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A shoe in: J Sears & Co of Northampton

J Sears & Co was the largest footwear retailer in Britain.

John George Sears (1870 – 1916) was the son of James George Sears, a Northampton leather seller, who employed two men and three boys in 1871. He was raised as a Congregationalist.

John George Sears began his working life as a clicker (one who cuts the uppers for shoes and boots from leather). He eventually rose to the position of factory foreman.

Sears established a small factory on Derby Road, Northampton, in 1891. He traded as J Sears & Co.

Sears was able to win market share from the strike-affected Manfield of Northampton in 1895.

Sears was joined by his brother, William Thomas Sears (1877 – 1950), from 1897.

J Sears & Co opened its first retail outlet in 1897. A branch was opened on Fleet Street, London in 1900.

A large factory on Adnitt Road, Northampton, was acquired in 1904.


Much of the success of the business was due to extensive advertising, and the energy, bold application and sound judgement of J G Sears.

J Sears & Co went public with a capital of £350,000 in 1912.12,500 pairs of boots were produced every week from one of the largest shoe factories in Britain. The company had 80 retail branches, including 47 in London, which targeted the mid-range market and operated on a high sales, low-margin basis. The shops pioneered the establishment of attractive window displays, with clearly marked prices.

J Sears & Co produced boots for the army during the First World War.

The company employed 1,000 people in manufacture, and 1,000 people in retail by 1916.

Sears was a generous, likeable and unaffected man. Shortly after the public offering his health broke down, “undermined by years of almost superhuman activity”, according to the Taunton Courier. He died with an estate valued at £400,718 in 1916.

William Thomas Sears succeeded his brother as chairman and managing director.

J Sears & Co acquired Freeman Hardy & Willis, a business similar to their own, in 1928. The company had an issued capital of £3.35 million and 722 retail shops by 1929.

William Thomas Sears retired as chairman and managing director in 1948.

J Sears & Co was acquired by Charles Clore (1904 – 1979) in 1953. It was one of the first hostile takeovers in British history.

Sears was the largest shoemaker in Europe in 1963, and operated half of the shoe shops in Britain. Charles Clore was reputedly one of the richest men in the world.

J Sears & Co held around a quarter of all British shoe sales from the 1960s until the 1990s.

J Sears & Co divested its shoe factories in a management buyout in 1988.