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. He sold ready-to-wear shoes, a relative novelty for the time, when most footwear was tailor-made.
Lilley established a factory at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire in 1851. Northamptonshire was a nucleus for the footwear manufacturing trade.
Thomas Lilley employed 233 people in 1871. He was a generous philanthropist, regarded as fair and honest and enjoyed good relations with his workforce.
Lilley employed 42 men and 12 boys in 1881. A factory had been established at Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire by this time.
Thomas Lilley II (1846 – 1916) joined his father in partnership and was joined by his brother-in-law, William Banks Skinner (1847 – 1914) in 1881. By this time there were six shoe shops.
Lilley & Skinner is incorporated
Lilley & Skinner was incorporated in 1894. The company had a capital of £260,000 when it made a limited offering of shares to the public in 1896. Its head office was at Paddington Green, London. There were factories at Bristol and Chesham and a leather warehouse at Rushden.
There were around 50 retail shops by 1896, 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 store was opened on Oxford Street in 1921. It was extended in 1931 to become the largest shoe shop in the world.
Lilley & Skinner becomes a public company
Lilley & Skinner became a public company in 1950.
Thomas Lilley III died in 1951 with an estate valued at £178,697. He was succeeded as chairman and managing director by his son, Thomas Lilley IV (1902 – 1960).
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 mostly located in the Midlands and the North East of England, was acquired in 1956.
Merger with Saxone and acquisition by British Shoe Corporation
Lilley & Skinner merged with Saxone to form Saxone, Lilley & Skinner, in 1956. 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 by 1958, including over 60 department store concessions. There were five factories in Kilmarnock and Leicester. A new distribution warehouse was opened in Leeds in order to supply northern branches in 1959.
Thomas Lilley IV died in 1960 with an estate valued at £429,625.
British Shoe Corporation acquired Saxone, Lilley & Skinner for £27.3 million in 1962. Following the takeover, BSC controlled forty percent of the leather shoe trade in Britain.
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 floor space 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.
The Oxford Street site was sold off in the early 1990s.
The Lilley & Skinner store chain had disappeared by the mid-1990s. The brand was acquired by Stead & Simpson, which was acquired by Shoe Zone in 2008. Shoe Zone still use Lilley & Skinner as an in-house brand.