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, emerged 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 initially,  based firstly in Leicester then Bristol.

Hull began this race to the top in a small ‘shop’ in 1875 when the founders travelled from Leeds to Hull. 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 mostly list branch details and staff. Proof of thefts, accidents, attacks, embezzlements, suicides, affairs, and assaults generally appear in Northern newspaper accounts.  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.

 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.

A priority when choosing branches, was to locate the best possible vantage point, obvious but, T.J.Lennard of the Southern territories and one time chairman of  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 never far from a 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.

One major incident came to light during researches, with evidences being collected from National Archives Kew, along with Newspapers and trade directories, of an intense rivalry between Freeman Hardy & Willis and the two entities forming  Public Benefit Boot Company. Freemans’ took this measure because they operated in the same low to Middle markets and for over a decade tried to force ‘out’ their up and coming rivals, so serious was the threat posed by two firms trading as Public Benefit Boot Company.  Leeds, Public Benefit occupied 42 Commercial Street then suddenly vacated this substantial, well placed, property close to Briggate. F. H.& W. had already stepped in and occupied 41 Commercial Street then began taking the fight to their rivals. Otley News & West.Riding.ADV 1886 an inflammatory adv. was placed…

BUY YOUR BOOTS AND SHOES FROM FREEMAN, HARDY AND WILLIS, THE PUBLIC BENEFIT BOOT & SHOE CO. THE BEST, CHEAPEST AND LARGEST STOCK IN LEEDS. 41. COMMERCIAL STREET.  The ‘heat was on’ as Freemans’ deliberately set up offices close to where Public Benefit operated. This led to direct attacks in both  territories of their rivals. There is a lot of evidence to support this.   They purchased and registered firms, an example being Mutual Benefit Boot Company and opened two branches in Wales to combat a Public Benefit branch recently opened, what’s more the Headquarters for Mutual Benefit Boot was set up closely to the Large Birmingham emporium owned and managed by Benjamin Hunn. Henry Lennard meanwhile registered a firm with a trading name ‘Mutual Stores.’ with a slogan ‘Let’s pull together’ a branch was opened in Winchester.

Freemans next purchased and registered a small firm People’s Benefit Boot Company with a branch at Chesterfield in 1882 the firm’s HQ was Winchester House, 1 Welford Place Leicester a stones’ throw from lennard territory, it was registered using the name of several employees. John Kirby was already established in Chesterfield under Public Benefit Boot at this time. More than a ‘spat,’ this was serious business as each rival countered the other in Wales, Midlands, Leeds, Birmingham, Derby and other places. It took several years before finally F.H.& Willis broke off the attack.

Whilst F.H.& Willis were openly mimicking the company name it was decided in 1890 to incorporate in a bid to protect that very name,  although never intended to be a full incorporation. Three years later another incorporation of 1893 took place and the old company was liquidated. The final incorporation came in 1897. By 1904 they had centralised both operations of the Northern and Southern companies with a view to merger.

Amalgamating two such  territories would  prove to be an administrative and personal headache.Thomas Joseph Lennard proposed he should be the man to lead this. William Franklin was not a well man but he had overseen his end of centralisation with a headquarters at Leeds, Lennard had produced the same at Bristol. They had also, in doing this, achieved the accolade of being the first Multiple retailer to establish a national network. To achieve complete merger Lennard realised his territory simply didn’t have enough branches to match those of his counterpart. Essentially, Leeds had 56  and 44 Joint branches with Lennards adding up to 100 branches. Lennard fell short of this with 44 joint branches and 37 owned by himself and his directors and 2 under Lennards How could he gain control of both boards with such an intolerable situation? 1904 & 1905 presented an entirely ‘Rocky road’ with fellow founders of the Leeds factor hostile to Lennard being ‘el Supremo’ and what is more Lennard could do little to change that. The solution came in the form of William Franklin, close to retiring through ill health he saw this as  ‘make or break’ time. His substantial shareholding was sold to Thomas Lennard handing over to him the branches he had established most were in Yorkshire. Lennard now had 17 more branches to match the 100 Northern branches. Lennard also had a huge advantage in terms of shares  presenting an opportunity to demand his rightful place as Chairman and M.D on both boards. William and his brother George resigned and John Kirby resigned in 1908 over what he must have perceived to be  ‘Enemy within’ and totally intolerable. Later that year Lennard also resigned from the Leeds board ending further attempts at amalgamation. John Kirby reclaimed his chairmanship and Brow Dickinson reclaimed his MD status also in 1908. However, this being a very complicated situation it would take a further 6 years up to the onset of a World war before the both sides were nearly seperate firms once more. Almost four decades on, John Kirby  was back, triumphant.