The Original Public Benefit Boot Company

It’s not widely known, but this is the original Public Benefit Boot Company and was the first to establish a national multiple Branch network across the U.K. The first no frills plain and simple shop was opened in 1875 in HULL by William Henry Franklin. Ten years on, 1885 again in Hull and elsewhere up and down the country no expense spared or detail overlooked Emporiums, were erected. Investing money that perhaps other businessmen would begrudge spending

From the early years William Franklin developed strong business partnerships with family members and numerous entrepreneurs in the boot trade. Many members of the Dickinson, Lennard, Harker, Kirby, Franklin and Hunn families led the way, ‘they held the candle’but there were also many hundreds of other people, who also made a vital contribution to the success of the venture through the years.

STACK ‘EM HIGH, SELL CHEAP’ they cut out the middle man, cash only no credit, avoiding ‘bad debts’ coupled with consistent modern styles and quality, they sold by the millions. From the outset advertising was essential, a giant-size boot was regularly paraded around Yorkshire towns and villages on a flat horse-drawn cart. The rim of the boot was about four metres above the road and the driver’s figure emerged from the top of the boot. A man ringing a bell and calling out the virtues of Benefit Boots usually preceded the enormous horse-drawn boot. In 1883 the horse-drawn boot was registered as a company trademark. Evidence shows this important piece of showmanship earned them the recognition of ‘The Big Boot firm’

Premises were undoubtedly another way to advertise a business, outstanding buildings often, with six window displays began to appear, divided up into classes, Gents, Ladies and children with huge stock holding abilities, stocking latest designs of footwear. Comfortable, lavish, many of those grand buildings still survive, across the country.

I aim to increase further knowledge not only of this company but of the trade in general of eras now long past.

Valuable sources for family historians, local historians, genealogists, archive facilities and local history groups nationally with comprehensive listings including Biographical and shareholding, Branches complete with data and images in many cases.

The British Shoe Corporation was formed in 1956 by Sir Charles Clore. In 1953 he had taken over the company of J. Sears and Co., an amalgamation of J. Sears and Freeman Hardy and Willis Ltd. The company later took over Manfield and Son Ltd., Dolcis Ltd., and in 1962 Lilley and Skinner Ltd., Curtess and Saxone Shoe companies, (a major opposition to British Shoe).In 1963 Clore moved his H.Q. from Northamptonshire to ‘Braunstone’ near Leicester providing  a distribution centre, the largest in Europe, with their retail outlets  ‘slimmed down’ to 2000 and factories limited to Leicester, Kettering and Northampton.

‘Benefit’ with 145 shops became part of this group, when Lilley and Skinner obtained a major shareholding in 1950/1. Saxone merged with Lilley and Skinner in 1956. 1960 and this group, purchased all outside shares in ‘Benefit’ making the company a wholly owned subsidiary of Saxone, Lilley and Skinner, bringing their total number of shops to about 2000 and several factories. In turn they were successfully swallowed up by British Shoe in 1962. Benefit footwear held many freehold properties, seen as a great asset, as Clore in his reorganisation of the Footwear industry in this country, began to strip the companies of their assets and redistribute the shops, factories and warehouses.  Many were closed and others took on a new name. ‘Benefit’ a well-known brand, continued, during the 1960’s and 1970’s to retain its’ trading name. In the late 1970’s it would be replaced with ‘Curtess’, Saxone or ‘Lilley and Skinner’, brands. Lilley and Skinner had their H.Q. at the old Benefit office of 69 Headway Leeds. Gradually, ‘Curtess’ evidentially replaced the ‘Benefit’ name, in Blyth 1979. Interestingly Benefit Footwear Ltd was still advertising for staff nationally and opening new branches during the 1960’s; but probably the last usage of ‘Benefit’ was at 33 Queen Street Leeds as a repair facility up to 1988. 

British Shoe Corporation was largely dismantled in the 1990’s during which, Saxone shops, being unprofitable, were either closed or sold on, leaving the Lilley and Skinner group to merge into the Stead and Simpson group which obviously included ‘Benefit’ shops. I spoke personally to a senior secretary of Stead and Simpson who inherited ‘Benefit’ intellectual property, and subsequently, kindly, passed on permission for me to use that property. He told me there would be about thirty ‘Benefit’ shops retained, as they were in prime sites, the rest a further thirty, would be sold on. Stead and Simpson, including their ‘Lilley and Skinner and Shoe Express’ brands was placed on the ‘market’ in 2008. ‘Shoe Zone’ purchased the business and closed over thirty stores but retained around 300. British Shoe which occupied a unique position in the world of footwear production and selling, with many chains to their name, failed to invest in their stores, leaving many looking dated and ‘dowdy’. More attractive competitors upstaged them leading to the break-up of this huge conglomerate.


The Hull Big Boot,

York Market Street, still there erected in 1902.

Truro Branch erected in 1893 now a bank it still stands majestically on Boscawen Street and King Street notice the cathedral behind.The cathedral wasn’t completed until 1914.

Another variation on the Hull Big Boot

Hull Hessle Road Branch 1897 still trading and selling boots and shoes under the name Premier