Sir Bernard Ashley has died at the age of 83. In partnership with his wife Laura, he made a huge impact on Mid Wales. The business empire that they established through the 60s/70s/80s remains a major employer in Montgomeryshire today. I'm told his funeral will be in the village of Carno on 24th.
Laura and Bernard Ashley began their business in Pimlico, London. She designed various items, and he printed them on machinery which he had designed, and which was located in their attic. They moved the business to Montgomeryshire in 1961, and to the old railway station at Carno in 1967. This factory was to become the base for a worldwide retailing empire. As the business grew, a huge new factory was built by the Development Board for Rural Wales for the company in Newtown (still known as Texplan). Shops were opened across the world. Laura Ashley's floral designs became must-have fashion wear in every major city. Today, you will hear floral patterns described as typical Laura Ashley. A Queen's Award for Export was bestowed in 1977. A knighthood followed in the 1980s.
Tragedy struck in 1985. Laura Ashley fell down the stairs at their home, and died ten days later. I recall it being a loss felt by the whole of the region. Laura and Bernard Ashley had put Mid Wales on the map. Laura Ashley Holdings plc went public in 1985, and I remember its shares being hugely oversubscribed. The share price almost reached the stars. However, through the following years, the company fell out of fashion, and several of its manufacturing units were closed. But it always stayed true to Montgomeryshire. Sir Bernard retired as Chairman in 1993. Laura Ashley, now under foreign ownership remains an important business in Newtown, even though the famous Carno factory now sadly lies idle.
I worked with Sir Bernard and the Laura Ashley business during my three year stint as Chairman of Montgomeryshire District Council and my eight year stint as a member of the Development Board for Rural Wales (five as Chairman). He was a very unusual man. I like unusual people. But I'd not met Sir Bernard for many years. His 'imprint' on Mid Wales was such that many of us will feel, as we learn of his death this weekend that it has deprived us of a real 'Champion of Mid Wales'.