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.
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).