Workers outside the Poppy factory

Story of the Poppy Factory

After 100 years, we look back on how RBL has worked together with The Poppy Factory to support wounded, injured and sick veterans back into employment.

After the first Poppy Appeal in 1921, when Anna Guerin funded the manufacture of a million poppies in France, the British Legion wanted to begin manufacturing poppies exclusively in Britain for a smaller outlay.

Major George Howson
Major George Howson (centre) with Poppy Factory workers

Founding the factory

This led to the founding of The Poppy Factory in 1922 in the Old Kent Road by Major George Howson MC, who had earlier launched the Disabled Society.

The Poppy Factory
Major George Howson (centre) with Poppy Factory workers
Soldiers at Battle of Paschendaele
Soldiers at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1

George Howson was a British Army officer in the First World War and winner of the Military Cross in 1917.

His vision was to provide employment for veterans injured during the First World War and he established a poppy-making factory in order to do so.

Soldiers at the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1
RBL_Infographics_Poppy_Red

30m

We ordered 30 million poppies from the factory for the 1922 Poppy Appeal and 41 disabled men successfully fulfilled the order.
Poppy wreaths from 1920s Workers gathered outside Poppy Factory Poppy wreath makers

Moving to Richmond

By 1926 the factory had outgrown its premises and moved to Richmond. The factory’s location, close to the River Thames and Richmond Park, was carefully chosen to help injured soldiers’ recovery and rehabilitation after the war.

Flats were built next to the factory to provide homes for employees and their families, and there was also once a pub and cinema to provide relaxation for workers.

The size of the Poppy Factory workforce grew year on year and by the outbreak of the Second World War it stood at 365. 

In the decades that followed, the Poppy Factory continued to work with us to build a supportive environment for veterans with physical and mental health conditions. 

Together, we were able to  develop a strong understanding of the complex challenges that many of these veterans face.

As a result, alongside poppy and wreathmaking, the Poppy Factory has been able to extend its employment support service and now works with veterans across all of England and Wales.

 
Norris

“I used to go to the Royal British Legion Pop-In in Birmingham, and it was there that I met Jane from The Poppy Factory."

"Jane started giving me employment support, helping me build up my CV and making it clear what skills I have."

Norris's story
Poppy Factory in Richmond

The Poppy Factory’s work today

The factory in Richmond continues to make tens of thousands of Remembrance wreaths each year, and the crepe-paper poppy petals for the Festival of Remembrance.

Now however it is The Poppy Factory’s wider employment support service, which makes up 90 per cent of its work. 

Each year The Poppy Factory helps hundreds of veterans with a mental or physical health condition to return to the workplace and to thrive within it, wherever they are based.

For information about The Poppy Factory’s new visitor experience, or to find out more about employment support, visit www.poppyfactory.org.

100 years of supporting the Armed Forces community

In our centenary year, we are firmly focused on our future. By building on a century of work we’ll make sure we are a charity fit for the next 100.

Our centenary

Discover more

Back to top