Tag Archives: Lilley & Skinner

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.

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).