Andrew (Bandi) Vigodny (1913-2008)

Andrew (Bandi) Vigodny

Written by Thomas Tuohy

Occupations: Industrialist and Tanner
Location: Millom

In the 1930s, with the closure of mines and reduction of heavy industries, West Cumberland was an area of high unemployment defined as a Special Area by Act of Parliament in 1934 and by an Amendment Act of 1937 which provided for concessions on taxes and rents to encourage new businesses.  Jack Adams, (1890-1960; later Lord Adams of Ennerdale; DCB), Director and General Manager of The West Cumberland Industrial Development Company, set up in 1937, together with local MPs Tom Cape (1868-1947) and Frank Anderson (1889-1959), made efforts to attract entrepreneurs from Central Europe to the area. The West Coast Chrome Tannery in Millom was the first factory to be built by the WCIDC, in 1938. In England, Vigodny was known as Andrew or Bandi and was an important catalyst in attracting other Hungarian industrialists and technicians to come to this area, creating hundreds of jobs and playing a significant part in the war effort, supplying leather for boots for the armed forces.

Andor Vigodny was born in 1913 in Ujpest, a suburb of Budapest, in Hungary. His father Moshe Aharon Wygodny (1883-1968) was from Chmielnik, near Warsaw, in the area of Poland that was then part of Russia.  He was ‘given’ to his maternal grandmother, Bertha Opatovska, who had no sons, so that he would recite Kaddish (the Jewish prayer of mourning) for her after her death, which traditionally only men can recite. He grew up speaking and writing in Yiddish, and in 1901 at the age of 18 he moved to Hungary to avoid conscription in the Russian army. He was known as Adolf Vigodny when he settled in Ujpest, where a cousin Weiss had a tannery.

In 1907 Adolf married Antonia Krisztina Schwartz (1888-1973), known as Toncsi. Her parents were Ignacz Schwartz, from Nagytapolcsan in the county of Trencsen, Hungary, and Sarolta Donath, whose family were farmers and landowners. Sarolta’s dowry enabled Ignacz to start a vinegar factory in Privigye, Nyitra county. This was successful for a number of years, until he was cheated by some card sharps and lost it. Ignacz and Sarolta then moved to Budapest. The couple had ten daughters, and when they later moved to New York, they left two of them in Hungary, one of whom, Anna, was married to Armin Spitzer. They kept a grocery in Ujpest which Adolf Vigodny frequented. They had no children, but adopted one twin born to her sister Erna, called Juliska, and an orphaned baby girl, Boriska, whom they had found at the funeral of her parents.  Anna invited one of her sisters, Antonia, back to Hungary as a potential bride for Adolf. When they married they were given the Spitzer grocery as a wedding present. By 1912 they had saved enough money to start a small tannery behind their shop at Aranyi Janos Utca, Ujpest. Adolf was called up for military service during the 1914-18 war, as were his three workers, and as he could only pay occasional short visits home, the business was sustained by his wife with workers unsuitable for military service (mostly women). But the business prospered in the 1920s.  Armin Spitzer was employed as a hide buyer, and Juliska’s husband, Odon Rosner as a leather salesman. Apart from Adolf and his immediate family they all perished at Auschwitz in 1944 after the Nazis invaded Hungary.

Adolf and Antonia Vigodny had three children, the eldest Livia/Lili (1908-1999), Bandi (1913-2008), and Martha (1921-1973), known as Bebi. By the age of 12, Bandi was already working in his father’s tannery during the school holidays.  From the age of 14 he attended the Budapesti Kereskedelmi Akadémia (Business Academy in Budapest), 1927-1931, being taught German and English, and having private French lessons at home. Adolf bought a bankrupt tannery in Kobanya, another industrial suburb of Budapest, and traded under the name Vigodni Adolf. In the early 1930s the family moved to central Budapest, 24 Lendvay Utca. The family had a simple but well-to-do life, with a car, and with holidays in Hungary, Austria and Italy.

From September 1931 Bandi attended the Leder hochschule in Freiberg, Saxony in north Germany. Studying abroad became obligatory for a large part of the Jewish population in Hungary after 1920 due to the “Numerus Clausus” legislation limiting Jewish entry to seats of learning. Having witnessed the anti-semitic activities of the Nazis Bandi suggested the family should leave Hungary. In 1933 he visited England, where Vigodny leather was sold through their agents, Hamilton Palmer in Leicester, owned by B. Herdan and F.H Tyler. Bruno Herdan (1894-1960), Romanian in origin, and brought up in Belgium, encouraged Bandi to set up a tannery in England. Adolf initially opposed this recommendation, but Adolf’s son in law, married to Lili in 1928, Gyula Donath (1896-1949), a manufacturer of machinery used in the leather industry, helped to change his mind. Hamilton Palmer started negotiations with the Cumberland Development Council and the Nuffield Trust, and West Coast Chrome Tanneries was set up in 1937. In April 1938 Frank Anderson MP laid the Foundation stone of The Millom Tannery. Designed to Bandi’s specifications, this was the first factory to be erected by the West Cumberland Industrial Development Company. Anderson told the crowd that the building would be the most modern tannery in the whole of the country, costing approximately £40,000 and employment would be found immediately for 80 men and boys and ultimately for between 200 and 250 (Whitehaven News 5 May 1938).

Bruno Herdan had a 20% stake in the new tannery, and he assisted other Hungarians wishing to establish industries in West Cumberland. He later moved to Millom and after the death of his first wife, Ruby, married Bandi’s elder sister, the widowed Lili Donath, in 1953. The key workers at WCCT were Hungarian: Tibor Gorog, the technical director, who had also trained at the Leder hochschule in Freiberg, a few years before Bandi; Sanyi (Alexander) Friedmann, a cousin of Vigodny, who had worked for him since 1933; Albert German, general foreman and outstanding trainer of workers; and Lajos Weiss, a highly skilled mechanic.  Sanyi Herz (Alexander Hurst) who shortly afterwards was involved in setting up a paper factory in Cleator Moor, briefly worked at the tannery. Pilot production was underway by late 1938, with samples delivered in January 1939.

Bandi initially lived at the Lutwidge Arms in Holmrook, where he was joined by former fellow students from the Budapest Business Academy, Tomi de Gara (1914-1976) and Miki Sekers (1910-1972), who jointly established West Cumberland Silk Mills in Whitehaven in 1938. It was Bruno Herdan who introduced Tomi de Gara to Jack Adams, and, like the tannery, the silk mill was built with funding provided through the WCIDC. During the war the mill produced parachute silk.

During the war the only contact with the family in Hungary was through the Red Cross. Bandi’s mother and closer family survived the Nazi deportations by hiding in Budapest. His father was saved because he was in prison in 1944, on a trumped up charge of “industrial sabotage”. After the war he travelled to Switzerland and was brought to England by Bandi, who returned to Hungary in 1946 and brought back his mother, and his nephew George Donath (b.1930), who in 1947 won a British Council scholarship to St Bees School. Adolf and Antonia  lived at Dalemere, Storrs Park, Bowness-on-Windermere,  later moving to Greyside, The Hill, near Millom.  Bandi was able to bring his sisters, with their husbands and children to England. Martha Vigodny was married to Imre Elek in 1944. He had a degree in Economics from the University of Bologna. He worked in the family wine merchants’ business and then at Adolf Vigodny’s tannery in Budapest. In Millom, in 1948 he set up a hosiery factory, Hearfield, together with Ivan Fekete (b.1914), whose family had owned a large hosiery business, Gutmann & Fekete, with seven shops in Budapest. The British government funded a factory of 6,000 sq ft. By the time the company was taken over by the German company Elbeo in 1960 the factory had expanded to 72,000 sq ft. Elek and his wife Martha then established Elma sportswear, in Millom, making leather coats exported to Australia Japan and US. They lived at Parkside, The Hill.

At the tannery the floor space of 51,000 sq ft was extended by 15,000 sq ft in 1947 and at its greatest extent the tannery occupied 180,000 sq ft, and employed 450 people, an equal number of men and women. There were branch offices and warehouses in Leicester and Northampton, contracts with the armed forces, which included the provision of white leather for the Household Cavalry and the navy in the Far East, Marks & Spencer and K Shoes. In the early 1970s production of patent leather began.  But in 1978 Bandi lost control of the tannery.  He was in Brazil to buy hides, when the technical manager left in charge in his absence reported a shortage of money and mismanagement to the tannery’s bank in Manchester, where there happened to be a change in the management, with a new man unfamiliar with the history and the personalities. Gwen Bell, Bandi’s loyal secretary since 1959, did track him down by telex, but by the time Bandi returned he found the receiver sitting in his office. Imre Elek and others had endeavoured to salvage the situation, but without success. The receiver cancelled the recently made contract for hides in Brazil, swiftly stopped production, sold machinery, had an offer for the premises and did not want to negotiate further.  However the company was not bankrupt and should never have been wound up. The premises were picked up by a competitor, helped by a substantial loan from the Development Authority, but the tannery was closed soon afterwards. Suddenly the jobs of hundreds of people in Millom provided at the tannery for 40 years were lost.

In 1937, as a 24 year old, when he first came to Millom, the move from the large, sophisticated city of Budapest on the Danube to the small industrial town on the Duddon, must have been a challenge to Bandi. Initially, in common with other émigré industrialists who established factories in Cumberland, his social life involved his compatriots, and after the war he continued to play bridge with Tomi de Gara and Imre Elek, with whom he would also go skiing in Switzerland. As the business continued to prosper he later kept a base in London, with flats, at various times in Weymouth St, Harley St and Welbeck St, all in W1, and used a Saville Row tailor. Cosmopolitan in outlook, confident, energetic and enthusiastic, he also became very involved with the local community around Millom. At work his day would typically start with a tour of the factory, checking each department and examining the leather at the various stages of production, from the lime pits to the finishing room, before going to his office.  His secretary said he knew every single thing that went on in the factory and that nothing escaped him. He played golf at Silecroft, went fishing, and was one of the first people to go water skiing on Windermere. He took an interest in farming at The Oaks, with a small Jersey herd, and kept bees, winning prizes for honey at local shows. He was a founder member of the local Rotary club and attended meetings faithfully every week. In 1946, at the suggestion of a company driver, he endowed a Vigodny cup for cricket, which is still contested by the Cumbria Cricket League. Further afield, the tannery funded a scholarship for studying leather technology at Leeds University, and his nephew George Donath was the first recipient.

Bandi was introduced by mutual friends in London to Norma Clayton (1926-2020), and in 1952 they were married in Paris, where she had worked as a model. In 1953 they moved into The Oaks, The Green, which had belonged to Bruno Herdan A portrait of Norma was painted in Millom in the 1956 by Zsuzsi Roboz, a Hungarian painter who had studied in Florence with Pietro Annigoni. Annigoni had been introduced to the Vigodny family by Louis Israel, Ferragamo’s representative in London, and the artist stayed at Bandi’s parents house at Windermere, anticipating a commission for a portrait of Antonia Vigodny, Bandi’s mother, but she refused to sit.  Bandi and Norma separated in 1971 and after their divorce Norma lived in Weybridge, Surrey. They had three children, Andrea, (b.1953), Gabrielle, (b.1955) and David, (b.1957).  In 1977 Bandi married Juci Fekete, divorced wife of Ivan Fekete, and she was with him in Brazil in 1978 when he lost control of the company. He later lived with Margaret Brickman.

Bandi was only 65 when the Tannery was lost and closed. He tried various things in the leather trade unsuccessfully, but as he had investments he was able to retire to Monaco. In the 1980s he received reparations from the German government for a quantity of leather taken from the Vigodny tannery in Budapest during the war, which had been recorded but not paid for.  Held in high esteem in Millom and popular with those who worked at the Tannery, he kept in touch with many people from Millom after he went to live in Monaco.


  • Bandi Vigodny, memoir written for his grandson Ben Stevens
  • Andrea Vigodny, phone call 2.2.14
  • Gabrielle Vigodny, emails, and meeting in Jerusalem 19.11.2018
  • Norma Vigodny, phone call 31.1.2014
  • George Donath, emails 2021, and meetings in London, 26.4.2021 and 30.5.2021.
  • Whitehaven News, 5 May 1938
  • The Frank Anderson Story, a reprint of a series of articles from an unknown newspaper, probably published as a tribute to Frank Anderson after his death in 1959.
  • Lobel, Herbert (1978) Government-financed factories and the establishment of industries by refugees in the special areas of the North of England 1937-1961. M. Phil thesis, Durham University.
  • Thomas Tuohy ‘Hungarians in Cumberland, Miki Sekers and Tomi de Gara; Oliver Messel and John Claridge’, British Art Journal, xvii, 1, Spring 2016, pp 108-122