JW Tasker (founder)

NECESSITY, they say, is the mother of all invention and when it comes to keeping a family of 15 in clean clothes, you can understand why, in the days before automatic washing machines and tumble dryers, a mangle would be useful, but did you know that the mangle was invented in Accrington?

The creator and builder of the first geared wooden roller wet clothes-wringing machine was master blacksmith Robert Tasker, circa 1850. At the time, he had smithy in Back Union Street, which became part of Accrington Broadway. Robert and wife Betty, a weaver, produced 10 daughters and three sons so presumably, had an almost daily stack of dirty laundry.

Robert, who made the gates to the cemetery in Burnley Road, Accrington, which are still in use today, refused to patent his invention, saying, God gives men brains to help his brother, not line his pockets. However, he and Betty did charge their neighbours a penny a time to come to their house and use the machine!

Robert Tasker

You can see Robert's original mangle at Towneley Art Gallery and Museum, Burnley. Robert died aged 69 in 1882, but not before passing on his entrepreneurial spirit to his offspring to be inherited by subsequent generations. For the Tasker clan became and remain an Accrington institution and now enjoy a reputation that extends far beyond the town's boundaries through the namesake family furniture store, Taskers, in Queen Mill, Queens Road. And this year the business is celebrating its 110th birthday.

Says managing director Ivor Lefton, who became the first non family company board member five years ago: To survive in retail for this long takes tremendous skill and forward planning. Taskers benefits from great customer loyalty but this is because of its traditional family values based on service, support and going that extra mile.

Robert Haworth Tasker

Robert Haworth became head of the company when his father died in 1953. It was Robert Haworth, who moved Taskers to Queen Mill in 1965. Initially, Taskers was a tenant paying a rent of half a crown a square foot, which at the time was about the going rate. But by the 1970s, the increasing power of the supermarkets had already led to the demise of many smaller local retail outlets, which had made up their wholesale clients. Wholesaling was therefore discontinued, but the freehold of the land and mill premises were bought and the mill's interior refurbished into a direct to the public furniture and carpet showroom.

That showroom spans 40,000sq.ft., making it the largest retail showroom on one floor level in the county. Showcased is both contemporary and classic furniture manufactured primarily by longstanding British companies such as Parker Knoll, Ercol, G Plan, Old Charm, Silentnight and bespoke producers including Parker and Farr and David Gundry.

Robert Philip Tasker

Current chairman of the board is Robert Philip Tasker, who has presided over more than £1 million worth of investment in the store over the last five years. He inherited his position from his father Robert Haworth Tasker. Together, they transformed the business in the mid 1970s to focus it on its current range of lounge, dining and bedroom furniture, plus carpets and floorings. Their overhaul meant ditching a wholesale arm (once its bread and butter) supplying neighbouring shops and stores not only with furnishings but also with china and hardware.

Explains Ivor: Robert Haworths father, also Robert, set up the wholesale business after returning to Accrington from serving with the army during the First World War. Initially, he joined his parents in their business. They had a hardware shop in Whalley Road, Accrington, and his father John William, whose dad was the Robert Tasker who invented the mangle, also used to travel the streets selling his wares from a horse and cart. Their best seller was lamp oil.

Taskers

Outside, a £100,000 investment means there are now new parking facilities for up to 50 customer vehicles. On entering the store, customers are looked after by a staff of 35 full and part-time staff. Adds Ivor: Nothing could have been achieved without our excellent staff. They are a source of pride to the directors.

And with a Tasker Street in Accrington to acknowledge the family';s contribution to town life, it has to be agreed that that's not a bad legacy from a pile of wet washing!