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.

Early history
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 became a generous philanthropist. He enjoyed good relations with his workforce and was regarded as fair and honest.

Lilley employed 42 men and 12 boys in 1881. A factory had been established at Irthlingborough, Northamptonshire by this time.

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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 to become the largest shoe shop in the world in 1931.

Lilley & Skinner becomes a public company
Lilley & Skinner became a public company in 1950.

Thomas Lilley III died with an estate valued at £178,697 in 1951. He was succeeded as chairman and managing director by his son, Thomas Lilley IV (1902 – 1960).

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 with an estate valued at £429,625 in 1960.

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, and the retail brand had disappeared by the late 1990s.

The rights to the Lilley & Skinner name were acquired by Stead & Simpson in 1998. Stead & Simpson reintroduced Lilley & Skinner as an upmarket ladies’ shoe brand. Stead & Simpson was acquired by Shoe Zone in 2008. Shoe Zone still use Lilley & Skinner as an in-house brand.

A new angle: Saxone Shoe Company

Saxone was the largest footwear manufacturer in Scotland.

Clark & Co of Kilmarnock was established in 1820. The firm largely manufactured shoes for export, particularly to South America.

Following the implementation of import tariffs in many countries, Clark began to open retail outlets across Great Britain from 1887.

The company factory at Titchfield Street, Kilmarnock, employed 150 people by 1904.

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.

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

Saxone Shoe Company
Clark & Sons merged with F & G Abbott in 1908 to form the Saxone Shoe Company. George Clark (1861 – 1937) and George Sutherland Abbott (1862 – 1940) became joint-managing directors.

The Saxone Shoe Co went public with a share capital of £1 million in 1928. There were 106 retail stores by this time.

George Clark, chairman and managing director, died in 1937. G S Abbott died in 1940 and left an estate valued at £133,592.

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

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1,200 people were employed at 180 retail branches by 1948, and 1,000 people were employed at the Kilmarnock factory.

Merger with Lilley & Skinner
The company merged with Lilley & Skinner to form Saxone, Lilley & Skinner in 1956. The merger combined the second and third largest shoe retailers in Britain, largely in order to combat the rise of British Shoe Corporation, the largest shoe retailer in Britain.

The merger was to prove a success, and profits rose considerably. Saxone, Lilley & Skinner operated 475 shops, four major factories and 15 repair workshops by 1961.

Acquisition by British Shoe Corporation
Saxone, Lilley & Skinner was acquired by British Shoe Corporation, the largest shoe retailer in Britain, for £27 million in 1962. The merged company was the largest shoe chain business in the world with 40 percent of the British shoe market and 2,000 shops.

British Shoe realised between £10 million and £15 million by selling the freehold of the majority of the Saxone, Lilley & Skinner sites and leasing them back.

The company introduced American Hush Puppie shoes to Britain in the 1960s.

Saxone manufacturing was severely affected 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).