Branches Northern & Southern


Part of a collection of prints found in a Leeds factory. Shows a ‘bottoming’ dept. in a steam powered factory circa 1890’s

In a world of fierce competition, came the Public Benefit Boot company and hot on their heels Lennards Ltd. The latter company of course was to form the Southern half of the Public benefit Boot company and be based firstly in Leicester then Bristol.

Hull began this race to the top in a small ‘shack’ in 1875. By 1897 for the final incorporation, they had truly laid the foundations of representation from one end of the country to the other. They built luxury Emporiums within ten years and attracted the customers, but spending money that other businesses would think twice on doing so.

Every city,  Market town, ‘pit’ village, seaside and Spa town, such as Scarborough or Harrogate, these two organisations ventured.  Times were ripe with an extensive rail network and public holidays, people flocked to resorts en masse. Catering for every class of footwear consumer possible, even bespoke. They chose their sites carefully, at the pit head, where miners had to pass the small branch on their way to the ‘black hole’. Seaside towns, in the main street where they were sometimes, initially the only supplier. Not one person, nor class of person was eliminated, a welcome was there for everyone.

Within thirty years, from a tiny shop in Hull, had evolved a nation-wide network of boot stores, several repair shops and modern factories,  stretching from Newcastle to Cornwall, South Wales and Ireland. Between them they established hundreds of shops, many were huge with big plate glass windows, once a target for ‘suffragettes and rioters’. The pages of the Branches lists reveal proof of thefts, accidents, attacks, embezzlements, suicides, affairs, and assaults as well as information on when branches opened, based upon the information to hand. A lot of that information is derived from in the first instance, trade directories and journals, provided by libraries nationwide. Today those details have been overhauled, enhanced through the media of online newspapers as well as twenty ‘in house’ magazines from the period 1924-1928.

During the period following World War one almost up to the start of World War two a bigger concentration on repairs was pursued, as unemployment rose, and wages fell, household budgets were squeezed. New boots were the last item to be bought, hand me downs or repairs of existing boots was the only prospect for most. These companies were specialists in sometimes performing miracles, on footwear ‘well past a sell by date’ building their expertise from ‘time served’ bootmakers.

Margin Branch locations in order. click on image for enlarged view

A priority when choosing branches, was to locate the best possible vantage point, obvious but, T.J.Lennard of the Southern territories and also the Northern territories followed this simple rule to the letter. Lennard travelled 50,000 miles a year by train, visiting branches to ensure amongst other issues, they were in the best location. There is lots of evidence showing where branches have been closed and removed to a better site, and it was almost always close to the previous branch. Company belief was, in branches that had attracted custom for a number of years in a particular place, should not be jeopardised, the new branch would be placed nearby, it was also quicker and less inconvenient to empty one shop and restock another.

Chosen in the margin are mainly branches from the Southern territory as they highlight my point perfectly. Postcards too, depicting main or large branches were made, to be used in the branches to post messages to customers reminding them to pick up a pair of shoes, perhaps, or some other message. Postcards amongst this category are shown, such as Manchester Stretford Road and Newport Monmouthshire Stow Hill Road. Stockton on Tees High Street was also displayed on a card and there are many more examples.

First image is the Stretford Road Manchester premises, such buildings were used to convey messages, listing other shops in the area, reminding everyone they are so big they are represented in every principal town. This card though, has been ‘tampered’ with using artistic license the name of the company and other wording is yellow. The colour yellow is perhaps to represent the gold leaf they used in the facia signs and yet only in Yorkshire have we found any examples of this?

Next up is High Street Exeter located close to a major monument, the guildhall this branch was highly successful. Note the company trademark painted on the side of the wall which is also on the corner of a street. ‘Man in the Boot’ can be clearly seen even more so from the daily tram cars passing by.

Frome Fore street in this depiction the company sign typically is huge and extends the width of the pavement and sited higher than other trade signs. The branch has the familiar lamps with the trademark etched into the glass.

Hull and the extensions come next, the very first branch number 93 Prospect Street, sited opposite a huge infirmary, bustling and built in the 1790’s. The company was also only three minutes walk from the railway station.

Chichester branch can be seen advertising Lennards World Famed Boots and Shoes just behind that ornate Market Cross, enough said.

Bristol:  Branch on the corner of Apsley Road and Whiteladies Road is numbered 108. Classic example of Lennards waiting until this site became available. It is a typical choice opposite the popular Redland Park United Reform Church constructed between 1860-1861.  A prestigious ‘Lennards corner’, the company removed from 118 Whiteladies Road to this address circa 1914 and continued here for decades. Again they didn’t remove too far from their old established site as you can see from the last image at the bottom of the margin 

Cheltenham High Street ‘Public Benefit’ can be seen in large letters above the premises on the right hand corner. The main window is brimming with footwear and outside footwear is placed on pegs to allow closer inspection. Thieves were commonplace as the temptation of ‘lifting’ an easy pair of boots was hard to resist. In all areas company shops also tended to cater for the locality this was a policy continued throughout their high street trading. Seaside branches would stock sand shoes and plimsoles whilst industrial town branches would stock heavy varieties of working boots as well as the usual large range of footwear for all classes.

Cardiff 90 Queen Street A wonderful example of using every means to advertise. The branch is identified by the usual large Trade sign placed prominently above the main windows. The lamps have the trademark etched into them and one of the windows at the top also displays the Man in the boot. Boots hung on pegs outside ,have large, white, cards attached, this was usual practice and one other common practice was as in this case, siting the branch opposite a Street so it can be seen from many angles. Shops were also situated next to busy alleyways as with Darlington branch.

Newport Monmouthshire Stow Hill Bottom This was another company post card but in this case i have removed the colouring up of the branch. Again the wording was in bright yellow. The company often placed their name at the very top of buildings by attaching a wooden board. The ornate doorway next door on our right hand side is part of ‘Central Chambers’. The branch has all the usual and expected external advertising, and is close to the city centre.

Newquay Bank Street a really good example of an early shop and here you can see the lamps more clearly incorporating the etched trademark. On either side of the building are listings of branches across the regions within the Southern territories. The windows are filled to capacity and here also can be seen more clearly the large price labels attached to the boots hung on pegs in the main doorway. The lad on the left hand side would be the shop lad, one of his jobs would be to ‘drum up’ custom whilst also keeping a good eye open for thieves trying to pinch the external boots.

St Austell Fore Street Another good example and we can also see Olivers operating in  a similar way, boots hung outside with large price tags attached, lamps incorporating their trademark and the very large sign is extending prominently to the edge of the pavement. The Public Benefit Branch is situated on the opposite side and both branches are close to the once popular parish church. 

Windsor Peascod Street Another company post card with the ghastly yellow writing. Lamps are traditional, incorporating the trademark, boots outside hung on pegs in the doorway display their large price tags but perhaps the greatest ‘draw’ of all is its’ proximity to Windsor Castle.

Bristol: An excellent example of removing to premises not too distant from the older shop is Whiteladies road branch. This branch was the first one, currently occupied in 2018 as (Tradewind) and it is possible to view the Lennards corner shop and the Church just a few yards farther down. Lennards took up occupancy in 1901 quickly capitalising on their ‘World Famed’ brand. This area of Clifton was undeveloped until around the 1860’s onwards.

As a percentage of photos and images have copyright please don’t hesitate to ask if you wish to obtain an image as I may be able to help. This is a non profit website so charges are not applicable at any time. Those photos I have taken personally, are marked simply as photo by D.B. Many of these have been taken 2016/17 and freely available just credit the name ‘photo by D.B.’  Some images have come from libraries  and have copyright to those. Rick Dickinson grandson of the chairman of Public Benefit Boot Company supplied 20 ‘in house’ magazines as mentioned above and images from those have been accredited to him but he like me is happy for you to use them, again simply credit the image as supplied by Rick Dickinson.

A major project has been to not only establish ‘Then and now’ views of where and when the company traded but also to try and capture as many branches as possible particularly the early branches. In this way we can get some idea of the thinking behind the company strategy. By doing this there have been many surprises both on the Southern side-Lennards, and the Northern Side in the finding of ‘gems’. Using three main sources to populate the website are:  

My own photos, our own collection of postcard views, Google Inc. Street views and Geograph Uk.

My slogan: Footwear, a neglected subject on histories of clothing and fashion.