas engineer (his father demanding that Geoffrey obtain a trade), Geoffrey attended Hornsey Art College where his love of oil painting and in particular the works of Vincent Van Gogh were sewn.
Geoffrey's self portrait, circa 1938
During trips on his bicycle to his “road gang” installing gas pipes for London’s rapidly expanding suburbs, Geoffrey, sought out publications of his favorite poets and playwrights which could be easily stowed in his pocket for break-time reading – little did he know that in years to come this simple requirement was to form the launch of Geoffrey Parker the Company.
Moving out of London into the Hertfordshire countryside, Geoffrey had developed a small collection of benefactors who helped to keep a cottage roof over his head as he expanded his skill as a painter. To supplement his irregular income, Geoffrey became a manager of a local glove making factory, specializing in Chamois leather.
As war broke out in 1939, Geoffrey was asked to continue overseeing the factory which was now making gloves for the war effort. But eventually Geoffrey’s desire to help in a more significant way allowed his employers to release him and he joined up in the Royal Air Force.
Geoffrey in RAF uniform, circa 1943
In 1941 he was sent to California, in civilian clothes (this was before American had officially joined the war) with a small group of 30 hand picked RAF cadets, to train as pilots as Britain was painfully short of both pilots and airplanes. The young airman enjoyed Hollywood hospitality given graciously by famous stars of stage and screen, however, for Geoffrey the glamour of Beverly Hills was surpassed by the kindness shown by a family of lawyers who had moved out from Los Angeles to the high Mojave Desert to a Dude ranch.
Geoffrey loved “The Ranch” and would spend his days off riding, swimming and of course painting! To this day, the family are proud to continue the special relationship which has developed over the generations with this special place and family.
On his way back to England as a commissioned officer and with his “wings”, his train pulled into the station at Chicago, the Tannoy announced the attack on Pearl Harbor. Geoffrey arrived back home as a much needed instructor, teaching new recruits how to fly and was then picked to form an elite squadron specially created to lead allied bomber raids as a Pathfinder. With no armaments, and only speed and altitude to defend himself and his navigator, Geoffrey flew numerous missions in his Mosquito, ahead of hundreds of heavy bombers, both British and American, using the then very secret “Oboe” system of bomber making. Geoffrey was promoted through the ranks and as a Squadron Leader was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. During this time he met his wife, Betty, a WAAF officer from Birmingham, and they were married in uniform amidst the London blitz after one night of “leave”, dancing to Carol Gibbons at The Savoy.
Being stationed at Bourne, near the university city of Cambridge, Geoffrey and Betty toured the surrounding countryside in search of a home. This they found in “Hodges” in 1944, which is still the family home to this day. Dilapidated but charming, this ancient farmhouse with 11 acres was lovingly restored by the couple over the years and despite being built without foundations, still stands after 650 years!
Hodges Farm, built circa 1350 AD
Following the end of the war, Geoffrey spent sometime at the Air Ministry making the inaugural tests on air sea rescue culminating in a fog bound trip across The Channel to France in a rubber dingy!
But his love of English literature drew him to Cambridge University and to the ancient college of St. John’s. Obtaining a special dispensation to be allowed to return home to his young daughter and wife, he traveled the 20 miles by motor bike each day.
To make ends meet, Geoffrey, started to rear pigs on his small holding, while Betty, tended her chickens, producing eggs for locals, and later for Londoners when Geoffrey traveled on business up to Town on the train, laden with trays of eggs! Graduating with a Master’s in English Literature, Geoffrey returned to Wimbish, to expand his pig farm, which in its height of free range production, was home to 450 Wessex Saddle Back and Large White very happy pigs.
During his trips to university, Geoffrey would pass the tannery where he bought the chamois for his pre-war glove making. Over many visits and numerous cups of tea, Geoffrey was asked by the owners to try and save an East End leather bindery they owned in Whitechapel in London’s East End. Combining Geoffrey’s love of painting, literature and his knowledge of leather, the company, Shrove (established in 1871) was a perfect match, producing leather-bound books with hand painted images on the covers. Sadly the writing was already “on the wall” and the Company was too troubled to continue and finally closed. However, a seed was sewn in Geoffrey’s mind for his own company.
In 1958, after the chickens were moved out of the "chicken hut", Geoffrey and Betty, working side by side, started to produce a range of leather-bound books, from classics to stationery – most of them pocket size (remembering his practical requirements of his “gas” days). From “Beefeaters” to Ocean liner’s “flags”, the books were lovingly hand painted and sold to tourist gift shops, museums, great cruise companies such as P & O and Cunard, to exclusive boutiques and designer labels. One such was Alfred Dunhill, who’s grandson, Richard Dunhill (current Life President of this World famous luxury brand), approached Geoffrey and asked him to make a chessboard – he tried and found that the ancient skill of inlaying leather was a particular craft which came easily to him and his growing team of craftsmen, and the rest as they say is “history”………………
Geoffrey in the workshop, circa 1979
For details of GEOFFREY PARKER - The Company please click here
For details of GEOFFREY PARKER - The Craftsmen
For a gallery of Geoffrey's art - please click here