Our History

The story of Bristol Uniforms began in 1801, when a small retail clothier, John Gardiner, set up a business in Union Street in Bristol. 

The timeline below shows how exports to the colonies helped the business to grow over the years, until a change in direction manufacturing tunics for the airforce during WW2, led to the development of the specialist emergency services PPE that Bristol is renowned for throughout the world.

A more detailed summary of our history is available to download or read online: History of Bristol Uniforms: 1801 - 2019. The video below gives a brief summary of our history.

See below for our timeline


Bristol Uniforms starts life as Gardiner & Sons.  Founder John Gardiner sets up in Bristol (UK), which at the time has a thriving clothing industry based around the woollen mills of Gloucestershire


In the early 1830s the company begins exporting ready-made clothing to the West Indies in large barrels known as ‘puncheons’, which were usually used for rum!


Pat Hill becomes senior partner and the company now employs around 200 people.


Following the war, the company gradually reverts back to its pre-war civilian clothing activities whilst maintaining some links with the military. Employee clothing once again becomes the mainstay of the company’s business and during the next 10 years there was a large expansion in the design and supply of today’s equivalent of corporate wear.


Tunics for the air force are made for the first time and the company continues to make them throughout the war.

Pat Hill is called up in August 1939 and spends six years on active service abroad, mainly in the Middle East, returning to the UK in late 1945 to re-join the business.


With recession looming, the business is starting to struggle.

Pat Hill, William’s son, is brought in from Selfridges to learn purchasing and sales. Mr Smith, is bought out before World War 2. The company diversifies into making uniforms for a range of private and public sector companies.


  A considerable volume of business is being done in South America and South Africa, in particular sales of overcoats.


William J Hill partners with H R Smith.  In the same year disaster strikes when a fire reduces the factory to rubble. It is finally rebuilt in 1917.


 The company moves out of the city to a new factory built on a greenfield site at Staple Hill, which at that time is a semi-rural environment surrounded by fields.


  William J Hill takes over Wathen Gardiner & Co


Sir Charles takes control until his death in 1887. He vigorously pursues export markets across the vast British Empire, and prides himself on providing consistently high quality clothing from his Bristol factory.


Henry Gardiner partners with Sir Charles Wathen in 1862 and the company becomes Wathen Gardiner & Co.


In the early 1850s, John Gardiner’s son, Henry Gardiner, takes the helm, supported by his two brothers, James and Charles.  He not only sees the huge benefits of colonial trade but also substantial new opportunities in Australasia, and begins exporting there in 1854


Bristol Uniforms (Bristol) is created by Wathen Gardiner & Co to focus on this side of the business.  Bristol creates the first aluminised suits, which are loosely designed around the buoyancy suits developed for pilots during the war.


Bristol becomes part of the of the international BTQ Group, whose major shareholder was Alan Dorrell.  Peter Warr became its chairman.  Bristol’s sister companies included Bristol Fire Apparel, Topps Safety Apparel, Quaker Safety Products and Pro-Tuff in the USA. Bristol remains part of BTQ Group to this day.


Roger Startin and Ian Mitchell join Bristol as joint managing directors


Bristol launches an integrated managed care service.


Bristol launches Public Order PPE for the police.



UK Government introduces the Integrated Clothing Project (ICP), a national procurement framework. Bristol is the preferred supplier for the scheme, opening up new opportunities to expand its share of the UK fire and rescue (FRS) market.


Ground breaking human physiology trials take place on behalf of Bristol to determine the impact of different PPE designs on heat stress.  Following these trials Ergotech and Ergotech Action are launched – a new generation of lightweight PPE, incorporating the latest fabrics on the market.


Bristol holds its first International Distributors’ Conference.


Bristol works closely with the Home Office and introduces A19, a Nomex® outer shell short tunic which was worn with yellow PVC wet legs.


Bristol is exporting PPE across the globe.  In 1976 it appoints Concorde in Abu Dhabi, one of Bristol’s longest standing international distributors.


The company is employing 400 people across its two factories.  Pat Hill is a pioneer in his field, approaching London Fire Brigade and the Home Office, which kick-starts a long period of product development.


William Hill retires in 1964 and Wathen Gardiner & Co becomes a limited company.  A new factory is opened in Calne, Wiltshire employing some 50-60 people.


With new materials on the market, Bristol develops the T63, a new tunic, incorporating a serge material to help keep firefighters dry for the first time.


In the early 1980s Bristol launches the A26, the first bunker style jacket, featuring a Nomex® outer shell which is ‘styled’ for additional comfort.


Hainsworth together with DuPont, invents Nomex Delta T and works with Bristol Uniforms to create a new generation of structural firefighting PPE. The fabric offers far greater protection from heat and flame and is waterproof. This was the first time the same protection is offered in both jacket and trouser.


  The Calne factory closes down as the civilian market becomes highly competitive and business starts to decline.  Business continues to go from strength to strength at Bristol Uniforms.


Bristol works closely with brigades across the South West to develop a common style – the first collaboration of its kind. It was at this time that male and female sizes were introduced.


Pat Hill’s son Ian takes over as MD in 1989 and his father, 74, takes a back seat in the business. Ian has been running Wathen Gardiner & Co since 1981.


With firefighters having to increasingly deal with RTAs and search and rescue operations, Bristol introduces RescueFlex – a new generation or USAR PPE which is more appropriate for these types of incidents.

In the same year it launches new technical rescue flying suits for air ambulance crews and introduces a new range of hoods and gloves to enhance PPE compatibility and security of supply.


A new service centre is opened in Rainham, Greater London and the company’s offices in Staple Hill are enlarged and refurbished. A new wet cleaning process for PPE is introduced and an innovative decontamination process for hard PPE, such as boots, helmets and SCBA supporting frames.


Bristol introduces protective clothing for ambulance crews operating in hot zones and hazardous areas.


Bristol is awarded a major contract to supply firefighting PPE for a new Collaborative Procurement Framework, accessible to all Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) across the UK.

In the same year it doubles its manufacturing capabilities and opens a new 40,000 sq. ft. Central Cutting Unit, which is home to lay planning, fabric cutting, and its fabric and finished goods store.  It also expands its sewing production line and Western Service Centre.


Bristol launches a brand new textile structural firefighting glove into the Australian and New Zealand market, which was the first of its kind to meet local standards.  This was quickly followed by the launch of a brand new range of Wildland Firefighting PPE.

In the same year it launches a revolutionary new hood to protect firefighters’ vulnerable neck and upper jaw area from contamination. 


Bristol’s product innovation department expands into a new custom-designed studio at the heart of Bristol’s factory in Staple Hill.  In the same year its service centre in Bristol expands.


The Integrated Clothing Project (ICP) is renamed and becomes the Central PPE and Clothing Contract (CPCC). A CPCC Technology Refresh is undertaken and in 2015. a new range of PPE was included to the scheme. New structural, wildland and technical rescue garments were added to the range


Bristol takes PPE design one step further, introducing a new layered approach. LayerFlexTM comprises a set of three garments, which when used in different combinations, provides different levels of protection depending on the task in hand.


The role of a firefighter continues to evolve making PPE design ever more important.
Bristol launches XFlex - a revolutionary, ergonomic PPE design with distinctive sports styling and lightweight fabric combinations.


2018 is a year of consolidation and further expansion. Business continues to go from strength to strength, and Bristol secures new contracts around the globe. At home, more fire and rescue services sign up to the UK Collaborative Framework contract and its PPE is rolled out to Scottish FRS, Buckinghamshire FRS and London Fire Brigade.


In the UK, Bristol launches Solo Rescue, a decontamination machine, which can be installed in the fire station and cleans SCBA, helmets, boots and gloves 10 times faster than washing by hand. 



Bristol launches a brand-new range of stock kit. Three stock options are introduced, featuring the most popular elements of the company’s existing top-quality ranges, and are certified to CEN and NFPA standards.


Bristol launches a brand-new range of structural firefighting PPE called EOS, which is hard-wearing, sleek, modern and ultra-flexible. It also has specific design features to help avoid the build-up of smoke particles in vulnerable areas.

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