Northern Sector Leeds 1875 -1990’s

A photograph of 6 original founders of Public Benefit Boot Company Northern, taken on a tour in the 1890’s seen at Heidelberg Castle. Only George Kirby is missing he is the photographer. They were on a fact finding tour of Europe taking them eventually to the ‘Bally’ shoe company in Switzerland. William Franklin at the back appears to be ‘legging up’ his brother George in the front who is looking rather uncomfortable. 


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


Early 1870’s William Henry Franklin (seen in group photo at the back next to the pillar) (Bootmaker) is operating at Leeds, boot factoring under his own name. Leeds at that time was a reputable and recognised boot centre with  buoyant hand finishing operations from within the locality one such was Bramley. Traditionally the cotton industry had occupied the region, for decades, but at this time, cotton was in decline and the boot industry was rapidly emerging, taking over the old Cotton Mills.

Three Brothers by the name of  John, George, & Brow Dickinson (Brow seen in group photo on the extreme left back) begin making good handmade boots in their parents’ cottage in Back Lane Bramley at the same time, after serving an apprenticeship in which they learn how to use machinery! 

John Kirby (seen in group photo front, on left H.S.) glover and draper by trade, also went off to Leeds, he too was boot factoring in the Leeds and Bradford markets. He and Franklin met on the market stalls, and his destiny, along with his brother George, was to become partners in a great adventure forming the Northern Public Benefit Boot Company. John eventually, became chairman, in addition to this as a Dickinson customer he introduced William Franklin to Brow Dickinson.

Henry Lennard (one of five brothers, Samuel, John, William, and Thomas Joseph from Leicester) is working the stalls in Leeds and Bradford. He and William Franklin became partners, and from this, Henry would be complicit in persuading his siblings to form Lennard brothers and the beginnings of a Southern Public Benefit Boot Company 

1873 Hull  George Edward Franklin (Williams’ brother seen in group   photo front row to the right of his brother behind) purchases a grocery shop in Trinity Street Hull with a liquor license. George also became a partner to his brother as they opened up shops together, some under the name of Franklin brothers.

Staffordshire Adv. May 1922 Romance of a Big Leeds Company an extract.                                TRIUMPH of HARD WORK. From this it will seen that, although the present year marks a quarter of a century of the firm’s incorporation’, the Benefit history goes much further back. Mr. Franklin commenced his business in 1873 in Hull, opening his first store in October 1875 at prospect Street. while Mr. Brow Dickinson and his brothers started the manufacture of the Bramlev boots in their parents cottage but by 1880 they began manufacturing within their first factory.  At one time the firm had warehouses in different towns, but in the latter part of 1904 the work was centralised, handsome and spacious buildings in St. Paul’s street, Leeds, being purchased, the work from the Wellingborough and Bramley factories being transferred to the basement of the newly acquired premises. The history and progress of the firm is one of triumph, hard work, enthusiasm, sound judgment, and a keen business acumen.

Benjamin Hunn, (seen in group photo the big chap in black apparel) a chemist and George Franklins’ brother in law. Benjamin was persuaded to sell his chemist business and join with George in setting up the Midlands territory

William Franklin visits Hull 1873 from Leeds

A ‘blow by blow’ account given below removes any doubt as to how this company was founded. Evidence emerges of how William Franklin learned his trade and earned his money factoring in Leeds and Bradford on the markets. In 1873 the William, his brother George and their parents settled in Stanley Street and it seems likely a case of William establishing his identity in the old Market and vying between Leeds and Hull using the train.

Number 93 Brighton Arcade a parade of shops opposite the bustling infirmary Hull         

1875 October Hull the very first  branch of the company was opened by William Henry Franklin partnered by Henry Lennard of Leicester. A single window, one storey, no frills building sited along the Brighton Arcade, Prospect Street on the East Side of the Street, it stood, opposite an expansive and bustling infirmary. The railway station was a three-minute walk away.

William Franklin believed in personally training his staff senior or otherwise, usually at Hull, although, Jabez Harker also trained them at the Nottingham branch, borne out by the 1881 census returns. Franklin also oversaw and inspected his branches ensuring they were in the right locality.  

Between 1876-1878 the shops were regularly, targeted by mainly female thieves, pinching boots from the outside pegs in the doorway. Printed in the daily Police courts in Hull Packet, we discover who was managing the branch, Richard Franklin (father to William and George) its’ location, Brighton Arcade. The felons were usually caught, some were known to the police, having committed a string of similar offences. Richard was living at 13 Stanley Street with his wife Eunice,(Jabez’ Harkers’ sister) not too distant from George’s grocery shop in Trinity Street.

1878 Hull theft from Franklin and Lennard (not Lennen as mistakenly reported) Most thefts were committed by opportunists  grabbing boots from pegs in shop doorways. All boot shops nationally, suffered the same problem for decades, until the judiciary and the general public began to question the practice. Initially boots were hung because working men liked to sniff and feel the leather and the boots had large price tags attached. It was still occurring in Edwardian times though it was on the ‘wane’.

Brow Dickinson, a major founder of the  Northern Public Benefit Boot company. His manufacturing and retail experiences served him well under John Kirby as chairman. Brow later also became chairman replacing John upon his death, around 1915. His considerable Interests and later retailing ventures in the North East prior to the final incorporation of 1897 assured his stake in the company. He was also M.D. for a long time.

1878 Hull George Franklin is still at his Trinity Street shop when he advertises for sale a harmonium. However, he is soon to leave and open a branch at 26-28 London Road Derby. (ReferenceGreat British Midland Boot and shoe Stores’)

A company booklet produced in 1947 has a photograph of number 93 Prospect Street being similar, to what was termed as a ‘Two up, Two down’, referring to the number of rooms on each floor. This building was ‘picked out’ as being the first branch. Photographed in 1887 a follow up photo shows a series of single storey shops.  Whites directory of 1882 shows an entry for W.H. Franklin proprietor in a block of premises between Albion Street and heading down to Story Street where the company held numbers 90,91,92,93,94 consecutively. The photograph above of the row of single story shops is,  I believe  actually the presence on Holderness Road in the frontage of the Presbyterian church. The company did establish  a presence about this time and even today the frontage of that location is still showing a series of single storey shops.

Hull Prospect Street 93 (Silver Cross) & 94 in 2018

1878 The company also advertised as occupying a small shop unit existing close to or even part of the Infirmary forecourt. Number 16 Prospect Street occupied by the company is perhaps better explained when we consult the Bulmer’s Trade directory for 1892 and three entries states: 16 Prospect Street
Moncaster Thos. Jas., saddler.                                      Hull Royal Infirmary; Frank Savery, house surgeon.  Rousseau Chas., head porter, Infirmary lodge

Jabez Harker, William’s uncle a successful bootmaker, was already in the trade after forming a partnership with William they went on to erect a large emporium on the Derby Road Nottingham close to the city centre. his portrait is in the margin numbered 30

George Kirby, commanded the Lancashire & Cheshire regions and joined the business a little later enticed by his Brother. Large Branches in Warrington, Burnley and others emerged.

John Kirby (Seen in the group photograph front row first on left) commanded Sheffield and Chesterfield regions. For a long time, apart from a resignation period he was chairman of the Northern Board. An original founder, one of seven businessmen and part of the ‘Leeds’ gang in the 1870’s

1879 Hull William Franklin is advertising his intention to once again take up a stall on the annual Fat stock show, no means of selling is overlooked and is a continuation of his factoring days in Leeds. 

1879 Two references to dissolving of partnership by William Henry Franklin and Henry Lennard. Huddersfield Chronicle, and Leeds times . Whilst it is unusual to find partnerships ‘formed’ in fact so rare I have never seen one; it is common to see them advertised as dissolved. Reason for this was the normal and accepted system of conducting business through the formation of partnerships. Each partner would dissolve in order, from that day to absolve themselves of any ‘come back’ or liability of debts.


1879 Barton, Market Place  a Public Benefit shop, is opened, the manager W. H. Wainhouse almost certainly a franchisee, is also an agent selling Jones sewing machines. Jones worked on the principles of hiring agents to promote their machines. 

1879 Derby:  Salesman: Wanted a salesman for our establishment in Hull-Public Benefit Boot & Shoe company.Apply 26-28 London street Derby ( large premises with warehousing and manufacturing capacity.)

Margin Images click on images for enhanced view 1-13 copyright  exists on all newspaper images.Other Northern and Southern ads appear in gallery section

A Series of advertisements and main Branches are shown in the margin of the article. Each represents a visual advertisement. Main Branches (Emporiums) sketched by resident artists, depicting, palatial buildings, each had six to eight large display windows between 6-10 feet high, arranged into ‘Departments’ for Gentlemen, Ladies, Boys, Girls. Seating and other comforts was provided and shopping became a pleasant experience. The footwear ads randomly placed are all up to around 1921 and show how advertisements were becoming more scientific and attractive to convince the customer they should buy ‘Benefits’ and no other.

Post cards 1,2,3.  produced between the Franklins of Hull and Derby and Jabez Harker of Nottingham a set of three circa 1880 copyright Brian Seddon

Fig 4: ‘Standwell’ part of  a national ‘roll out’ this one was found in Birmingham Gazette 1907 a man’s boot, tough in various colours and materials. image@ Trinity Mirror & British Library Board all rights reserved

Fig 5: Found in Hull Daily Mail 1908 at a time when ‘merger’ was underway and had been from 1904 with the Midlands born man T.J.Lennard at the Helm. This advert depicts a boot and shoe for ladies and the listings of branches are the clue as to what is happening at this time. Prior to this, advertisements were more localised but here branches are to be found in Penzance, Bristol, Warrington, Hull ,Cardiff, a real mix of locations nationally. This also served as proof that the boots you bought in Hull could also be obtained in Truro image@ The British Library Board

Fig 6: Familiar poster type ad. reporting on the opening of a new branch in Lincoln 1914 from the Lincolnshire Echo. A free gift is offered this was also typical. image@ Johnston Press PLC

Fig 7: London daily news offers a gift for 1/- by cutting out a coupon. This is a Lennards tin as it depicts scenes in the Bristol area. Again being 1907  branch listings comprise of the national network as opposed to local image 2 the British Library Board

Fig 8: ‘Candidate’ another in the series of ‘black and whites’ found in Hull Daily Mail 1907 image@ British library board

Fig 9: Rather quirky and amusing poster reprinted in Ripley and Heanor News in 1902 by George Edward Franklin director and founder who went on to rule the North Midlands territory. Obviously a very rural area it is appealing to the farming community image@ British Library Board

Fig 10: 1910 ad found in Sheffield Daily Telegraph very well laid out, this ‘black and white’ is listing local branches. Time had shown the merger, though still intact was not working. It was proving, impossible to overcome the many difficulties of merging two separate boards of control. image@ British Library Board

Fig 11: Another offering from Sheffield Independent in 1914 depicting a ladies shoe of the latest style on a prop generally used in branches for display purposes image@ British Library Board

Fig 12: A selection of ladies shoes are depicted in this Staffordshire ad. proclaiming an all British production. Firms did that in those times they were proud to be British, proud of British workmanship and British goods. This one produced in 1916 has a rather more jingoistic feel to it. image@ British Library Board

Fig 13: Another Staffordshire ad this time from 1921 depicting three different styles of male boots and careful to show the underside. image 2 British Library Board

Turn of the century BIG BOOT: Found in a company booklet on 50 years of trading 1897-1947 and is said to be circa 1912? Evidence of this important advertising device is strong. We know the first large boot was made for William Franklin, possibly by the Dickinsons of Bramley. Whilst it was initially used in Hull, East and West Ridings, it may have been contrived by Henry Lennard who registered it in 1883. My view of this is 1912 could be a bit late to be still using it? A cumbersome device and by then  ‘times’ have moved on, but it did become the recognised trademark for both Northern and Southern territories. A man stood inside controlling the pony, its’ usage on the highways, was defended, by identifying it as a delivery cart. It wasn’t long before a reputation, as the ‘Big Boot’ firm emerged. There was some illiteracy still, amongst the labouring classes, signs and trademarks were a good way of doing business with those people.

1882 An advertisement placed in Hull by William Allman a Boot & Shoe manufacturer calling himself ‘The Working Man’s Friend’ going under the “trademark’ of ‘Golden Boot’ reminds everyone his premises are on the corner of Dock Street and also St. James Street, Pottery. Further descriptions are applied: Four doors from the church and ‘BIG BOOT’ 28 Trippett, Wincolmlee. He definitely knew of ‘Big Boot’ and was capitalising on it?

Further detailed  information on the Big boot to be found in Chairmanship of Brow Dickinson 

Two decent trademarks, a Golden Boot and Big Boot! Franklins’ company became more known, initially, as ‘Big Boot’ and the idea would ‘catch on’ nationally. This in itself,  was only a means to attract attention, he utilised other tools to sell his wares. Franklin did two things from the very start, cut out the middle man by selling boots at factory prices, and traded on a cash only basis, a common practice used by other retailers to avoid bad debts. His primary premises, were not ‘flash’, he sold cheap and stacked high, up to seventy five pairs in a one window shop, arriving by train, packed in crates and barrels they were picked up by cart and delivered to his shop. Fundamentally, such  boots really were ‘unfinished’, ‘unrefined’ all one colour, but they ‘did the job’. His ‘unfussy’ product, held a quality and price, to suit the labouring classes. Franklin, sourced his boots from other fledgling entrepreneurs, the Dickinsons of Bramley making hand-made boots, and Charlie Burroughs with his factory in Leeds and retail shops across Yorkshire. Burroughs was well known in the area for his good boots, he traded on the market stalls of Leeds and Bradford and in his own shops. He later worked for Franklin in a franchised agreement. We do know the Franklins, Harker and Lennards also went on to using imported foreign footwear.

Sir James T. Woodhouse once chairman of the Northern company a solicitor, J.P governor of Hymers College and Lord Mayor of Hull; he did not remain long but is shown on the original board of 1897. A Hull solicitor and J.P. he lived, as was fashionable, in a large house close to the Railway station at Brough East Yorkshire

Wm Hy Franklin

The man who founded the company in Hull and showed great flair in Yorkshire Died in 1907. He had many tragedies in his life losing both his only son and one daughter.

Founder William Henry Franklin, co-ordinated initially the Public Benefit Boot Company as a company to ‘Benefit the Public’. Opening his first Branch in October 1875 he quickly expanded his operations particularly in Yorkshire. A man filled with ideas he was first to utilise the highly rated ‘Big Boot’ trademark, and erected lots of Emporiums, many are still around to this day. Franklin sold at one price, but later he developed a ‘pioneering’ concept known as ‘half guinea a pair,’ price, for which he was remembered years later, selling a  quality product, the ‘Benefit Boot’.




Bramley in those days was one of the very last Boot centres to forestall the advent of machines, yet the Dickinson’s knew the age of the machine was dawning and unstoppable. Having learned their trade, they would embrace technology knowing it was the path to advancement. Throughout his life, Brow Dickinson, according to his grandson, Rick, made many trips to America to buy machinery for his factories as he expanded. 

London Road Derby looking towards St. Alkmunds Church

Franklin had achieved, ‘lift off’, soon, other shops would be needed, his father Richard managed, as we know, the first Branch, leaving William to source other shops in the right place, and, continue with his plans unfettered. Quite apart from expansions in Hull, William, with his brother George, turned their heads towards the Midland town of Derby. A town with excellent rail links and situated on the ‘spine’ of England. George sold his grocery and liquor shop, opening premises at 26-28 London Street Derby in 1879. This move to Derby coincided with yet another scheme, capitalising on imports of cheap footwear for all classes from, North America where they were suffering from over production and other problems. It was around this time  the two brothers worked together as ‘Franklin Brothers’, their uncle, Jabez Harker also became a partner to both men, all working to formulate plans notably in Nottingham and Derby. 

Margin Images Click on images for enhanced views 14- 24. For other ads consult Northern and also Southern ads in the gallery

A Series of advertisements and main Branches are shown in the margin of the article. Each represents a visual advertisement. Main Branches (Emporiums) Huge and palatial with six large display windows and arranged into ‘Departments’ for Gentlemen, Ladies, Boys, Girls. Seating was provided and it became a pleasant experience to shop there never a chore. The footwear ads randomly placed are all up to around 1921 and show how advertisements were becoming more scientific and attractive to convince the customer they should buy ‘Benefits’ and no other.

Fig 14: another in the mini series from 1907 this one shown in Yorkshire evening Post Leeds of a pair of lady’s slippers. Again the same attractive black and white effect showing you can obtain those same slippers nationally.image@ Johnston Press PLC & British Library Board

Fig 15: A lady’s shoe ‘Jessamine’ also found in Yorkshire evening Post 1907 still in ‘Merger’ times. image@ Johnston Press PLC & British Library Board

Fig 16:  Sketches were made of branches many were in Yorkshire. This one is Derby reproduced in the Derby Daily Telegraph 1935 image@ British Library Board

Fig 17: Chesterfield, this sketch was re-produced 1939 representing the branch opened in 1892 but representation in the town had commenced 1882 when John Kirby was manager Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald image@ British Library Board 

fig 18: Sketch of Doncaster opened in March 1898 although the company traded in Doncaster far earlier Doncaster Gazette image@ British Library Board

Fig 19: King Edward Street Hull opened 11 October 1935 Hull Daily Mail image@ British Library Board

Fig 20: Rotherham 1, Imperial Buildings High Street 1912 -1963 at least. Company traded from 28 High Street from 1883 Sheffield Evening Telegraph image@ Johnston Press PLC

Fig 21: Coltman Street  Hull opened 1897 Hull Daily Mail image@ British Library Board

Fig 22: Sheffield, Moorhead Branch 1885 Sheffield Daily Telegraph image@ British Library Board

Fig 23: Corporation Street Birmingham upgraded in 1885 a Benjamin Hunn initiative image @ Trinity Mirror & image@ British Library Board

fig 24: Holderness Road Hull opened 1896 Hull Daily Mail image@ British Library Board

The Anglo-American Public Benefit Company 1878/9

Henry Lennard, ending his partnership with William, took up his post of managing a shop on High Street Bristol which may have been established by William. Together with the Franklins he worked to trade with the North Americans, capitalising on their hard times. Franklin brothers and Lennard embraced the deals, although many, British manufacturers looked on in disdain as cheap imports flooded in. Their imported, machine and hand made footwear, was sold in three areas initially, Hull, Derby and Leicester. I feel sure other large footwear companies would have also taken advantage of this opportunity but in the case of Public Benefit there is ample proof.

Sir T. J. Lennard who went on to become one of three Giants of the boot trade, his manufacturing and retail empire Lennards Ltd was founded in 1896. Although in reality it was much earlier than that as the retailing arm was established in the 1870’s trading under ‘Lennard Brothers’ encompassing a host of other trading names, closely resembling the Public Benefit Boot Company title. The overall aim was of course to formulate and oversee the expansion of a Southern Public Benefit Boot Company and to this end he erected a huge H.Q. in Bristol in 1896 then transferred his business from Leicester . He entered politics too as a liberal and in 1904 appointed himself chairman and M.D. of both Public Benefit companies but that is told in more detail farther on. Thomas Joseph also spent a period of time in Leeds where he would meet the other members, all of this is further evidence of an orchestrated plan to form two like minded companies and merge once the time was right. T.J formed many friendships with fellow Methodists and liberals whilst at Leeds. He retired in 1926 after serving the board for over fifty years. His portrait is number 29 in the margin

Samuel Lennard who formed Lennard Brothers  retailing and manufacturing but sold the retail side to his brother, lived to the age of fifty. The eldest of the five brothers he became a liberal serving on Leicester  Town council, an alderman and a J.P. Another giant of the trade

E.W.Lennard was handed the reins to Lennards Ltd by his uncle T.J. Lennard in 1926. Samuel and E.W.Lennard portraits are to be found in the margin numbered 30 & 31

J.W.Goddard appeared on the first board of the Northern incorporation he died in 1927. A manufacturing chemist he was also on the board of the Southern based company headed by T.J. Lennard and remained 

in these positions throughout his life.

The first advertisement appeared in Leicester Mercury December 1878 and again the following year in 1879. Announcing the Anglo American Public Benefit Company have purchased for cash a large quantity of boots and shoes.  to the public at extraordinary prices. They were distributed directly from a Lennard Warehouse at 6, Welford Road Leicester

1879 Leicester Mercury Anglo American Public Benefit Company

Women’s kid boots, sewn from 3s 3d

Mens shoes & boots sewn from 5s 0d

Boys nailed boots sewn from     3s 2d

Nurseries sewn boots from        0s 7d

There was no inflation in those times prices and wages remained constant

1879 American footwear was sold too in Derby at London Road, and Hull  at Humber Mills by William and George when an advertisement in the Derby Daily Telegraph in August announced:

‘The Great Midland Boot & Shoe Stores are now open at 26-28 London Street. Prices unheard of ‘and, (with an eye on health and safety it was advised), ‘everyone turn up early to avoid ‘crowding’. These premises were opened to specifically sell imported footwear.

Indication of how long this company imported footwear, commencing in 1879 and still doing it in 1895. They are also advertising bespoke footwear, & British and Foreign Boot exchange.

This was the true, market stall concept taken a step further with direct selling from warehouses and factories. They even sold directly to the trade, the simple policy, of, ‘pushing’ imported footwear out of the door as quickly as possible, ‘small profits rapid returns’. Further to this, imported  footwear was sold separately under different trading titles. Franklin used the name, ‘The Great British Foreign Boot and Shoe Exchange’ this was  a way of identifying and keeping apart their import business, from the Public Benefit Boot company and this continued well into the 1890’s. Franklins’ ‘winning’ policy of importing, pushing cheap footwear through factory gates, happened in Aldgate London from a Public Benefit Boot warehouse. As the company became more established, moving into the 1890’s imported footwear would be sold in their branches possibly as ‘special sale’ items.  A Hull Daily Mail ad from 1888 highlights this perfectly, placed in the margin number 32.  Just one example, there are numerous others as the company was advertising week in week out in similar fashion. Quantities we are talking about here are: 2000 womens’ boots, 6000 womens laced boots, 2300 pairs of Bluchers (high Heeled boot) and so on.

Further proof of a fast moving, innovative, company

A visiting congressman to Hull made these comments in the New York Times picked up by Franklin as he includes his observations in the Hull daily newspaper in 1894.

‘England’s Greatness commercially, is as clearly demonstrated in her colossal retail Palaces as it is in her Stupendous Wholesale Warehouses, factories, mills, workshops etc. I thought so when I viewed, near the Royal Infirmary Hull, a magnificent Mammoth Boot & Shoe Emporium, that appeared to solve the most difficult problem we have in New York-supplying all classes with every possible requirement in one establishment. It has sectional shops and Saloons with separate Street entrances for Ladies and gentlemen and the General Public, and caters for all societies, from the highest and wealthiest to the lowest and poorest and evidently with great advantage to patrons or such an immense establishment could not be upheld. Verily the energy and enterprise of British Tradesmen and their enormous Marts exemplifies Englands’ greatness!

Whilst I am not completely sold on the American congressman and his visit to the Emporium his observations are ‘spot on’, the establishment is the absolute representation of a progressive company. My Personal view is, I believe Franklin who was trading regularly with America, could very well have been ‘known’ to the congressman and would go so far as to suggest Franklin’ entertained him at their home in the ‘Park’? We’ll never know, but this is not the first-time William Franklin has been in American newspapers, he was quoted as saying, in one Newspaper across the pond:

‘If you have money to spend? Then spend it on advertising’

Advertising in all its’ forms was something Franklin believed in passionately, another aspect of their policy making was using franchises.

Margin Images click on images for enhanced views also see Northern and Southern ads in the Gallery

Fig 25: 44 Whitefriargate Hull opened 7th February 1936 image@ British Library Board

Fig 26: Boot lacer was a free gift at Xmas time 1890-1910 copyright Brian Seddon

Fig 27: York full page spread branch opened April 1902 Yorkshire Evening Post image@ British Library Board

Fig 28: Wakefield Sketch opened October 1885 Yorkshire evening Post image@ British Library Board

Fig 29.1888 HDM advertising huge quantities of imported footwear image@ British Library Board

Fig 30. Jabez Harker

Fig 31. T. J. Lennard

Fig 32. Samuel Lennard

Fig  33. E.W. Lennard


‘Clicking dept. an ‘ordered’ factory plenty of light both natural and artificial. part of collection of prints found in a Leeds factory

William Franklin adopted the policy of supplying small boot sellers at wholesale prices, (selling to the ‘trade’) and one way or another he was selling ‘Benefit boots’ depriving the competition of extra revenue. Many firms operated this system too, a clever idea, though it wasn’t because they were being nice to the ‘middle man’. By supplying them, an individual’s sales could be monitored by the boots they bought off the company. Franchising, using existing businesses was one of the major ways in which the retailing empire was established as well as undercutting the competition and working on a small profit margin. Franklin and his partners could, using this method, work out who was in a good trading spot by the volume of sales. To this end franchises would then be offered to the ‘right’ individuals, Lennards also traded in this way as did many other major companies in the trade.

There are countless examples from one end of the country to the other of ‘using established businesses’. Some worked, some were disastrous and fell into bankruptcy. Charlie Burroughs whom I mentioned earlier, a good example of owning a small chain of shops, began trading under the banner of Public Benefit Boot company in the 1880’s. He represented the company in Westgate Bradford, 15 Buxton Road Huddersfield, Lord Street Rochdale, and 19 Tower Hill gate Stockport. Burroughs also traded under other names so he was ‘into’ franchising in a big way. He also had his own reputable manufacturing facility in Leeds. His sudden downfall began when there was an unexpected ‘downturn’ in the market and he had ventured into the confectionary trade by opening a shop at 21 Kirkgate Leeds known as the Central Cocoa House; on which he spent large sums of money, he had ‘over reached’

1879 The company opened in Carlisle using another franchise, Todd Brothers, this arrangement was successful as the Todd Brother’s extended their franchise to other towns for the company.  in Carlisle Express and Examiner an advertisement announcing their premises as, ‘The Great Emporium for Low shoes’ and extolling the virtues of buying from the Public Benefit Boot and Shoe Company by offering a choice between machine sewn and hand sewn boots in the latest fashions. Proclaiming their riveted boots ‘which wear longer and does not come to pieces like ordinary made boots and shoe’s’.

Albert Hall Buildings on derby Road Nottingham. Towering above is the prestigious Albert Hall in the background. Harker imported French shoes 

The branch today 2018 on the Derby Road






1880 William extended, apart from his brother George, another partnership to Jabez Harker. They erected a prestigious branch of the company close to a major attraction, Albert Hall and called their establishment Albert Hall buildings 21-23 Derby road. Advertised on the facias Ladies French Boot Saloon and Great  Boot exchange’ The earliest we learn of this is from the Nottingham Journal 19th February advertising for staff.  A ‘flagship’ Branch. Making it known they were the ‘King of Boot shops’1880

Coventry the Franklins pushed into Coventry opening a new branch establishment? The first time this phrase was used but It came to mean that larger premises were opened first and if successful smaller premises would be opened and supplied by the much larger Branch. Yet another highly successful strategy because the larger Branches were capable of holding huge stocks and were able to control the stockholding of smaller branches within their dominance.

1878 Sometime earlier possibly 1878/9 in Coventry, premises at 3-4 Hales Street was opened, instantly successful another smaller branch establishment at 37 Spon Street appeared. We must also bear in mind partnerships within the Public Benefit Boot Company were well underway and the original founders and partners were all bootmakers working and trading in their own right. Coventry was in all likelihood already trading under a different name and, following an agreement, later changed to the common name of Public Benefit Boot Company.

1880 Derby extended their premises on the London Road and were now 24,26 & 28 they were also either manufacturing or repairing boots. Throughout the year 1880 the newspapers are mainly advertising the branches mentioned. There were franchises ‘coming off’ all over the country a method used by other successful companies in the trade.

Ivegate Bradford photographed in the 1990’s. Don’t drop any money for it will roll forever such is the steep decline.

1881 Evidence of a Bradford Branch brought back into service appears, when they are  advertising for staff at 22 Westgate Bradford for their shop. Another franchise under the management of William Faulkner a bootmaker

1882 Whites Directory Hull. Entry W H Franklin gives an indication of his personal intervention when he has opened a branch at 147 Cleethorpes Road Grimsby, 90 Prospect Street Hull then Leicester, Nottingham and London

1882 number 19 Stall Street Bath trading as Public Benefit but came under Lennards ownership eventually.

1882 and 1884 there is a company shop in Beverley Toll Gavel number 22 but it is a Franchise arrangement through Charles Whittaker of Leeds who went on to open another branch in Market Weighton half way to York

1883 all the above premises are still trading and then we see adverts for Public Benefit Boot Stores in January with Middlesbrough advertising the branch at 152 High Street Stockton opposite the old Church.That same year a Leicester company bought the entire stock of the Public Benefit Boot company at 152 High street Stockton, the company are leaving on account of the lease expiring and the stock is being removed to 127 high Street, an old boot shop known as Fosters.

1883 Action in Sheffield in a company Branch at 59 Fargate are auctioning off all the stock as the premises are ‘coming down’

1883 28 High street Rotherham, manager, Brocklebank.

1883 George Franklin is now advertising the premises on London street as ‘BIG BOOT’  with branches at: Hull, Nottingham, Leeds, Bristol, Sheffield, Ripley, Belper, & Gainsbrough:  with manufacturing capacity at Hull, Leeds (Dickinson factory) and Wellingboro. The latter address was a good Ladies and childrens’ factory in Palk Road Wellingborough manufacturing under the Public Benefit Boot company name.

1883 York branch at 22 Goodramgate are advertising for staff

1883  Kirby Brothers have a Branch of Public Benefit Boot at 75 St. James Street Burnley

Chesterfield Branch in 2018

1883  Notice of a shop recently occupied by the Public Benefit Boot company is to let in the Market Place Chesterfield apply G Stevenson. This gentleman then went on to manage the huge emporium opposite for several decades


1885 Branch at 78a Westgate Bradford

1885 Corporation Street Chesterfield a veritable Emporium with six large windows. G. Stevenson manager

1885 Huge Emporium opens in Sheffield at the Moorhead

The Hull upgrade 1885 it was further upgraded ten years later. Destroyed during the Hull ‘BlitzKrieg’ May 1941



1885 Hull  Prospect Street, this was a converted temperance Hotel purchased by Richard Franklin.

1885 London gazette William Franklin and Jabez Harker dissolve their partnership they were trading under the name of Franklin and Co: under the larger umbrella title of the public Benefit Boot Company. The building was owned by William Franklin and Jabez was working for William as a Boot factor.

Branches as Advertisements!.

1885 witnessed a series of large upgrades, main advantages being, if we take Hull as an example, Franklin was able to close  4/ 5 smaller  branches along the Brighton Arcade and trade solely from the Albion Street Corner colossus. This Four Storey branch had plenty of stockholding space it was enormous. A converted Temperance Hotel previously on that site fronted two streets Prospect Street and Albion Street. Apart from the elaborations on the exterior the ground floor interior was divided into three separate and distinct shops. One the ladies dept. fitted with carved Oak panelling’s, screen, cushioned seats, stained glass representing birds and human figures. A retiring room was laid on for the ladies after transacting their business.

Gentlemen’s fitting room 27 feet by 32 feet by 14 feet in height with fittings of polished Pine, brass gas mountings.

A stock room is also accommodated on the ground floor and the manager’s office with Spring blinds that work from below upwards. The ‘Goods entrance’ is marked by Gold lettering. Ascending the broad stairway that leads to 18 stock rooms containing all classes of footwear. Each room is 19 feet by 24 feet and all walls and ceilings above and below are of polished deal and throughout the building are central heating radiators. Large upgrades similar to this are also in Derby, Nottingham, Leeds and Sheffield.

Ten years on 1895, this shop was refitted, expensive appointments, fittings and so on were lavished on the exterior and interior. The ladies dept. was enlarged with new shop front and window cases made of Teak. Mosaic and marble pavements, huge bevelled glass and plate glass shelves, massive brass frames, luxurious Oak seats, upholstered in Utrecht velvet.


The Gentlemen’s Saloon was doubled in size entirely remodelled and rearranged and at the farthest end of the room a magnificent marble chimney piece, handsome fireplace and a richly decorated stained glass window. On that window was represented a life-sized figure of St. Crispin in monks’ vestments. The patron saint of the followers of the ‘last’ in other words the ‘cobblers’ saint. So, struck were the visitors to the room luxuriously beautiful and comfortable with the grandeur of a palace that they found it difficult to leave the room.

The stock rooms and packing rooms had been increased to 36. Similar establishments were erected in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield. Nottingham, Lichfield, Doncaster, York, Wakefield, and other industrial centres from which they in turn supply several sub- branches it gives some idea of the statement these premises were presenting, impressive to say the least.

The Hessle Road Branch on the corner of Coltman Street erected by Franklin in 1897, designed by Gelder and Kitchen another example of lavish no expense spared features. The sign on the facias, showed 3 large replicated gold medals they won at an exhibition in Paris, in fact they are still on one of the facias put back by the owner when revamping the exterior of his store Premier Workwear. The rest of the signage is in storage; Gold leaf was used in the lettering The Public Benefit Boot Company. Above the doorway the previous owner has placed sympathetically ‘Benefit House’

Similarly, in the Boothferry Road Goole Branch a few years back similar Gold lettering was also used, discovered by a shopkeeper who wanted to remove all previous facias and replace them. I photographed part of the signage many years ago and although the images are not brilliant they give an excellent view of how they once looked on the facia.

Brow Dickinson 

Good quality factory part of a collection of prints found in a Leeds factory. The girls are ‘closing and prepping’

Upon the death of John Kirby in 1915 Brow took over as chairman. An old stalwart, a man who had helped to found the Public Benefit Boot Company, Dickinson Brothers manufacturers and produced the ‘Benefit Boot’.  He was a fledgling bootmaker with his brothers in the 1870’s when Franklin was opening his first shop in Hull. Possessing vast experience and common sense he inherited a company that was expanding. Adding on average eight shops every year, the tally of retail shops was growing but once the First World War ended, tough trading times hit the High Streets. Unfortunately throughout his final decades, despite working hard and carefully reorganising the company, he never lived to ‘realise’ the results from his ‘seed laying’ efforts and see his company grow and germinate once more. In 1924 in a bid to combat ‘flagging’ morale and communication amongst all levels of his workforce he introduced a quarterly Journal up to the end of 1928. Through this medium he was able to not only implement massive changes for the betterment of all but he took his workforce with him. One element he concentrated on was enlarging the ‘repair’ service and through a series of advertising initiatives gradually increased the number of factories to six. Brow died in 1931 spending over fifty years working.

In 1920 the company held 120 shops eleven of which were valuable freehold properties, although the leases on most of the others were also valuable as the shops were in prime positions. 1929 J. S. Marrian former manufacturers from Worcester became controlling shareholders and slowly introduced their own reforms. One such move was closing in 1934 the manufacturing base in Leeds. Demand for old style working boots had dropped dramatically and fashion shoes were coming more to the fore. Ladies too had been having a profound effect on the market for many years, Brow had also noticed this in the 1920’s, so it was decided by the new group to ‘buy in’ the latest fashions affording more flexibility both in style and price.

Illustrated London June 1966 Sir Charles Clore

1934 the company suspended payment of a dividend, times were still hard, trade was not ‘picking up’ sufficiently to generate much needed, higher profits. In 1937 Amies and W.J.Wallace shops were acquired and the following year some of those were closed and sold on, whilst the rest were re-organised, the tally of shops in 1938 was 211. The second world war began in 1939, and up to the ending of hostilities in 1945 a healthy profit margin had been enjoyed year on year despite the usual difficulties of shortages in materials and manpower. Government contracts in both wars had helped to secure work and profits. After war ended, this country witnessed a move, on to Higher class footwear, with Benefit Footwear as the company was now named, quick to become involved in selling high class footwear, along with traditional working class lines. At the same time in 1947 until 1953 all shops were given new frontages, incorporating the new name, and reorganised internally, it was also apparent the country was slowly turning away from the High Streets and into purpose built shopping malls. 

Boot & Shoe Industry acquisitions- end of ‘Benefit’ & ‘Lennards’ 

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’ and factories limited to Leicester, Kettering and Northampton.

A statement by ‘Benefit Footwear’ in 1948 reveals healthy profits and valuable assets. This was achieved by instigating a ‘shift’ from the lower end of the market to developing a ‘middle’ range customer base, selling high grade and quality Mens, womens’ and children’s’ fashion shoes, over a number of years. The company at this time had 147 shops and four repairing factories. ‘Benefit’ three years later became part of the Lilley and Skinner group when they obtained a major shareholding in 1950/1. Saxone merged with Lilley and Skinner in 1956.

Benefit and Cable Shoe warehouse and distribution centre

Good news in 1951 when government ended a purchase tax on footwear changing the classification of footwear to one of ‘Utility’. This was a move to “slowly break the chains”and allow greater freedoms and flexibility. 1952 in a temporary role, Gresham Trust took over control of ‘Benefit footwear’ whilst at the same time this group welcomed the buying of shares in ‘Benefit’ by Lilley and Skinner. 1954 sees the building of a new warehouse on the old coal road on the Seacroft estate. This road was built to service the ‘pits’ and would now be upgraded and used for a mammoth warehouse, distribution and office complex for ‘Benefit and Cable shoes’. Cable, a company that traded in similar markets to Benefit  had been given over to them  by Lilley and Skinner, taking their total number of shops to 140. With a warehouse that could store and send out millions of pairs of shoes sited close to good motorway links, Lilley and Skinner began a centralising programme. Decreasing overlapping, by closing shops, as well as, warehousing and manufacturing capacity, they also brought Saxone into the group in 1956 strengthening a resolve to stave off the ever present threat from British Shoe Corporation.

Leeds 69 Headway adopted as head office for Lilley and Skinner and Benefit

1960 this group, purchased all outside shares in ‘Benefit’ making the company a wholly owned subsidiary of Saxone, Lilley and Skinner, increasing their total number of shops plus several factories.  A major force to be reckoned with, they opposed the advancing British Shoe Corporation vigorously, but they in turn were also, successfully swallowed up by British Shoe in 1962.

Clore’s bid for the Saxone Lilley and Skinner Holding group known as ‘SLASH’ with 475 shops and four factories, was successful. Footwear company names taken into the fold were, Abbotts, Cable, (some of the latter were occupied by ‘Benefit Footwear’) Clarks and Jacksons as well as ‘Benefit’. The bid  Despite Lilley and Skinner group turning over a £ six million profit the previous year, none the less lost out to the emerging giant. Russian born Mrs Vera Lilley was believed to own two million shares worth £3 million. Mrs Lilley the widow of Thomas Lilley a former chairman of the shoe firm, lived in a Mayfair Penthouse and was one of Britain’s’ richest Women. Had Saxone not had a disastrous year in Australia with huge losses, this brave little group may have stood a chance in their bid to fight off Clore? However, with a major shareholder owning vast numbers of shares, and virtually endorsing the sale of her husbands’ company, it still seems likely the bid would have gone through. 

33 Queen Street 1986 ‘Benefit’ Repair factory.

33 Queen Street in 2018







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 whilst continually, consolidating 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 and others. Lilley and Skinner had their H.Q. at 69 Headway Leeds. Gradually, ‘Curtess’ evidentially replaced the ‘Benefit’ name, in Blyth 1979. Forty four Whitefriargate in Hull became a Freeman, Hardy and Willis shop. 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 along with other factors, 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.

Lennards Demise see Full History in Lennards Ltd Foundation & history