Laura Ashley CBE was a Welsh designer. She became a household name on the strength of her work as a designer and manufacturer of a range of colourful fabrics for clothes and home furnishings.
Born Laura Mountney in Station Terrace in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Laura was raised in a civil service family as a strict Baptist. The chapel she attended in Dowlais (Hebron) was Welsh language and although she could not understand the language, she loved it, especially the singing. Educated at Marshall's School in Merthyr Tydfil until 1932, she was then sent to the Elmwood School, Croydon. She was evacuated back to Wales, and after attending the Aberdare Secretarial School, she left school at 16. In the Second World War, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service, and then from 1945 to 1952 as a secretary for the National Federation of Women's Institutes in London. She met engineer Bernard Albert Ashley, latterly Sir Bernard, at a youth club in Wallington, and she married him in 1949.
While working as a secretary and raising her first two children, part-time she designed napkins, table mats and tea-towels which Bernard printed on a machine he had designed in an attic flat in Pimlico, London.
The couple had invested £10 in wood for the screen frame, dyes and a few yards of linen. Laura's inspiration to start producing printed fabric came from a Women's Institute display of traditional handicrafts at the Victoria & Albert Museum. When Laura looked for small patches carrying Victorian designs to help her make patchworks, she found no such thing existed. Here was an opportunity, and she started to print Victorian style headscarves in 1953.