Category Archives: Clothing

A sporting chance: Umbro

Umbro was the foremost soccer brand in the world.

Harold Charles Humphreys (1902 – 1974) was born in Mobberley, Cheshire, the son of a house painter.

Humphreys found work as a salesman for Bukta, a football kit manufacturer. He predicted that kit sales would continue to grow, and entered into the sportswear retail business for himself from 1920. He was initially assisted by his brother Wallace James Humphreys (1900 -1950), and the firm traded as Humphreys Brothers.

Wallace Humphreys (Courtesy of Umbro)

Harold Humphreys initially operated the business from rooms above a pub that his parents operated in Mobberley.

The Umbro brand was established in 1924, derived as a portmanteau of Humphreys Brothers. Clothing manufacture was originally subcontracted, but growing sales saw an Umbro factory established in 1930.

Both teams wore Umbro kits at the Wembley finals in 1934.

During the Second World War Umbro manufactured military uniforms and Lancaster Bomber aircraft interiors.

The England international kit was manufactured from 1952.

Roger Bannister (1929 – 2018) ran the first ever sub-four minute mile whilst wearing Umbro clothing in 1954.

Umbro began to outfit overseas international teams from 1958. When Brazil won the World Cup that year, they were kitted out in Umbro clothing.

By the early 1960s Umbro was being managed by the two sons of Harold, John (1929 – 1979) and Stuart (1931 – 2005). In practice, John was the leading dealmaker.

Umbro won a 25-year contract to be the sole distributor of Adidas products in Britain in 1961. Adidas was the largest manufacturer of soccer boots in the world, but this was its only manufacture, so there was no conflict of interest.

Umbro kitted out 15 out of 16 teams in the 1966 World Cup Finals, the sole exception being the Soviet Union.

Distribution of Adidas footwear and clothing had become the largest source of income for Umbro by the early 1970s.

The England international football team switched their kit manufacturer to Admiral in 1974, who made a superior offer.

John Humphreys died in 1979. His unexpected death affected corporate development, and Arnold Copley, a former partner at Price Waterhouse, the accountancy firm, was appointed chief executive from 1982. He led the company into the leisure wear market.

A factory was opened at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, in 1984.

Umbro regained sponsorship of the England international football team kit from 1984.

Adidas had entered the leisurewear market and there were increasing conflicts of interest with Umbro, so the distribution contract ended in 1986. The termination of the contract gave Umbro free reign to enter the footwear market for itself.

Umbro employed 650 people at factories in Macclesfield, Ellesmere Port and Wilmslow by 1985.

Umbro was the market leader in football kits in the United States by 1990.

Umbro was acquired by its US-franchise holder, Stone Manufacturing of the United States for £2.9 million in 1992. The increasing cost of club sponsorship saw Umbro abandon its interests in squash and rugby to focus solely on football.

Following a slump in demand, Umbro closed factories at Macclesfield and Stockport, with the loss of 146 jobs in October 1992.

The death of Eugene Stone in 1997 saw the remaining family members reach loggerheads regarding the future direction for Umbro. Phenomenal growth saw financial resources stretched to the limit. Several cost-saving measures were introduced in 1998 in order to stave off bankruptcy. Almost the entire United States workforce was dismissed. Headquarters were relocated to Cheadle, Greater Manchester. Meanwhile, Umbro divested its factory in Biddulph near Stoke. Umbro clothing continued to be manufactured there, but under contract by a third party.

Umbro was sold to Doughty Hanson, the private equity group, for £90 million in 1999.  Umbro underwent a remarkable turnaround. The Wynthenshawe factory was closed in 1999, and manufacturing was outsourced to China and Hong Kong. The Umbro brand was repositioned to focus solely on football.

Nike acquired Umbro for a generous £285 million in 2008 in order to build its presence in the football market. At the time Umbro was the leading supplier of soccer clothing in the world, and the third largest supplier of branded athletic apparel in the United Kingdom.

Nike tried to impose its own manufacturing and sales logistics onto Umbro. Nike executives struggled to understand the niche company. Nike sold Umbro to Iconix Brand Group for £137 million in 2012.

England football kit sponsorship was switched to Nike from 2013.

Stocking trade: N Corah of Leicester

N Corah operated the largest hosiery factory in Britain.

Nathaniel Corah (1776 – 1832) was a Baptist from the Leicestershire village of Bagworth. Trained as a framesmith in the local knitting industry, Corah established business as a hosiery trader in Leicester in 1815.

Corah would purchase hosiery at the Globe on Silver Street in Leicester and sell it in Birmingham.  Initially he was assisted by his wife Sarah (1784 – 1856).

The Globe on Silver Street, Leicester, is still trading

The trade was to prove successful, and by 1824 Corah was able to purchase the freehold of a block of buildings in Union Street, Leicester to house his increasing stocks.

Corah’s sons, John, William and Thomas entered into the business as partners from 1830, and the firm began to trade as N Corah & Sons.

The firm moved to a purpose-built factory on Granby Street in 1845. The relocation allowed for the introduction of steam-power to manufacture.

John Harris Cooper (1832 – 1906) joined N Corah & Sons in 1846. The firm employed around 1,000 old hand frames for stocking manufacturing.

Following the completion of his seven year apprenticeship, Cooper became involved in management at the firm.

John Harris Cooper and Edwin Corah (1832 – 1880) acquired the business in 1857.

The business relocated to St Margaret’s Works in Leicester in 1865. Named after the parish in which it was located, the site originally had a floor space of two acres. The firm introduced the St Margaret’s trademark for clothing at this time. A large beam engine was operated from 1866.

By 1872 the firm employed a workforce of 1,500 and produced about 2,000 tons of product annually.

Upon the death of Edwin Corah in 1880, John Arthur Corah (1846 – 1917) and Alfred Corah joined Cooper in partnership, and the firm began to trade as N Corah, Sons & Cooper. J A Corah had previously managed the Liverpool branch of the business, and Alfred Corah had managed the Birmingham branch.

Electric lighting was installed at the St Margaret’s Works from 1883. The firm paid wages substantially above average, and thus avoided strike action by its workers. The firm was a substantial benefactor to various charitable causes, especially the elderly poor of Leicester.

During the First World War, 50 percent of the male staff at Corah joined the forces. The firm produced ten million articles of knitwear, over 70 percent for government contracts.

John Arthur Corah died in 1917 with a gross estate valued at £143,208.

N Corah & Sons was incorporated as a private company in 1919. The St Margaret’s Works was the largest factory of its kind in Britain and probably the largest single-site hosiery works in the world. 2,500 people were employed on a five acre site. Production largely consisted of hosiery and other woollen goods. That year, King George V visited the factory, partly in recognition of Corah’s contribution to the war effort.

The firm developed a strong relationship as a supplier to Marks & Spencer from 1926.

Authorised capital was increased to £750,000 in 1939. 4,500 people were employed.

During the Second World War, half the company’s staff either went into the armed services or were transferred to munitions production. During the war, some 26 million articles were produced. The engineering department was largely given over to producing gun parts and parts for tank landing craft.

N Corah & Sons was converted into a public company in 1946. Marks & Spencer was the principal customer. The St Margaret’s Works in Leicester covered six acres and was the largest hosiery factory in Britain. Around 2,500 people were employed.

Marks & Spencer was a dynamic retailer, and Lord Marks encouraged Corah to be more ambitious. Marks & Spencer made the transition from a low-cost retailer to a quality purveyor from 1951. As a major supplier, Corah too entered this transition. Encouraged by Marks & Spencer, Corah entered into a policy of long-term planning and development.

To reflect the success of its trademark, the company name was changed to N Corah (St Margaret) Ltd in 1954.

The St Margaret’s Works covered a floor space of twelve acres by 1965. Corah employed 6,500 people across the company.

As late as 1978, Marks & Spencer accounted for 75 percent of sales.

Corah entered into difficulty in the 1980s. It acquired Reliance, a fellow M&S supplier, but struggled to integrate the business. This was followed by a strike at one of its factories.

Meanwhile, tastes in fashion began to change. The struggling knitwear division was closed in 1988 with the loss of nearly 800 jobs.

Corah sold its sock division to Courtaulds for £7.5 million in cash in 1988.

Corah was acquired by Charterhall, an Australian investment group, for £27.2 million in 1988. Charterhall entered into administration in 1990.

Coats Viyella, the largest textiles company in Britain, acquired Corah for around £25 million in cash in 1994.

Running the show: Reebok

J W Foster & Sons produced some of the most highly-regarded running shoes in the world in the 1920s. Rebranded as Reebok, its fashion shoes became highly successful in the 1980s.

Joseph William Foster (1881 – 1933) was a cobbler and keen amateur runner. He developed a spiked running shoe in 1895. He began to manufacture shoes for other runners, and in 1900 he established his shoe manufacturing business at 57 Deane Road, Bolton.

The firm was trading as J W Foster & Sons by 1910. This was presumably an attempt to make the firm seem larger or longer-established than it really was, as his sons at the time were eight and four years old.

Production switched to army boots during the First World War.

Foster’s running shoes were the elite athletic item of their era. A large number of professional athletes used his shoes.

J W Foster & Sons advertised that 90 percent of English and Scottish football league clubs used their shoes by 1922. The firm also supplied the 1924 British Olympic track team.

J W Foster & Sons advertisd itself as the oldest manufacturer of completely hand-made running shoes in the world by 1926.

C Ellis broke the one mile record in 1928 wearing Foster’s shoes. Percy Williams (1908 – 1982) used Foster’s shoes to win the 100m and 200m races at the 1928 Olympic games.

Joseph William Foster died in 1933 and left an estate valued at £5,598. His two sons, John William Foster (born 1902) and James William Foster (1906 – 1976) took over the business.

Production switched to army boots during the Second World War.

In the post-war period the firm entered the football and rugby boot market.

German rivals Adidas and Puma began to enter the athletic shoe market, with cheaper and better models. The founder’s grandsons, Joseph William Foster (born 1935) and Jeffrey William Foster (1933 – 1980), became frustrated at their fathers’ lack of vision, and established Reebok in Bury in 1958, in order to manufacture their own athletic shoes. Joseph William Foster was the chairman and managing director.

The Reebok brand was well known throughout the North West of England by the 1970s. Reebok absorbed J W Foster & Sons in 1976.

Paul Fireman (born 1944), a marketer for outdoor equipment, lobbied Joseph William Foster for the license to sell Reebok shoes in North America. Eventually Foster relented, and sold the American sales rights to Fireman for $65,000 in 1979.

Reebok logged US sales of around $300,000 in 1980.

By this time the components came from the original factory in England, but the shoes were assembled in South Korea.

Demand for its shoes was such that soon Reebok USA suffered cash flow problems. Stephen Rubin (born 1937) acquired 55 percent of Reebok USA for $77,500 in August 1981. Rubin brought to the company knowledge of the sports shoe market, and experience with Asian outsourcing.

Reebok identified the growing market for aerobics, and launched two shoes, Freestyle and Energizer, in 1982. Total US sales had climbed to $12.9 million by the end of 1983. Meanwhile, Nike was suffering a downturn, which allowed Reebok to flourish.

A 1985 advertisement for the Reebok Freestyle

Reebok International and Reebok USA merged in April 1984. Stephen Rubin maintained his 55 percent stake and was named chairman of Reebok International. Paul Fireman was named President and CEO of Reebok International, and held the remaining 45 percent share.

Reebok headquarters were relocated from Bolton, England to Avon, Massachusetts. The site had 52 employees. The relocation was based on the fact that most Reebok sales were in the US.

Warehouse and office facilities were maintained in Bolton, and Foster remained President of Reebok International.

In 1984 all the lasts, dies and markings were made in England. Research and development took place in England and South Korea.

Stephen Rubin pushed for Reebok International to go public, which it did in 1985.

1985 sales totalled over $300 million.

Due to growth, head office was moved from Avon to Canton in 1986.

Rockport was acquired in 1986 for $118.5 million in cash.

Foster retired as President of Reebok International in 1990, but remained in a consultancy position.

The cost-conscious Rubin clashed with Fireman, who argued for lavish marketing campaigns. Rubin sold his stake in Reebok for $770 million in 1991.

Reebok was acquired by Adidas for £2.1 billion in 2005.

Adidas closed down the Reebok head office in Bolton in 2009, ending the brand’s association with its home town.

Foster steeped down from his consultancy position in 2015.

Leave your hat on: Kangol

Kangol is one of the best known headwear brands in the world.

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Jakob Henryk Spreiregen (1894 – 1982) was born in Warsaw, Poland to Jewish parents. The family emigrated to France in 1910, and Jakob adopted the name Jacques Henry Sergene.

To escape the war, Spreiregen emigrated to England in 1915. By 1916, as “Jacques Spreiregen” he was manufacturing hats at 28 Castle Street, London. He also imported basque berets from France, which proved popular.

Following service in the British army, Spreiregen was naturalised as a British citizen in 1920.

The Kangol brand was introduced in 1930. The name was derived from K for knitting, ANG for Angora and OL for wool.

With war in Europe looming, Spreiregen reasoned that there would be an imminent increase in demand for military berets. Assisted with funding from the Cumberland Development Company, he leased the former Ainsworth thread mill in Cleator from 1938. He furnished it with machinery from a factory in France that he owned. It initially employed a staff of four.

Kangol became the major beret supplier to the British armed forces during the Second World War. All manufacture was dedicated to the army, and production reached one million berets a year.

Field Marshal Montgomery wears a Kangol beret
Field Marshal Montgomery (1887 – 1976) wearing a Kangol beret

A new factory at Frizington, Cleator, was opened in 1950. The new factory allowed the company to meet demand, and profits subsequently increased exponentially.

Kangol became a public company with an authorised capital of £200,000 in 1952.

William Carrick & Sons of Carlisle, a fur felt hat manufacturer, was acquired in 1952. The takeover added a workforce of 100 to Kangol, to give a total of 500. Part of the Carricks production facility was given over to the manufacture of Kangol berets.

Thompson Bros of Huddersfield, woollen spinners, was acquired in 1953. By this point Kangol was using around one million lbs of woollen spun yarn every year, and Thompson Bros was its largest supplier.

After the Second World War the British armed forces continued to be a significant customer, purchasing 16 percent of beret production in 1953. 15 percent of berets were exported to 49 different countries.

Kangol Magnet was established as a subsidiary to manufacture fibreglass safety helmets from 1954. It later expanded into seat belts.

The loss-making manufacture of fur felt hats at Carricks of Carlisle was discontinued in 1956-7.

Around 120,000 berets a week were produced by 1957. About half of all civilian berets were exported. The British armed forces acquired around 10,000 berets a week.

70 percent of production was exported by 1964-5.

A factory was opened in South Africa in 1965 with a productive capacity of 1.2 million berets a year, which would cover “the bulk” of demand in that market.

Mary Quant (born 1930), inventor of the miniskirt, and Pierre Cardin (born 1922) designed berets for Kangol in 1966. Exports represented 66 percent of turnover for the headwear division by 1969.

Kangol Magnet was the largest manufacturer of seat belts in Europe by 1969. It produced over 40 percent of all seat belts in the United Kingdom from its factory in Carlisle.

Kangol was acquired by American Safety Equipment, a seat belt manufacturer, for £3.2 million in 1972. Company directors, who held 42 percent of the equity, recommended the offer. At this juncture Jacques Spreiregen took the opportunity to retire as company chairman.

Around four million hats were produced in 1975. Kangol was the largest beret manufacturer in the world. The leading export market was Sweden, followed by the US, then Japan, followed by Canada. Exports to the US amounted to around 200,000 caps, accounting for over £1 million in sales, in 1976. The headwear division won the Queen’s Award for Export in 1966, 1971 and 1978.

American Safety Equipment was acquired by Marmon Group of Chicago in 1978.

Marmon Group was keen to divest Kangol Helmets of Stranraer, due to the risk of lawsuits in the US. To prevent the closure of the factory, management bought the company for £450,000 in 1981. The former subsidiary did not retain the rights to the Kangol brand name.

The Kangol beret enjoyed huge growth in sales among the African American community in New York from the late 1970s, perhaps attracted by the aspirational, yet affordable nature of the headwear. Another significant factor in the popularity of the berets was their versatility.

Kangol acquired a millinery factory in Luton in 1979. There they installed Graham Smith (born 1938), a well-regarded milliner, as their design director from 1981. There he would design hats that would be worn by Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 – 1997), among others.

Lady Diana (1961 – 1997) wears a Graham Smith designed Kangol hat in 1985

Kangol was recording annual sales in America of 4.8 million hats by 1985. The company was the largest hatmaker in Europe.

The Kangaroo logo was added from 1985, supposedly because American consumers were requesting “the kangaroo hats”.

Kangol acquired its major British hat-making rival, J W Myers of Leeds, in 1990.

Kangol employed around 600 people at Cleator and Frizington in 1991.

A factory was opened in Panyu City, China in 1996.

Kangol headwear was subject to a management buyout for £32 million in 1997, with financial backing from Kleinwort Capital, a private equity firm. The Cleator site employed around 600 people. Marmon retained the seatbelt operations in Carlisle, but lost the rights to the Kangol brand.

Samuel L Jackson is well known for wearing Kangol berets
Samuel L Jackson is well known for wearing Kangol berets

The loss-making Leeds factory was closed in 2000, with the loss of 40 jobs. Production was relocated to the Panyu City factory in China, which had lower costs.

The global rights to Kangol headwear were sold to Bollman Headwear of America in 2001.

The Fritzington factory was closed in 2001 with the loss of 80 jobs. Manufacturing also ended at Cleator, which would function as a distribution depot. Most production was relocated to China.

The Kangol rights (excluding headwear) were sold for an estimated £30 million to August Equity Trust in 2004. The Kangol rights (excluding headwear) were acquired by Sports Direct for £12 million in 2006.

Bollman Headwear closed the Cleator site in 2009, with the loss of 32 jobs. Production was relocated to Eastern Europe and the United States.

Boots to Boots: John White

John White was the largest shoemaking company in Britain.

John White (1885 – 1974) was born into a strict Calvinistic Baptist family. His ancestors had been engaged in the shoemaking trade since the mid-eighteenth century.

White was trained as a clicker, one who cuts the uppers of shoes and boots from leather. He cut the uppers of 650,000 pairs of shoes and boots before 1918.

White went into business for himself in 1918. With £200 in savings he bought a small workshop in Rushden, Northamptonshire. He acquired a shoe press in 1919, and by the end of the year he had three employees.

White acquired small local factories which had gone bust due to a trade slump. His business produced 100,000 pairs of boots and shoes in 1921.

John White launched his own brand of shoes in 1930. He promoted the new brand with national advertising. John White was the largest shoemakers in Britain by 1935. The Rushden factories employed 1,200 people, and 1.75 million pairs of shoes were manufactured each year.

White acquired a factory at Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire in 1936 from Owen Parker, whose own shoe manufacturing business had failed. Adjacent office were constructed.

John White supplied both sides during the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). Each side placed orders for 100,000 pairs of shoes.

White undercut his competitors by efficiently cutting costs and accepting low margins. He avoided trade union trouble by paying for piecework; payment for work completed, rather than basic wages.

White built a new factory on Lime Street, Rushden in 1939. It was designed by Albert Richardson (1880 -1964), a leading architect whose work included the Manchester Opera House.

John White had nine factories, a staff of nearly 2,000 and production of three million pairs of boots and shoes a year by 1941.

During the Second World War the firm sold over eight million pairs of boots to the armed forces; one ninth of all footwear supplied to the troops.

Wholesalers were not marketing his product as effectively as John White would have liked, so after the War he began to sell directly to retailers. Profits mounted rapidly. By 1951 the company employed 2,600 people.

In the 1950s John White was exporting 400,000 pairs of shoes a year to America, and the company accounted for 90 percent of British footwear exports. John White shoes were exported to 56 territories.

Expansion saw a factory opened in Corby, Northamptonshire in 1954.

The company employed nearly 2,000 people when John White retired in 1962. The company initially struggled in his absence, but had regained profitability by 1968.

George Ward of Leicester was acquired for £4 million in 1972 to create a footwear group with a market capitalization of over £6 million. The name of the company was changed to Ward White Group.

In 1973 G B Britton was acquired. By 1973 the Ward White Group had 9,000 employees in nine countries.

The group acquired the Halfords bicycle and car parts stores in 1989.

Ward White was acquired by Boots for £900 million in 1989, in what was to prove an ill-fated attempt at diversification.

Crepes of wrath: Grout & Co

Grout & Co was the largest manufacturer of crepe in Britain.

Joseph Grout was a saddle and harness maker from Bocking in Essex. He entered into partnership with his brother George (died 1860) in the early nineteenth century to manufacture “Norwich crepe”, a cheaper imitation of French crepe, at Patteson’s Yard, Magdalen Street, Norwich.

Soon, large mills were established at Lower Westwick Street, Norwich. A silk factory was established at Great Yarmouth in 1814.

By 1837 the firm traded as Grout, Ringer, Martin & Co, following the entrance of George Ringer and William Martin into the firm. By this time the Great Yarmouth factory employed 1,100 workers. 970 workers were employed at Norwich, and 560 at their mills near Bungay in Suffolk.

The Grout brothers became wealthy, and were able to enter into retirement before 1840. The business was continued by William Martin.

Following the death of Martin, the firm was managed by John Brown, Robinson and Hall.

In 1854 the Norwich, Yarmouth and Ditchingham mills constantly employed over 2,000 people. The predominant manufacture was gauze, which was then sent to a factory at Ponder’s End in Enfield, London, to be converted into crepe for mourning purposes.

In 1862 Grout & Co was the largest manufacturer of crepe in Britain. Over 3,000 workers were employed. The principal factory was in Norwich.

In 1883 nearly 1,000 workers were employed at the Great Yarmouth factory.

Crepe went out of fashion, and by 1890 almost all production was exported to Latin countries. That year, production was centralised at Great Yarmouth, and all other factories were closed. The company also expanded into other textiles.

Grout & Co was registered in 1894.

The Great Yarmouth factory employed 1,000 workers in 1907.

By 1921 William Hall was managing director of the firm.

Grout & Co was renamed Pinehurst Textiles in 1967.

In 1994 Smith & Nephew acquired the Great Yarmouth factory, engaged in producing crepe bandages, from Coats Viyella. The Great Yarmouth factory was closed in 1996.

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.

Hell for leather: Pocock Brothers

Pocock Brothers was the largest boot manufacturer in the world.

The firm was founded as a boot manufacturer by John Joseph Pocock in 1815.

In 1832 a boot retailing partnership between Joseph Poole and Thomas Pocock at Tooley Street was dissolved.

In 1851 Thomas Gotch Pocock (1815 – 1883) was a shoe salesman.

By 1855 Pocock Brothers had a boot factory at 20-23 Southwark Bridge Road, London.

In 1871 T G Pocock was a shoe retailer employing 120 men and 50 boys. In 1881 T G Pocock described himself as a boot manufacturer employing 335 men.

In 1888 Pocock Brothers advertised themselves as the largest boot manufacturers in the world.

In 1889 E Pocock left the partnership to leave T Pocock, George Pocock (born 1853) and Percy Rogers Pocock (born 1857).

By 1891 the firm employed well over 1,000 men and women and along with Rabbits & Co, was the largest shoe manufacturer in London. That year it locked-out its workers in response to union activity.

In the 1890s the firm had contracts to supply boots to the Army and the Metropolitan Police.

In 1902 the firm pleaded guilty to hiring four boys beyond the statutory hours.

By 1909 the business was solely managed by the two brothers, George and Percy Rogers Pocock.

In 1910 the retail operations were sold to Freeman Hardy & Willis, but continued their boot manufacturing operations.

In 1927 the firm was registered as a limited company, Pocock Brothers Ltd.

In the 1930s the firm made padded cells for psychiatric wards.

The firm was still trading as late as 1962.

A new angle: Saxone Shoe Company

Saxone was the largest footwear manufacturer in Scotland.

Established in 1820, Clark & Co of Kilmarnock manufactured shoes for export, particularly to South America.

From 1887, with the erection of import tariffs in many countries, Clark began to open retail outlets across Great Britain. In 1904 the factory at Titchfield Street employed 150 people.

F & G Abbott Ltd was a shoe retailer established in 1902 which purchased much of its stock from Clark & Co. Saxone was their own-label brand for an American-style men’s shoe.

Saxone offered half sizes, as well as five different fittings for each size. This wide offering of varieties was the key behind the success of the brand.

The Saxone Shoe Company was established in 1908 when Clark & Sons merged with F & G Abbott. George Clark (1861 – 1937) and George Sutherland Abbott (1862 – 1940) were joint-managing directors.

In 1928 the company went public with a share capital of £1 million. By this time there were 106 retail stores.

George Clark, chairman and managing director, died in 1937. G S Abbott left £133,592 when he died in 1940.

Throughout the Second World War a large proportion of production was devoted to military service contracts, including regulation army boots and officer’s footwear.

By 1948 1,200 staff were employed at 180 retail branches, and 1,000 people were employed at Kilmarnock.

In 1956 the firm merged with Lilley & Skinner to form Saxone, Lilley & Skinner. In 1961 the merged firm had 450 shops, seven factories and 26 repair factories.

In 1962 the firm was acquired by British Shoe Corporation.

In the 1960s the firm introduced American Hush Puppie shoes to Britain.

Saxone manufacturing was severely effected by Italian imports to Britain in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Saxone had 111 outlets and 1,100 full time equivalent staff in 1995, but the chain was loss-making. British Shoe Corporation closed the unprofitable Saxone stores in 1996, and the profitable outlets were sold to Facia. Later that year Facia entered receivership and 61 Saxone stores were acquired by the Stylo sports footwear group (now Barratts of Bradford).

All’s fair in war: Faire Brothers of Leicester

Faire Brothers of Leicester operated the largest shoe findings factory in England.

Watkin Lewis Faire (1819 – 1892) of Kidderminster moved to Leicester in 1850 to become an agent for the Leicester Temperance Society. He visited 3,030 houses in 1851.

He established Faire Brothers, lace manufacturers, in partnership with his brother in 1855.

His son, Arthur Faire (1854 – 1933), established Smith Faire & Co, boot and shoe manufacturers.

Watkin Lewis Faire retired from Faire Brothers in 1886, and the business was continued by his three sons, Joseph Louis (1841 – 1898), John Edward (1843 – 1929) and Samuel Faire (1849 – 1931).

Watkin Lewis Faire died in 1892, and his funeral took place immediately after that of Thomas Cook, travel agent and fellow temperance advocate.

Faire Brothers operated factories at Wimbledon Street and Southampton Street, Leicester by 1892.

Joseph Louis Faire was the head of Faire Brothers when he died in 1898.

Watkin Lewis Faire built a new factory at Rutland Street, Leicester in 1898. The firm acquired a factory at Borrowash, Derbyshire, in 1900.

Faire Brothers became a limited company with a capital of £250,000 in 1900.

St George’s Mills, Wimbledon Street, Leicester was the largest shoe findings factory in England by 1912. Faire Brothers employed 600 workers. Most of the factory machinery was built by the company itself.

St George's Mills in Leicester
St George’s Mills in Leicester

John Edward Faire was chairman by 1916.

Faire Brothers received a contract to provide around one million pairs of braces for the army in 1916. The firm also manufactured suspenders and garters.

Faire Brothers had seven factories across Leicester, Burton upon Trent and Borrowash in Derbyshire by 1917. They included the largest small wares factories in Britain.

During the First World War, the firm was able to take a large share of the shoe and boot lace market, which had largely been held by German manufacturers.

Sir Samuel Faire died in 1931 and left £271,874. A Liberal Unionist, he had been a keen philanthropist throughout his life.

Ernest Alfred Lillie, company chairman, died in 1956. By this time Faire Brothers had factories at Burton upon Trent, Thorne near Doncaster, Mansfield, Borrowash and Leicester.

Faire Brothers was acquired by Phipps & Son in 1967.

Faire Brothers employed 1,000 people by 1970, including 400 at the Rutland Street factory. That year the unprofitable braces manufacturing operation was closed down due to declining sales.

Phipps extensively streamlined the Faire Brothers operations, reducing eight factories to two large factories and two smaller specialist supporting factories.

Meanwhile, Smith Faire & Co was liquidated in 1982.

Chamberlain Phipps entered receivership in 1996.