J.D McDougall: Newham’s Best Kept Secret

E15 4JP
April 2021

About this record

Parrabbola Theatre Company explore the history of J.D McDougall’s: World renowned producers of stage fabrics, and Newham’s Best Kept Secret, who celebrate their centenary this year.

JD McDougall’s: World renowned producers of stage fabrics, and Newham’s Best Kept Secret.
When you go to the theatre, or watch a film, have you ever thought about the sets – particularly the
painted stage cloths, or the floor cloths. I’m sure you’ve looked at the curtains that decorate the
stage? Or all the black fabric that you find in theatres – all of which needs to be specially prepared
for fireproofing and safety. There’s lots of fabric in films too – and not just in the sets. Those
fantastic CGI moments all depend on the highest quality Green Screens. And this all comes from a
100 year-old, family firm in Newham!

Over the last few months, Parrabbola have been collaborating with the company to explore their history and to better understand what they do in order to create a new audio documentary to be launched on 10 May   

The company still supply the theatre world, but the clientele has widened in the last 100 years to include film (Harry Potter and James Bond), TV including Strictly Come Dancing,  and anyone that requires flame retardant material. Perhaps they have stayed Newham’s best kept secret is down to their long standing reputation.

We’re a strange organisation. People say to us ‘you don’t advertise!’ But because we’ve been involved in the arts for so long, people know where to come to. Or they talk to one of their pals who knows where to come to.  Ian McDougall, Director

History of the company

Joseph Douglas McDougall started his working career as a salesman for a Scottish linen company.  In the 1880s the family moved down to east London (then Essex) from Scotland; Joseph Douglas was the London representative of the linen company.   But in 1921 he set up his own company J.D. McDOUGALL supplying that same Scottish linen, though the emphasis was primarily on fire retardant material.  This was required by law for theatres.   So began the company’s relationship with the entertainments industry.  The company became Limited in 1936.  When Joseph Douglas died, in 1937, the company was run for a short time by his surviving wife Alice and their two children Joseph Oswald and Jean.  Joseph Oswald took over completely when he was demobbed from the RAF in 1945.  He kept working until his death in 1995.  J.D. McDOUGALL Ltd is now run by Ian McDougall, Joseph Oswald’s son.

As part of the project we commissioned a textile installation piece, created by artists Andia Newton, Karolina Dworska, and Zoe Sanders which will be installed outdoors in the McDougall’s carpark from May 7-May 10. If you’d like to come and see it in person, please book a place here

Installation using fabrics from the factory to celebrate its centenary. Photo©Greg Goodale

Listen to the fascinating story of the company through interviews with staff and those involved in the T.V industry

Additional record details

Heritage newsletter

We would like to send you monthly emails spotlighting heritage content in Newham, as well as updates and opportunities to be involved in next year's festival. Be the first to hear about new projects, funding opportunities and ways to be involved.

1 - 31 May 2021