Advertising and Styles of Footwear

Wm Hy Franklin

William Franklin


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

William Henry Franklin once reported in an American Newspaper when Prompted, to the question of advertising, his reply was simple. ‘If you have money to spend, spend it on advertising

He certainly put his money where his mouth was as the major contributing factor to their success was the abundant use of advertising in every form. The first one we always think of is “Big Boot’ an innovation, seen in cities and towns right across the country in both territories. Then there were newspapers, printing had changed dramatically, making it extremely viable to advertise week in week out and sometimes daily.  In southern territory newspapers appeared the big boot with a list of the branches opened in that region. The Branches too had always been a massive boost to their advertising strategy.

On the theme of newspapers there have been umpteen marvellous artistic, depictions from 1885 into the new century, of ‘upgrades’ or ‘Emporiums’, eye catching for their ornateness with several large, plate glass, window exhibitions. Lit up by huge oil lamps further enhanced with a Big boot’ depiction etched into them, later on they invested in the new gas and later still electric lighting, to illuminate these window exhibitions.

Imitation tin of one produced originally by Franklin and Lennard in 1904 for the merger; depicting the new H.Q. in Leeds.

Give away items such as boot and shoe horns with company trademark  ‘big boot’ again, etched onto them, clothes brushes, vesta wax match boxes, tea pots, Boot lacers, and the list runs on, all, depicting the trademark. Tins containing biscuits or Boot cleaning accessories like the one opposite, this is a modern reproduction made in the 1970’s.

Signage on the branches would boast, ‘king of Boot shops’ for example or ‘The Great Boot providers ‘ and so on. In Hull and Goole, found on old facias, was  gold leaf signage! 


Wakefield Flyer for the opening of a branch in 1885 private coll.

The advent of differing styles of footwear can be followed, due to the advertisements in newspapers and catalogues that companies produced.

A national network which had stretched to 200 branches by 1940 gave lots of scope for sales.  National newspapers, chosen to display illustrations on selected designs had a huge effect, reaching large audiences as reading the morning or night paper was a national pastime up to recent times. Latest designs of footwear would be distributed at the same time to be placed prominently in the main shop window. Highlighted using, props, lighting, background scenes and, depending on the era, display shoes would be stuffed with crepe paper to show off the fullness of the leather. Gimmicks or ‘tricks of the trade’ were commonplace and developed over many years.

The early years of founding branches in both territories, Northern and Southern, produced advertisements in the form of ‘fliers’ and posters like the one seen above, often, later placed in the newspapers. This one makes lots of terse statements:-

‘A Bloody battle was fought in Wakefield’. ‘A strange coincidence.’ A surprising Concurrence’ 

‘The voice of the people is the voice of God’

In another poster I have seen equally as Barnstorming, 

‘Fly the Royal Standard of quality!’

‘Run up the Union Jack of Quantity!’

‘Kings of the order of St.Crispin’ a reference to the patron saint of shoemakers. There is even a reference to Cardinal Wolseley!

Today we might view these posters, with some suspicion? Or, if not, for their comic value?

A poster style ad.  Chard & Ilminster News 1879 image@ British Library Board

‘Crowned! Triumphant! 

The producers of such material reflected the era, as, middle class, they were deeply patriotic, religious, political and probably highly patronising, by todays’ standards. These were produced largely from around 1875-1885.

The middle section is an unbelievable collection of short sentences relating to every trade and profession. Here is a selection:

Merchants close your ledgers! Doctors’ never mind your patients! Tailors Jump up! Dock side slaves hold up lifting! Wives put by your sewing!……. Let us be the only bank for your boot and shoe money.!

Throughout the 1880’s and 1890’s advertisements for the Northern Company, contained no illustrations of footwear or of the trademark, 31545 ‘Big Boot’ and, the wording was still, a trifle, ‘bombastic’. The Southern Company however, were the first to display illustrations using the ‘Big Boot’ trademark in 1886, using short statements as to why they were the best boot company to patronise. Yet apart from an impressive, illustration of the Queens Road Headquarters used frequently, Lennards did not sanction the use of artists to advertise new branches or upgrades, unlike their Northern counterparts who produced a whole string of them over a couple of decades.

In the new century we begin to see for both companies, a form of advertising which included artists’ illustrations of footwear, although, the Southern territories were advertising branches enclosed in a depiction of the trademark, ‘The Man in the Boot’ . This style of advertisement was placed, week in week out over a number of years, and generally to be seen at the top of the page, last column on the right hand side. Unusual black and white depiction it would  ‘stand out’, an indication of length of time this type of advertising was utilised, roughly from the late 1890’s and into Edwardian times. This one is from 1908.

One major form of advertising was wrapping paper used to parcel up a pair of boots or shoes, featured on it were the many towns and cities with Public Benefit Boot branches. Carrier bags were used by the Southern company using the company trademark. Letter headings for example in the case of the Northern half , like the ‘give away’ tins would feature their new Headquarters in Leeds, whilst Lennards would feature their’s in Bristol.

MARGIN IMAGES click on images for enlarged view

Northern advertisements See also Northern and Southern ads in the Gallery

1. Gold leaf signage from the Hessle Road Branch Hull. Gold leaf has been found on two Yorkshire branches Hull and Boothferry Road Goole. Photographed by D.B.

2. Next featured advertisement placed by the Burnley branch to sell a range of Tennis shoes for men and women in 1923. This is appealing to a different market as for most, harsh realities of a vicious depression were all too apparent.  The illustration also displays numbers beside the tennis shoes, a ‘style’ number, invented and adopted by companies to aid warehousing and stockholding in shops. ‘Benefit’ employed artists right up to modern times to depict their footwear in newspapers. Swindon Advertiser and North Wilts Chronicle image@ British Library Board

3.  ‘Shoes of Distinction‘ Range found in Birmingham Daily Gazette 1909 image@ British Library BoardShoes for all occasions, holiday wear, promenade, seaside or anywhere any time Ladies shoes. The company was under the chairmanship of T.J.Lennard at this time and we can trace a pattern emerging of regular advertising illustrated shoes. New ranges are being designed and the simple black and white appearance in this one really works. It is very eye catching and the blurb is appealing to women who ‘value their appearance at its’ proper worth. The shoes are also said to provide a great sense of ease and comfort to the wearer. Simple illustrations nicely put together. The illustration is from an era now over a century ago! 

The Famed ‘Benefit’ Boot designed in the Dickinson factory in Bramley. A national campaign advertisement placed by all major branches with this particular one found in 1908 in Yorkshire Evening Post image@ British Library Board. Advertising Leeds Branches, it is yet another black and white eye catcher. It was boots such as this that elevated the company name, enabling them to sell at ‘sensible’ prices with a guaranteed quality to last. Again this was in the era of the merging of the two companies. They had officially stretched their network to all corners of the U.K.

4. Still on the Black and White theme, Staffordshire Advertiser 1922 represented the branch at 8 gaol-gate, describing ‘new seasons’ boots By now of course Machines were commonplace and replacing most or all of the ‘hand made’ processes. The ad is telling us whilst the boots were machine made they have used better materials to ensure longevity, whilst applying ‘the Benefit’ price economies.

5. Grantham Journal image@ Johnston Press PLC Interesting depiction placed by 27a Market Place Grantham of a farmer or country Gent surveying his lands. This was the branch where Richard Franklin whilst managing it, died suddenly in the previous century as this ad is from June 1919. This will have been a time of optimism and a feeling of getting back to normality. The ‘write up’ refers to ‘years of anatomical principles, combined with the knowledge of master craftsmen a graceful boot has been achieved without sacrificing strength. Quick turnover means the boot is priced at fifteen per cent cheaper than any other, this shoe provides a special inducement to don a pair of ‘Benefits’ 

 Lincolnshire Std. Boston Guardian 1928. image @ Johnston Press PLC An ad from the Boston branch depicting  a new line of mens’ shoes ‘Mentone’ sold at the adopted but unofficially named, ‘Benefit Footwear’ shop. The  new name, received official, recognition in 1946 



6.  Morecambe Guardian 1951 image @ Johnston Press PLC. Another attractive black and white this time offering the ‘Birthday’ range. The adverts like the product have become more stylish and appealing. ‘Birthday’, like ‘Mentone’  is a jump to the next level, special designs, moving on, from their traditional working class customer. Available at 34 Euston Road Morecambe the advert depicts two children of varying ages walking with mum to the Benefit Footwear shop I imagine! 

8.The ‘Kumfees’ brand, Britannia and Eve newspaper displayed this in 1949. illustrated London news Group

7. With the name of ‘Physical Culture’  advertising the ex ‘Smart shoes’ branch but now Benefit Footwear at Coventry. Coventry Telegraph 1954 image @ Illustrated London News Group  is extolling the virtues of,  American styling, lovely colours, various widths and sizes including half sizes and specially trained fitting experts on hand. Definitely a quality product accompanied by ‘top notch’ illustrations. Once more, such shoes were not generally bought by the majority on low wages.

9. The Tatler, 1954 ‘Physical Culture’ range nicely presented, it oozes ‘class’ and all the ladies shoes have individual names. Sonia shoe bottom right offers two types, Calf leather at 89/9 and suede at four shillings cheaper. Specialist shops are stocking these products and ‘Benefit Footwear’ is amongst them. Illustrated London News Group  


10. For me this ad placed by Bristol branches in Western Press 1925 is a real beauty if not fanciful. Two 1920’s ladies wearing Wil-win shoes with the latest Dri-Ped soles, chatting nonchalantly in serene surroundings, offer an appealing sight to other middle class females. The shoes are made of ‘Glace kid’, ‘box kid’, and ‘Willow Calf’  with what is described as a military shaped heel. New shoes, and especially those displayed here were ‘out of reach’ to a majority as ‘hard times’ had arrived. One year later 1926 the general strike would take place, unemployment was at record levels.

Full page spread from 1920 it has everything. Depicting stylish footwear of the day, two modern Lennards factories, and telling of  a mail order service that can reach any part of the world. Lennards sent footwear throughout the ’empire’ and boasted British capital, British Labour and British brains. This is a world class British company having two million satisfied customers within the empire. See Lennards Ads in the Gallery

11. Quite a nice porcelain advertising tin. This would have been displayed ‘in’ or even ‘outside’ the building. The mention of twenty five years reputation takes it to Edwardian times Dave Bean .

12 & 13. two post cards showing a boy and a girl delivering parcels of boots. They are both flying  over the capital, the message being perhaps that Lennards are a modern company, using modern methods to deliver their goods. The era might be late Victorian, though I believe it was  Edwardian based on their mode of dress and design of the aeroplanes. Private collection Brian Seddon