A new exhibition opens at St Albans Museum + Gallery this week, telling the story of Fleetville's historic hosiery mill.

'Ballito Bombshells: A Tale of Silk and Steel' opens on Friday, October 20 and explores the history of the Ballington Hosiery Mill, which manufactured everything from delicate stockings to robust artillery shells between the 1920s and 1960s.

Herts Advertiser: Munitions work supported the war effort at the Fleetville factoryMunitions work supported the war effort at the Fleetville factory (Image: St Albans Museum + Gallery)

The exhibition recounts the story of the mill's employees - from their rigorous work to popular social events at the mill - and also charts the history of the factory itself.

Visitors will be able to enjoy a selection of the striking designs that made Ballito so memorable, a rundown of the machinery used in production, and an insight into the company's role in the Second World War.

Herts Advertiser: The Ballington Hosiery Mill was known for its 'playful and unique' brandingThe Ballington Hosiery Mill was known for its 'playful and unique' branding (Image: St Albans Museum + Gallery)

The name Ballito is believed to originate from the company's first hosiery mill in Ballington, Tennessee.

In the early 20th century, brothers Alexander and Charles Kotzin took advantage of the growing demand for silk stockings after World War I and and began importing the products to the UK.

The duo acquired an old factory in Fleetville and technicians were brought over from Tennessee to install machines and train new employees.

After opening in August 1925, within four years the Ballington Hosiery Mill was manufacturing more than 14,000 pairs of stockings a month.

Herts Advertiser: Branding from Ballito'sBranding from Ballito's (Image: St Albans Museum + Gallery)

The social life at Ballito was an important part of the employee experience. In the early 1930s, the company created a popular social hall and canteen. 

A few years later, the facilities were expanded to accommodate space for more clubs and societies, as well as underground shelters due to the impending war.

Popular social sessions included boxing and Saturday night dancing - featuring the 'Ballito Tango', a dance specially created by M. Pierre of the famous Regent Street School of Dancing.

By the 1950s, Ballito had also acquired its own sports field in St Albans.

Herts Advertiser: The exhibition explores the social side of working at BallitoThe exhibition explores the social side of working at Ballito (Image: St Albans Museum + Gallery)

In 1939, with war on the horizon, the Fleetville factory was commandeered as part of the war effort.

Hosiery machines were pushed aside to make room for manufacturing shell casings, with a small group of employees continuing to make stockings for the home markets.

The premises also went on to make parts for de Havilland Mosquito and Tempest fighter planes, as well as radar equipment.

In 1967, the company was taken over by Courtald, leading to a high level of redundancies. 


Farhana Begum, head of St Albans Museums and the council's arts, tourism, heritage and culture manager, said: "Ballito Bombshells is a compelling exhibition that gives us an insight into life at the Ballington Hosiery Mill like never before.

"It is an exciting opportunity to understand more about the industrial history of St Albans and its role in the war, as well as the varied lives of its employees. 

"We are thrilled to showcase Ballito’s intriguing story in our Keeper’s Galleries at St Albans Museum + Gallery, which offers visitors a fitting stage on which to enjoy this historical and delightful tale."

The exhibition runs until February 4, 2024.