Remploy furniture now has real value at auction

Two from a set of four Prince of Wales Investiture armchairs. The red plywood has upholstered seats and the Prince of Wales feathers embossed in gold to the backs. Designed by Lord Snowdon for the ceremony at Caernarvon Castle in 1969 and made by disabled workers at the Remploy factory in Bridgend, they made £2,860 in a recent specialist auction.

By Vivienne Milburn FRICS Independent Antiques Auctioneer & Valuer

REMPLOY furniture was made by disabled workers to give them employment  – and the products now have a collectable value.

There is designer retro furniture and then there is mass-produced retro furniture. Top auction prices are for furniture by designers such as Gordon Russell. 

However, one of the most interesting developments at auction is for the furniture made by Remploy. In 1946, the doors of the first Remploy factory in Bridgend, south Wales, opened to welcome the company’s very first group of disabled workers. 

The concept, conceived towards the end of World War Two, meant that Remploy was established by the then government to provide ‘sheltered employment’ – a term used to denote workplaces dedicated to employing disabled people in an environment ‘sheltered’ from the competitive pressures of the open market – on a previously unknown scale. 

Prior to the war, such provision had been primarily by charitable groups, operating individual or small-scale networks of workshops. 

Remploy was created alongside other elements of the Welfare State such as the NHS as a pioneering attempt to provide a national scheme of ‘sheltered employment’, financially backed by the Treasury and thereby able to provide meaningful and productive work for all those who wanted to work but were considered too ‘severely disabled’ to be able to gain and keep employment.

With nothing like this attempted before, and with no clear plan to follow, it was up to the company itself to decide how best to provide useful employment for disabled people. It was decided that they should begin to open these factories in areas where there were known to be large numbers of potential employees. The first factory in Bridgend was followed by one in Salford and a further one in Birmingham. Remploy ended 1946 with four factories in operation, employing 160 men and 4 women.

Further factories quickly followed as the company came under increasing pressure to open them across the country. By 1952, Remploy had more than ninety factories operating across the country. Rapid expansion was not an easy task, however, as there was often a shortage of work to be done. 

In the aftermath of World War II, materials, equipment and large-scale production orders were in short supply. In order to reduce the amount of time employees spent waiting for something to do, factory managers would do their best to find work. This could be making furniture, clothes, boxes, wheelchairs, artificial limbs, souvenirs and toys. When orders were available, the main production areas were wood-working, light engineering, bookbinding, cardboard box making, knitwear, surgical footwear and appliances, brush and broom making, leatherwork and printing.

The Bridgend factory became well known for making violins. Employees were taught how to make them by Mr Schlieps, an Estonian prisoner-of-war who had been brought to Britain from a refugee camp in Germany. The violins were made from pine wood taken from equipment used in the D-Day landings in Normandy. Lots of these violins were sold to school orchestras up and down the country. 

The designs of the furniture produced tended to be in keeping with the modernist style at the time, what we now call retro furniture. The best-known items produced by Remploy are the chairs used for the Prince of Wales Investiture in 1969, which were designed by Lord Snowdon and appropriately made at Bridgend in Wales. Guests at the investiture were able to take their chairs home with them and therefore they regularly appear at auction. They usually make about £500 to £700 each, depending on condition.

As well as providing work, many factories had a lively social scene with clubs, sports and games. The Sheffield factory, for example, had a thriving archery club whose members were referred to as the ‘Remploy Robin Hoods’. Through such efforts, the factories developed important social and recreational opportunities for their employees. With the inclusion of disabled people in open employment becoming more common, the last Remploy factory was closed in 2013. 

A year earlier, Chesterfield’s Remploy factory at Whittington Moor, which produced footwear, was closed down. About 70 employees lost their jobs, although some took on new jobs when the site was taken over by R Healthcare.

Remploy was a truly pioneering attempt to provide a national scheme of ‘sheltered employment’ and continued to shape the approach to disability employment provision in Britain. And it all began 78 years ago, with a handful of disabled workers entering a small factory in Bridgend.

Editor’s Note: If you have antiques and collectables and you would like to place your items in an appropriate specialist auction. It is worth getting the advice of an Independent Antiques Valuer to assess your items. For further information, please contact Vivienne  on  01629 640210 or  07870 238788; or go to   or email