Admirable feat: Lilley & Skinner

Lilley & Skinner was one of the largest footwear retailers in Britain, and operated the largest shoe shop in the world for many years.

Thomas Lilley (1814 – 1899) established a shoe manufacturing business at Southwark, London in 1835.

Lilley relocated to Wellingborough, Northamptonshire in 1851 and established a factory. Northamptonshire was a nucleus for the footwear manufacturing trade.

Lilley employed 233 people in 1871.

Lilley employed 42 men and 12 boys in 1881. By this time a factory had been established at Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire.

Thomas Lilley was a generous philanthropist. He was fair and honest and enjoyed good relations with his workforce.

His son Thomas (1846 – 1916) entered the partnership and was joined by his brother-in-law, William Banks Skinner (1847 – 1914) in 1881.

Lilley & Skinner was incorporated in 1894. In 1896 the firm had capital of £260,000 when it made a limited offering of shares to the public. Its head office was at Paddington Green, London. There were factories at Bristol and Chesham and a leather warehouse at Rushden.

By 1896 there were around 50 retail shops, all situated in London and its suburbs. There was a large export trade to Australia and South Africa.

The London warehouse was destroyed by fire in 1900. The Bristol factory was destroyed by fire in 1905.

Thomas Lilley II left an estate valued at £100,801 in 1916. He was succeeded as chairman by his son, Thomas Lilley III (1872 – 1951), a shrewd and financially astute man who would guide the company to greater prosperity.

A flagship Oxford Street store was opened in 1921. It was the largest shoe shop in the world.

Lilley & Skinner became a public company in 1950.

Following the death of his father, Thomas Lilley IV (1902 – 1959) became managing director and chairman.

Lilley & Skinner had a fully-paid share capital of £2 million in 1951. The company was one of the largest footwear retailers in Britain, with 84 branches mostly situated in London and the Home Counties. The company employed over 2,300 people.

Benefit Footwear, with 143 branches in the Midlands and the North of England, was acquired in 1951-2.

Lilley & Skinner merged with Saxone in 1956 to form Saxone, Lilley & Skinner. Thomas Lilley played a major part in the merger, and became chairman of the new company. Saxone, Lilley & Skinner was second in size only to British Shoe Corporation. Saxone concentrated on men’s and children’s shoes, whilst Lilley & Skinner specialised in fashion.

Saxone, Lilley & Skinner had 470 retail outlets, including over 60 department store concessions by 1958. There were five factories in Kilmarnock and Leicester. A new distribution warehouse was opened in Leeds in 1959  to supply northern branches.

British Shoe Corporation acquired Saxone, Lilley & Skinner for £27.3 million in 1962.

Lilley & Skinner still operated the largest shoe shop in the world in 1974. Located at 360-366 Oxford Street, it had 76,000 square feet of floorspace across four storeys. It had ten departments, 250,000 pairs of shoes and a staff of 180. An average of over 45,000 people visited the store every week.

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