The Fetters Story
In 1976 Fetters, the brainchild of Maurice Stewart Addison (known to his friends as Jim) introduced the world to a range of highly innovative and imaginative bondage products. Working from 40 Fitzwilliam Road, London, Jim created and realised fantasies built around items designed for physical restraint which had not previously considered as items with a sexual context.
"Houdini was my hero when I was a kid. Games of Cops & Robbers, Cowboys & Indians and war games were incomplete without some tying up. Win or lose, the chase, capture and shifts of power were the name of the game for me. I didn't grow out of it."
Jim Stewart, founder of Fetters, "SO I LIKE TO GET TIED UP - - SO WHAT?!!"
Trading since 1978, Fetters is probably the longest established bondage company in the world with the reputation of producing some of the finest quality BDSM equipment. Maurice (known as Jim) Stewart created and realised fantasies built around items designed for physical restraint but not previously considered as items with a sexual context. His Fetters company made commercial arrangements with suppliers of specialist equipment which became available to the fetish market which he created.
Now a collector’s item, the infamous Fetters in London Catalogue of “Restrictive Practices” listed Police and Prison hardware, Escape Artists' equipment, Film and Theatre props along with articles about Erotic Bondage fantasy and fact.
When the first modest Fetters catalogue was launched in 1977 it’s original focus was on Escape Artists, collectors of handcuffs, and what they ambiguously referred to as “Houdini Enthusiasts”. These catalogues were carefully crafted between an almost samizdat
style production look whilst not aiming for the glossy magazine look either: the emphasis was on the ordinary being used for the extra-ordinary. Stewarts’ small classified ads in magazines as diverse as Exchange & Mart
, Police Review
, Soldier of Fortune
and Shotgun News
soon put Stewart into contact with a wider range of people who brought with them an unbelievably mixed bag of unfocused natural instincts. For the first time, this brought together ranges such as steel, classic Harry Houdini straitjackets, commercial hospital equipment for patient control as well as leather hoods, chastity shorts, jocks and restraints specifically crafted for safe, erotic bondage or suspension. Jim also introduced the effective reproductions of medieval irons from the dungeons of Europe to BDSM customers for the first time.
Fetters had started as a side-line but evolved from a theatrical advisory service specialising in supplying cuffs and straitjackets go on to define a new sex and bondage market which it made its own. As the gay lifestyles grew in popularity and visibility, Fetters had many gay customers but specifically did not limit itself to the gay male and female markets.
A collaboration with Ken Magson, trading as The London Leatherman nearby in Queenstown Road, enabled Fetters to expand its product line to include soft leather products to complement the original catalogue lines based around belting leather and canvas. This partnership encouraged Jim to design, prototype and produce the Fetters leather hoods, a very practical line which achieved a collectible and cult status because of the huge variety of his designs as well as the quality of production.
Archived leather pieces produced for Fetters' early product ranges. Leather Straitjacket, Prototype Bondage Mitts, Locking Chastity Jock, Leather Chastity Shorts, Fetters Illustrated Hankie, Hangman's Hood
New items were the innovative chastity shorts and chastity jocks. Although the idea of chastity belts dates back to at least the Crusades and there are a number of historic patents for female chastity devices and male devices to prevent masturbation, these were completely new products which quickly created a desire and thus a market. Many products of this time reflect Jim’s personal interest is “real bondage”, meaning comfortable restriction and surrender of control, then being left to explore and enjoy the restriction.
Chastity shorts and jocks were for Jim more connected with lock-on clothes and the removal of power rather than genital play. Fetters provided the availability of these devices, via its mail-order catalogue, a format which stimulated imaginative play, along with Jim’s fiction which placed the devices in an adult play context. At the same time, the increasing popularity of large gatherings of interested players such as at Chicago Hellfire Club’s Inferno run as well as individual play scenes, provided the arenas where the players realised that actual erotic denial and postponement themselves become an manipulation which can add an extra tier of control in addition to pure “real bondage”.
The articles published in the Fetters catalogues and later those available separately as Fetters Information Sheets or Fetters Bondage Readers were mostly Jim’s own writing. Rather than simply listing recipes for play scenes, his personal combination of his own fantasies and his technical know-how gave the readers “permission to play” in ways which were not previously admissible. His ideas embraced both married couples and gay customers the emphasis based upon the ordinary being used for the extra-ordinary.
As society moved into the 80s and 90s the world grew up a bit: Bondage and SM imagery now featured in the Pop Music scene; fetish related Power Exchange games were discussed openly on TV Chat Shows; intuitive inclinations towards physical restraint as part of sexual interplay were becoming more widely understood and not simply as dangerous when played by mutually consenting adults. Fetters was now more able to acknowledge and respond to the connection between physical restraint and erotic excitement and continued supplying the market with increasingly customised and sophisticated variations on its catalogue items. Fetters hoods, straitjackets and sleepsacks etc became renowned for the quality of the craftsmanship and leather originating from the workshop at Jim’s home at 40 Fitzwilliam Road, London.
The popularity of Fetters designs increasingly led to imitations; nonetheless the quality of materials and workmanship plus Fetters willingness to engage with customers to produce specials, kept their customers loyal, even when the delivery times became extended with higher demand. The company moved a number of times, settling at Emscote Mill, Warwickshire and, after a change in ownership upon Jim’s retirement in 1998, continued the same tradition focusing upon quality and customer service with the large majority of the product portfolio being produced in their own workshops.
In February 2015 Fetters was taken over by Regulation (GB) Ltd, itself a long time fetish retailer and manufacturer based in London, with the intention to continue and develop the Fetters brand further. Innovation, fantasy and expression has been and remains the key to Fetters continual growth & success and many of the products in the current range are the result of collaboration with customers wishing to fulfill their fantasies. With the evolution of shopping behaviors, new trends in BDSM play and increasingly competitive marketplaces, Fetters strives to maintain its esteemed status as one of the world’s leading bondage manufacturers and retailers.
Jim Stewart came from a theatrical family and one that lived through World War 2 within sight and smell of a gas mask factory in Leicester, UK. He was urged on the stage in his childhood as a singing/dancing entertainer, his roles in Gilbert and Sullivan led to a life-long specialist interest in this repertoire; his youthful successes in the musical theatre enabled him to buy 40 Fitzwilliam Road as his home and investment when he was still in his twenties. The ground floor of “FortyFitz” was tenanted and eventually converted as the Fetters workshop: Jim lived on the first floor. This was his base as his career developed from theatre performance to stage management, then directing and writing. He became involved with television in the 1960’s when drama was largely performed live or as-live, before the widespread availability of video-tape editing. Jim trained and assisted directors on some of the early series of the hugely-popular Z-Cars series, a gritty police action-drama which changed the television image of the UK police from the cosy constable of Dixon of Dock Green to action-loving mobile cops in cars. Jim moved on to be Guest Director at various UK theatres when his contract with BBC drama ended and, working independently, he maintained a number of work streams including teaching and his interests in puppetry.
The demarcation between Jim and Maurice Stewart became looser but persisted; initially “Jimmy” had been the child performer, but as an adult, he had to register a stage name with the actors’ union; as there was already a “James Stewart” in the book, so he reverted to the previously-unused Christian name “Maurice” as the adult performer. Later still, “Jim” was mainly used for Fetters-related business.
Teaching invitations were offered in the USA and The Netherlands; these were also opportunities for Jim to explore and enact his own fantasies, both as writings and in workshops with like-minded enthusiasts. This was the time of opposition to the Vietnam War and the Draft (compulsory military service for US citizens). At the same time there was a growing movement of Gay Rights, which came to a head with the Stonewall Riots in New York in June 1969. Those heady times included disclosures about practices in the armed forces including bullying, hazing and resistance to interrogation techniques which resonated with Jim’s own experiences whilst serving his UK National Service in the Royal Air Force.
Jim discovered bondage for himself as early as age ten, even struggling into his big brother’s bike jacket on backwards already zipped closed. Later on, Jim would also experiment with splints, limb-braces and corsetry. 40 Fitzwilliam Road featured an attic playroom where products could be developed and trusted early customers could try out items from stock. Typically innovative, this playroom was bugged and recorded to VHS in the true style of George Orwell's 1984 but well in advance of Big Brother reality television. As well as the Fetters Information Sheets, Jim wrote a number of original dramas, these explore fantasy professions such as Motorcycle Messengers or Firemen, or technical questions such as how to make a legally-enforceable contract to surrender control irrevocably. His style has been to open up readers’ imagination.
Jim Stewart’s connections and background gave him the breadth to define and give to us a group of very specific fantasies that have now become mainstream. Handcuffs and strait-jackets are now seen in advertising without warnings; erotic bondage equipment is available on the High Street as well as by mail order. After Jim's death in April 2012, Fetters continued his legacy for further generations of players and kinkster. Jim has given the world “permission to play” while Fetters have made the toys available.
Jim's original website Houdini Connections
remains online as a memorial to his work and interests.