One of the most iconic brand names to have been developed in High Wycombe is Hypnos, known the world over for high quality bedding products.

The company we know today as Hypnos started life in the early 1900s as two separate craft-based companies, G.H.& S. Keen and W.S.Toms. Keen’s was the archetypal Wycombe chair-making company, whereas Toms’ manufactured mattresses.

The Keen company began as a joint partnership between George Henry Keen and his son Sidney Ralph Keen. George had been born in West Wycombe in 1860 and went into the chair-making business before the age of 10, becoming a chair-caner.

He moved to High Wycombe and in 1881 was lodging with Edmund West, a carman, and his wife Mary who lived at Dartmouth Cottage in Richardson St. George was then working as a chairmaker. In 1882 he married Anne Strange, the couple went on to have six children.

Their eldest son Sidney Ralph Keen, who was born on August 14 1884, started work in 1898 at the age of 13 by joining James Cox & Son at their factory in Oxford Rd, High Wycombe.

On February 17, 1906 Sidney married Rosa Hannah Williams at the parish church of St Lawrence in West Wycombe. Rosa was the daughter of another chair-maker John Williams, whose factory was in Desborough Park Road.

In 1908, probably encouraged by his father-in-law, Sidney decided to set up his own business and went into partnership with his father George.

They began by renting “workshops and premises” in a small building at No.27, Baker Street, owned by Thomas Nash. They were “making high class chairs involving the craft of wood-carving”.

George continued for a time to work for another company, that is he was still employed and receiving a wage independent of the partnership.

The business quickly expanded so that in April 1909 they had to advertise in the Bucks Free Press (BFP) for a ‘strong workman’. In 1910 the operation moved into a larger factory in Frogmoor. Towards the end of 1911 George gave up his employed job to work in the partnership full-time.

The Bucks Free Press published a report about the company in the edition of December 27 1912. This stated that the “highest classes of antique and modern chairs are manufactured at premises in Frogmoor.

Mr G.H.Keen is responsible for the travelling arrangements [that is visiting potential customers etc] and the business at Frogmoor is well looked after by Mr S.Keen and Mr H.H.Lord’.

For the second year in succession Messrs. Keen have presented each workman with a turkey and the lads employed received 5s”.

The business continued to expand and on February 7 1913 advertised in the BFP ‘’WANTED, a good MAKER, used to Office and Library work – Apply G.H. & S. Keen, Frogmoor, High Wycombe.’’

The Wycombe Lock-out commenced in November 1913 and Keen’s were like many other chair-makers in the town who locked out all their employees who belonged to the recently formed Union. The Lock-out lasted until Feb 1914 and caused great hardship in the town.

The first world war began shortly afterwards and Sidney served in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). The business continued to operate throughout the war, undertaking war-related work as did most other companies in Wycombe.

Normal business resumed after the war and the partnership soon expanded further by acquiring the business of G Gibson situated in Bellfield in 1920.

Then on April 25th 1925 the partners registered the firm as a limited liability company with a nominal capital of £12,500, the directors being G Keen (Managing Director), S.R.Keen and G.S.Keen. At that time work was being carried out at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.

Only a year later on June 22, 1926 George Keen died at his home 106 West Wycombe Road. Sidney then became the sole owner of the company.

Early in 1928 the company moved to a new purpose-built factory in Bellfield/Oxford Rd, High Wycombe. The building was three-storeys high and was capable of employing 300 workers.

In January 1929 the company achieved the highest accolade, the granting of a Royal Warrant as furniture manufacturer’s to King George V. The Royal Coat of Arms were displayed over the gates to the new factory.

This Royal Warrant was the first in a series which continues to this day.

To be continued, including with the early history of the Toms company.