Sole survivor: Manfield of Northampton

Manfield & Sons became one of the largest shoemakers in Northampton, and opened retail shops in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Moses Philip Manfield establishes the business
Moses Philip Manfield (1819 – 1899) was born in Bristol, the son of a poor shoemaker. He was raised as a Unitarian.

At the age of twelve he was apprenticed as a boot closer (one who sewed the uppers of boots) at a shoe factory. He eventually rose to the position of manager.

Manfield relocated to manage a business in Northampton in 1843. The business failed, but local Unitarians assisted Manfield to re-establish himself.

Manfield decided to target the lower-end of the market, and government contracts.The business employed 200 workers by 1851.

Manfield built a large factory on Campbell Square, Northampton in 1862.

Growth of the business and expansion into retail
Manfield became one of the leading shoe manufacturers in Northampton. The business employed a workforce of 688 people by 1871.

The introduction of mechanisation allowed Manfield to lower staffing levels. He employed 231 men and 20 boys in 1881.

Harry Manfield (1855 – 1923) and James Manfield (1857 – 1925) entered the firm as partners in 1883, and the business became known as Manfield & Sons.

Retail branches were opened in Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield and Birmingham in 1884. A retail branch was opened in Paris in 1889.

A larger factory was built on Wellingborough Road in 1892, and the Campbell Square site was closed. The new factory was capable of producing 350,000 pairs of shoes a year. It was the first shoe factory in England to utilise the American system of keeping all the workshops on the ground floor.

Moses Philip Manfield used this juncture to delegate day to day management of the firm to his two sons.

Moses Philip Manfield was knighted in 1894. He was one of the best known boot and shoe manufacturers in Britain.

Moses Philip Manfield died in 1899. There were over 30 retail shops by this time.

Retail branches were opened in Belgium and the Netherlands in 1901.

By 1910 the firm employed over 1,300 workers at its Northampton factory, and there were over 70 retail branches across Britain and Europe.

Manfield & Sons was incorporated as a private company in 1920.

The company employed 2,525 people by 1944.

Manfield & Sons was converted into a public company with an authorised capital of £3 million in 1950. The business could produce 27,000 pairs of shoes and boots in a week. There were 102 retail branches, including eight in Belgium and one in the Netherlands. The company employed around 2,500 people.

Loss of independence and recent history
Manfield & Sons was acquired by the Charles Clore (1904 – 1979) controlled J Sears & Co for £3.37 million in 1956. Manfield operated 180 retail branches, as well as interests in France and the Netherlands.

The quality middle-market Manfield was merged with Saxone, another Sears subsidiary, in 1990. A new chain of 30 Manfield stores was established to cater to the over-40s market.

Sears divested a number of shops, including Manfield, to Fascia in 1995. Manfield in the Netherlands was subject to a management buyout in 1996. Facia entered into administration in 1997.

Manfield footwear and retail shops still exist in the Netherlands and France. In the Netherlands the chain has 69 stores and 620 employees. In France there are 33 Manfield stores.

Manfield shoes are still sold in Britain, where the brand is owned by the Jacobson Group, which also owns the Gola sportswear and Dolcis shoe brands.

4 thoughts on “Sole survivor: Manfield of Northampton”

  1. Thanks for this article. It may be interesting to add the story of the French Manfield in more detail than I am able to. The French company became independent from English Manfield in 1936. It now exists as a group, ManBow, that includes the brand Bowen created around 1980, selling an up market range of shoes compared to Manfield’s standard. Both Manfield and Bowen brands are well known in France and internationally. Bowen Goodyear-welted shoes are made by Alfred Sargent in Rushden, Northants, and in 2011 ManBow acquired 51% of Sargent. So, in a way, perhaps the chicken has come home to roost.

  2. Hi Thomas,

    My name is Rebekah Manfield, great-great (or great-great-great!) granddaughter of Moses Philip Manfield and I would love to know more about the family history if you have any information?

    Thank you

    1. Great to hear from you Rebekah, don’t know that much to be honest! Are the family aware of their history and do they maintain any connections to the shoemaking industry?

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