The Pineroyd Letter-Case Industry

Compiled by Jenny Mukerji

26 June 2012

Back in 2007 when I was researching through The Times digital website for references to The Bourne at Farnham in Surrey, I came across a number of letters to the Editor about the Pineroyd Letter-Case Industry.


The Times, published 3 February 1915:


Sir, – Some months ago I started making small letter-cases for the soldiers in one of the new Army camps near here. They were very popular, the great attraction being that the men’s own initials were worked on them to their order – and the prices were very low, ranging from 3d. or 4d. to 10d., the latter kind being decorated with flags. At Christmas I had several orders for presents to soldiers at their entertainments, &c. Altogether I had several hundreds made with the help of a few friends, and by the sale of these and some other work I was able to send a cheque for £5.5s. to your Fund at the end of the year. I am now sending £3.3s. more. But I am now trying to start a small industry (at Woking) employing some women who are out of work or on half-time in the making, and I am very anxious to obtain all the orders possible to keep the work going to make all profits I can for the above Fund. The cases make excellent little presents to send to our soldiers at the front. They are waterproof, being made of leather-cloth, and keep letters or photographs clean and dry. They may be had from 4d. each. The workers are paid at the rate of 4d. an hour, so there is no “sweating” or “relief-rate” pay.

I am, yours faithfully, SELINA GRAY

Pineroyd, Lower Bourne, Farnham, Jan. 30.

Selina GRAY (nee MARRIOTT) (1857-1930) was the wife of Herbert Branston GRAY DD Oxon. (1851-1929) who had been the headmaster of Bradfield College and responsible for starting up its famous Greek Plays as a venture to save the school from bankruptcy. He has a detailed entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Mrs GRAY’s father Wharton Booth MARRIOTT (1823-71) also has an ODNB entry.

Within a month of the publication of the above letter, Virginia COMPTON (1853-1940) had been in contact. She was the wife of Edward COMPTON, the actor and Henry IRVING‘s first manager. Mrs COMPTON was also the mother of the author Sir Edward Montague COMPTON-MACKENZIE (1883-1972) and four actors, including Fay COMPTON (1894-1978), who played Aunt Ann in the BBC 1967 production of The Forsyte Saga. Her letter to the editor appeared as follows:


The Times, 5 March 1915:


Sir, – Mrs H. B. GRAY, who has started so successfully the Pineroyd letter-case industry, is good enough to allow me to join her in receiving orders for the making of the letter-cases received by me to be carried out by the girls belonging to the Theatre Girls’ Club who are out of employment. The reason for writing this letter is that both Mrs GRAY and myself are anxious to receive as many definite orders as possible, so that we may know if we are justified in starting an agency and workroom in London, where the work can be promptly and properly carried out. We shall therefore be grateful for as many orders as possible, and they can be sent to either Mrs H. B. Gray, Pineroyd Cottage, Lower Bourne, Farnham, or to myself. One desire is to receive and execute so many orders that we may have sufficient profits to send a portion to one of the Naval funds as well as sending to The Times Ambulance Fund, as already done.

Yours sincerely, VIRGINIA COMPTON

5 Little Portland-street, The Theatre Girls’ Club, W  March 1

The Theatre Girls’ Club had been set up to help young women who worked in the theatrical industry. It was supported by a number of well-known actresses and clergy who wanted decent living conditions and wages for these girls both in England and abroad. Being in the acting profession herself, Mrs COMPTON wanted to give assistance to the young women whose employment in the theatres had been reduced due to the Great War. As the war progressed and especially once the Armistice came into force, many of these girls went to work in Paris where they needed the protection of the Theatre Girls’ Club. They had a hostel in Montmartre and there were many appeals in The Times and one on the BBC for funds to support them. One of the club’s most famous members, who took advantage of their help and still appreciates the benefits it gave her in her early career, is the actress Amanda BARRIE. Sadly, by the 1970s, the Soho club had become a refuge for destitute and homeless girls.

The Times wrote a report on the Pineroyd Industry on 25 August 1915:



Many soldiers at the front possess the useful letter-cases made by a little band of workers formed by Mrs Edward COMPTON and Mrs H. B. GRAY – The industry was started in February at Woking, and there are now paid workers there in London. The cases range in price from 3d. to 1s. The most popular are the regimental badge cases from 9d. [?] and also Canadian Overseas Force cases with maple-leaf badge at 1s. The sole address from which the cases can be obtained is Mrs H. B. GRAY, the Pineroyd Industry, 5 Little Portland-street, London W. The profits of the industry are devoted to The Times Motor Ambulance Running Fund.

Another report appeared in The Times of 9 October 1916:



Begun in a small way in February 1915, at Woking, the “Pineroyd Industry”, which makes the kind of little presents that soldiers and sailors like to get, has now its headquarters at the Theatre Girls’ Club, 5 Little Portland-street, where Christmas orders will be welcomed. All the profits go to The Times Red Cross Motor Ambulance Fund, and, as the workers, all of whom are women who have been hit by the war and are not fit for munition or other war work, are paid a fair wage and the little gifts of their making are moderately priced, these profits only grow large on quick return. Already £130 has been earned for the Red Cross. The goods made include water-proof leather cloth letter-cases, cases to hold pocket games, and service under-belts with four pockets, and billet slippers in cases. Every Wednesday the things made can be seen at 5, Little Portland-street and orders booked. But most of the business done is through the post by means of price lists.

On 4 July 1916 The Times reported the following:

The Pineroyd Letter-case Industry, which is established at the Theatre Girls Club, 5 Little Portland Street, W. supplies letter-cases, tobacco-pouches and rest-billet slippers to the troops, and will be glad to send particulars to the comforts committees of regiments and hospitals. All the profits go to The Times Fund which has just received 100 guineas from this source.

As part of  “Our Day” (19 October 1916), the day on which the Joint Fund of the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem made a special appeal for funds, The Times announced:

The workroom of the Pineroyd Industry at 5 Little Portland-street will be open during the day for orders for Christmas presents for wounded soldiers and sailors. All profits will be sent to the Transport of Wounded Fund, to which £130 has already been sent.

It is now noticeable that their market is changing. Having started out as items for the use of gallant soldiers at the front, they are now things to be given as presents to the increasing numbers of convalescing wounded.

On 13 February 1917 Selina GRAY wrote a letter to The Times informing them of their change of address:


Sir, This industry for supplying useful gifts for the troops was started in Woking (with the help of a kindly notice in The Times) in February 1915, to earn money for The Times Fund, to which all profits are given, and to provide paid home work for a few women needing such employment. By the kindness of Mrs Edward COMPTON the industry had its headquarters for more than a year at the Theatre Girls’ Club in Little Portland-street. Owing to the removal of that club to 59 Greek-street, Soho, where no workroom is available, all orders should in future be sent to Mrs H.B. GRAY, at 91 Warwick-road, Ealing, where the work can be seen by appointment. In the two years more than 20,000 articles have been made and sold, and the profits, amounting in 1915 to £60 and in 1916 £100 have been paid over in instalments to the Fund. We have added to our list several useful gifts for sailors and soldiers on active service or in hospital, and for sales of work, &c., but the letter-cases, with which alone the industry was started, are still very popular, especially those with the regimental and naval crests. A portion of the Paddington stall has been kindly allotted to the Pineroyd Industry at the Red Cross Fair at the Central Hall at Westminster on the 15th, 16th and 17th inst., and specimens of the work may be seen there.

I am, yours faithfully, SELINA GRAY.

Christmas was coming and on 19 November 1917 The Times announced:



The Pineroyd Industry, which supplies pocket-cases for the troops and gives the profits, amounting to £200 so far, to The Times Fund, can supply diaries for 1918 with regimental crest complete. These diaries make a cheap and useful, in fact war-time, Christmas present, and they may be had for 1s.6d. each from Mrs H B GRAY, the Pineroyd Industry, 91 Warwick-road, Ealing. A catalogue will be sent on receipt of a stamped envelope.

Although the Armistice was just around the corner, The Times and Mrs GRAY were probably still keen to raise money for The Times Fund. The following appeared in the newspaper 16 October 1918:


The Pineroyd letter-case industry, profits from which, already amounting to over £300, go to The Times Fund, invites orders for an excellent “Soldiers’ Diary” a most useful Christmas present for men on service. The diaries, which are bound in leather with regiment crest, and contain much practical information are sold at 2s. each post free. Orders should be sent at once to Mrs GRAY, St Mary’s Vicarage, Bury St Edmunds with an addressed envelope and name of regiment for which they are required.

In 1918, Herbert Branston GRAY became vicar of St Mary’s Church at Bury St Edmunds.

And finally, on 20 December 1920, The Times announced:



Mrs GRAY (the Pineroyd Industry) has for sale a small number of “Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Own Diary” with or without regimental crest. The profits, which were given during the war to The Times Fund, will be given this year to the Lord Roberts Memorial Workshops for disabled soldiers. A postal order for 1s. 6d. And a stamped addressed square envelope should be enclosed to Mrs GRAY, St Mary’s Vicarage, Bury St Edmunds.

Virginia COMPTON, who had been widowed in 1918, died at the Theatre Girls’ Club, 59 Greek Street, Soho on 4 May 1940.

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