8 Classic Features To Help You Recognise an Old Woolworth’s Store

Heritage Calling

Researching Woolworth’s stores in Great Britain and Ireland allowed me to wallow in childhood nostalgia. I clearly remember the old counter-service Woolies – customers clamouring for the attention of the ‘girls’, or testing the gigantic red scales that always stood in the entrance.

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8 Historic London Shopfronts

This gallery contains 10 photos.

Originally posted on Heritage Calling:
London streets are lined with colourful shops, clamouring for our attention. Many are of considerable age, and have survived for our enjoyment only through careful maintenance by generations of shopkeepers. Kathryn Morrison, Head of Historic…

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A Spotter’s Guide to W. H. Smith’s

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Worcester

The Newsboy

W. H. Smith’s distinctive enamelled hanging signs depicted a newsboy crying his wares against a bright red background. The newsboy was designed for Smith’s in 1905 by the artist Septimus E. Scott (1880-1966). Scott had trained in his native Sunderland and went on, in the 1920s, to design railway posters and illustrations for well-known brands such as Rowntree and Wincarnis.

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Chester

Although many newsboy signs were taken down in the 1950s and 1960s, some still hang outside Smith’s shops, for example in St Albans, Stratford-upon-Avon, Worcester, Chester, Newtown (a restored shop in Powys accommodating the W. H. Smith museum), Cirencester and Durham. These signs are not absolutely identical. Not only do the brackets vary, but the style and composition – showing a newsboy brandishing a newspaper, with a tray of books and papers slung around his neck – evolved through time.

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Stratford-on-Avon, still with some lettering on the bracket

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St Albans, incorporating the egg monogram

Old photographs reveal that some newsboy signs had a boxy shape: these were actually ‘boy lanterns’, illuminated internally by electricity. Sometimes the lantern fixtures are still in place.

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Salisbury

The newsboy wasn’t restricted to hanging signs and lanterns: he could appear in the most unlikely places. At Salisbury, in 1933, the refurbished shop was topped by a clock turret with a jaunty newsboy weather vane.

The Egg

In 1905, R. P. Glossop designed a new logo for W. H. Smith’s, comprising the initials ‘WHS’ expanded to fill an oval frame.

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Monmouth

This ‘egg’ monogram served multiple functions. It can be spotted, for example, on mosaic floors in Monmouth, Fowey and Llandrindot Wells, on oak stall risers in Rickmansworth, on a brass name-plate in St Albans, and even on the wrought-iron bracket of the hanging sign in Worcester (see above). Archive photographs show the egg monogram adorning the lanterns that once illuminated Smith’s railway bookstalls, and even on floor mats inside the shops.

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Rickmansworth: this would have been coloured blue and gold

Bow Windows and Bull’s Eye Glass

W. H. Smith consciously opted for an olde-worlde image, not unlike Boots’ ‘black and white’ shops of the pre-1914 period. The company favoured shallow bow windows divided into small panes in Georgian fashion – sometimes on upper elevations as well as on shopfronts.

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Winchester

These bow windows included so-called ‘bull’s eye’ or ‘bottle’ glass – not in every pane, but set at random. Bull’s eye glass makes a feature of the pontil or punty scar, which remains at the centre of a disc of spun crown glass when the rod is removed. Smith’s glass, however, would have been moulded rather than spun: it was not the real thing. Like many other aspects of W. H. Smith’s shopfronts, it was included to evoke the Tudor period.

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Tenby

Bull’s eye glass also appeared in the small panes of the transom lights (or ‘weather screen’) that ran across the top of shopfronts, for example at the Letchworth branch which opened in 1907, when Smith’s bookbinding factory first moved to the town.

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Rickmansworth

Smith’s shopfronts were usually recessed, with projecting display cases at either end, and were of natural, unpainted oak. The soffits were decorated with plaster motifs. A lot of the shops designed by Smith’s in-house architect Frank C. Bayliss (d.1938), made extensive use of Cotswold stone, laid as ‘coursed rubble’ – not rubble in the usual sense of the term, but blocks of stone roughly dressed in a vernacular manner. This can be seen on the upper elevation at Winchester, framing the façade at Weston-Super-Mare, and on the stall risers in St Albans and Leominster.

Ornamental Leadwork

From 1906 until 1921 W. H. Smith occupied a corner property in Stratford-on-Avon which was associated with Shakespeare’s daughter, Judith (listed Grade II*). The firm decided to build larger premises nearby in 1921-23 (by Osborn, Pemberton & White with Frank Bayliss; listed Grade II), but also ‘restored’ the old shop.

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Stratford-on-Avon

This work was commemorated by an artistic lead plaque with a vine scroll border, set on the corner of the building. It was probably made by the Stratford-on-Avon Art Guild whose director, the Bath architect Frederick Ernest Osborne (1883-1935), went on to design aspects of Smith’s shops in other towns. For example, he was responsible for the decoration of Smith’s tea room in Worthing in 1928. The Stratford-on-Avon Art Guild is known to have fabricated a lead panel for Smith’s shop in Winchester, and possibly made all of the firm’s architectural leadwork.

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Weston-Super-Mare

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Stratford-on-Avon

Leadwork featured prominently on Smith’s shops in the 1920s and 1930s. It can be seen principally in ornamental rainwater goods, with castellated hoppers and downpipes decorated with cable motif, vine scrolls and other patterns. On the side of the Winchester shop is a rainwater hopper depicting a ship and the date 1927.

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Weston-Super-Mare

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Weston-Super-Mare

At Weston-Super-Mare, the entire first floor of the shop was faced in lead, embossed with shallow patterns. Above the typical Smith’s-style bow windows were stag hunts entwined with Tudor roses and pomegranates. Four large panels flanking the windows referred to Bath (a bear and the city arms), Somerset (a dragon with a chalice and crown), Taunton (a cherub and crown) and Bristol (a unicorn and the city arms). But, oddly, not to Weston itself.

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Stratford-on-Avon

At both Weston-Super-Mare and Stratford-on-Avon the frontage of the shop included a lead panel displaying the text: ‘Come and take choice of all my library and so beguile thy sorrow’. This Shakespearian quote is from Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 1. At one time the Cheltenham shopfront quoted Wordsworth: ‘Dreams. Books are each a World and Books we know are a substantial World both pure and good’. Above this a lead panel took its text from Edward Bulwar Lytton’s The Souls of Books: ‘The world so loud & they the movers of the world so still’.

Gill Lettering

W. H. Smith’s beautiful lettering was designed in 1903 by Eric Gill. This font was used for the first time on the fascia of Smith’s shop on the rue de Rivoli in Paris, where it was hand-painted by Gill himself. It continued to be used by the firm into the late 1950s. The modern equivalent is known as ‘Gill Fascia’.

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St Albans

On fascias or signboards, the name of the firm, W. H. Smith & Son, was picked out in gold or white on a blue (often tiled) ground. This survives in St Albans, together with secondary signage reading ‘newspapers stationery’ and ‘booksellers bookbinders’. The current blue and white livery was introduced in 1997.

Tile Pictures

Pictorial tile panels in an attractive and colourful art deco style adorned the top corners of Smith’s distinctive recessed shopfronts in the 1920s and 1930s. Made by Carter & Co in Poole, these panels were effective advertisements for particular categories of goods such as postcards, books, guides and road maps.

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Rickmansworth

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Rickmansworth

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Tenby

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Tenby

In a recent study (published in the Journal of the Tiles and Architectural Ceramic Society in 2015), Ian M. Betts found these tile panels at 60 Smith’s branches. In general, they survive in small towns, for example Rickmansworth, Tenby, Great Malvern, Llandudno and Newtown. Others are now in museums, such as the Museum of London and the Jackfield Tile Museum, in W. H. Smith’s own collection, or in the hands of private collectors. Still more possibly remain in situ, covered up by paintwork or later shopfitting and awaiting rediscovery.

This post is in the series A Spotter’s Guide to the High Street.
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Charles Morrison’s Diary, 15 to 31 March 1864

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The Mason Hall, Kenneth Street: location of the Soiree of 18 March 1864

Tuesday 15th March

The Bills and tickets for the Soiree out. At night we were at Mr Caunter’s.

Wednesday 16th March

I had a letter from Kate. I wrote Lexy. At night we were at Mr Caunter’s. After going up I had to come back for Susan Addison’s music which I got from her sister She which I may say has been my introduction to her.

Thursday 17th March

I was busy all day making preparations for the Soiree. At night we were at Mr Caunter’s.

Friday 18th March

In the morning I was busy about the hall. In the afternoon we went to Mr Caunter’s for a rehearsal. The Mason Hall was beautifully decorated and a nice platform raised which added greatly to the appearance of the nights entertainment. The Soiree commenced precisely at 7 o’clock Kenneth McKenzie Esqr. Banker in the chair which he admirably filled. The Revd. Thos. Adam gave a very amusing address on cheerfulness he kept the audience laughing all the time. The Revd. J. McRae gave an address on the right or wrong man in the right or wrong place. Mr Russell gave a very nice address and gave an account of the progress of the U.P. Church here. Mr Cockburn Supervisor gave a most excellent address. The whole of the rest of the proceedings went of very well. I was one of the stewards. The Hall was quite full. In the morning there was a very amusing placard put up in the town talking of the Soiree. It was near 12 o’clock before we dismissed. I then went home with Christina.

[Note on the Soirée from the Inverness Courier:
Stornoway 21 March – The first soiree in connection with the United Presbyterian congregation of this place was held in the Mason Hall, on the evening of Friday, the 18th instant. The large hall, which was tastefully decorated with evergreens, was crowded, and among others on the platform there was Kenneth Mackenzie Esq., banker, who presided; Sheriff Macdonald; the Rev. Mr Macrae, minister of Stornoway; the Rev. Thomas Adams, officiating pastor of the congregation; Henry Caunter Esq.; M. Russell Esq., merchant; and J. F. Cockburn, Esq. The proceedings were commenced by the Rev. Mr Macrae, who asked a blessing; and after partaking of tea and cake, a choir of amateurs, banded together for the occasion, and whom Mr Caunter kindly took the trouble of directing, sung the “Old Hundred”, which was followed by several excellent addresses by the chairman, the Rev. Messrs. Adam and Macrae, and Messrs Russell and Cockburn; while at intervals courses of fruit were served, and the choir charmingly rendered a selection of beautiful music, Messrs Caunter, William, Macleod, Macpherson respectively contributing capital solos. It was near midnight before the company broke up. (Inverness Courier, 24 March 1864, 5)

Saturday 19th March

The general opinion through the place today is that the Soiree was a great success. I wrote Donald Morrison Edinburgh.

Sunday 20th March

In the morning the Revd. T Adam preached from the 3rd chapter of Deuteronomy 25th verse I pray the(e) let me go over and see the good land that is beyond Jordan that goodly mountain and Lebanon. In the evening he preached from the 6th chapter of Zechariah 12th & 13th verses Behold the man whose name is the Branch and he shall grow up out of his place and he shall build the temple of the Lord Even he shall build the temple of the Lord and he shall bear the glory and shall sit and rule upon his throne and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. At night Christina and I had a walk up by the ropework.

Monday 21st March

I wrote to Kate to Dornoch. We were very busy. Soiree profit £6-6-“

Tuesday 22nd March

I had a letter from W.R. Sutherland and he tells me Miss McDougall died on the 29th Jany. Kate was to have gone home to Dornoch today. At night I had a pleasant walk with Christina. John got leave home.

Wednesday 23rd March

We were pretty busy today. At night I was at the singing class.

Thursday 24th March

Not much doing. At night I was at the prayer meeting. Mr Adam gave a very nice on friendship taking for his text Ruth conduct towards Naomi. I went home with Christina.

Friday 25th March

Angus went over to Lochs. Very little doing. The 2 Lobster Smacks from Bernera in.

Saturday 26th March

It was cold and blowy today. A good deal of snow on the ground. Captain Vivian bought £32 worth. I wrote John Robertson Portree.

Sunday 27th March

In the morning the Revd. Mr Adam expounded the first Psalm. In the afternoon Mr Fletcher F.C. preached from the 2nd chapter of Colossians 19th verse And not holding the Head from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered and knit together increaseth with the increase of God. In the evening Mr Adam preached his farewell sermon from the 3rd chapter of Ecclesiastes 1st and 2nd verses To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven A time to be born and a time to die.

Monday 28th March

It was very cold and stormy the Steamer did not arrive until 5 P.M. The Revd. Mr Adam after giving good bye to the people had word that he was appointed for other two Sabbaths here.

Tuesday 29th March

A fine day. I was very busy all day. At night I went home with Christina. She told me that Sandy was at her for me &c.

Wednesday 30th March

I had a letter from father. I wrote father and Lexy. I had a kind note from Christina. At night after the singing class dismissed I had a walk with Miss Cockburn and C. Pope up the New Road.

Thursday 31st March

At night the Revd. Mr Adam gave a lecture on the reformation from Popery. Our drawings for March is £326-5.6d very good.

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Jesse Boot and Boots Cash Chemists

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Detail of Boots’ shopfront, Pelham Street, Nottingham (1903).

Jesse Boot (1850-1931) followed in the footsteps of his Wesleyan parents, John (1815-1860) and Mary (1826-85), by becoming a medical botanist, or herbalist, providing remedies to the poor. John had opened the ‘British and American Botanical Establishment’ at 6 Goosegate in Nottingham in 1848. The family lived nearby, at 71 Woolpack Lane, in 1851, but by the time John died, aged 44 in 1860, they had moved to 6 Goosegate, presumably over the shop. Jesse Boot assumed control of the business in his mid twenties.

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Bedford (1898): commemorating the company’s formation.

Alongside his own concoctions, Boot began to sell patent medicines at discounted prices for cash (rather than credit, as most chemists would have done at this time). As a result the business – called ‘Boot’s Patent Medicine Stores’ – took off. The premises, now at 16 Goosegate, were enlarged and rebuilt on an ambitious scale in 1881-3 to designs by the architect Richard Charles Sutton (1834-1915). The two-storey cast-iron shopfront, with its barleytwist colonnettes and plate glass windows, survives today. Coinciding with this rebuild, ‘Boot’s Patent Medicine Stores’ was renamed ‘Boot & Co Ltd.’

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16-20 Goosegate, Nottingham (c. Historic England)

Boot’s mother, Mary, worked alongside him until her death in 1885. A year later, suffering from overwork (and probably also grief), he had a breakdown and sought recuperation in the Channel Islands. There he met Florence Annie Rowe (1863-1952), who worked in her father’s book shop in St Helier, Jersey. After their marriage, Florence helped Jesse to develop his business. She took an active interest in the design of the shops, which grew rapidly in number from the late 1880s and accrued new departments. In the largest branches these included books (from 1889), stationery (from 1895), toiletries (from 1896), artists’ materials, leather and fancy goods. Boots Booklovers Library, a subscription library usually positioned on the first floor, was established in 143 branches between 1898 and 1903.

The first Boots branch outside Nottingham had opened at 17 Snig Hill, Sheffield, in 1884, just before Boot’s sojourn in the Channel Islands. This was followed – in 1887, after his recovery and marriage – by a branch in Lincoln. For a short time, in the early 1890s, Jesse and Florence Boot lived in Sheffield.

In 1888 Boot announced that he had spent months ‘hatching a surprise’ on Goosegate. This surprise was described as ‘a gorgeous structure of Mahogany Panels, Gilt Beading and Plate Glass Mirrors, which might pardonably be mistaken for a corner section of a Pullman Palace Car’ (Nottingham Evening Post, 14 December 1888, 2). It was, in fact, ‘an American elevator’, operated by hydraulic power, which served the basement (Artists Materials) and the first floor (Dispensing Department, Ladies’ Department, and Ladies’ Waiting Room – in other words, the lavatory).

A private company with around 18 investors was formed to finance expansion in 1888; this was the ‘Boots Pure Drug Co. Ltd.’ The shops, now trading as ‘Boot’s Cash Chemists’, were managed by qualified chemists. In 1890 there were four shops in Nottingham, three in Sheffield and two in Lincoln; the company employed 100 people, including 13 qualified chemists. Two years later the chain had increased to 24 outlets, dispersed throughout nine different towns.

There were 60 Boots shops in 1896, 181 in 1900, 251 in 1901 and 560 by 1914: a tremendous rate of expansion which required a restructuring of the company. In batches, the retail establishments held by the Boots Pure Drug Co. Ltd. were transferred to associate companies. First of all, in 1892, a limited liability company called ‘Boots Ltd.’ was formed to take over branches in the Midlands and Eastern counties. This was chaired by the grocer Mr James Duckworth (1839-1915), mayor of Rochdale – a self-made man who had a great deal in common with the Managing Director, Jesse Boot. In February 1900 ‘Boots Ltd.’ changed its name to ‘Boots Cash Chemists (Eastern) Ltd.’ Other regional companies were: ‘Boots Cash Chemists (Western)’ formed in 1897, ‘Boots Cash Chemists (Lancashire)’ in 1899 and ‘Boots Cash Chemists (Southern)’ in 1901. The latter was founded after the acquisition of Day’s Drug Stores, which provided Boots with 65 ready-made branches in the south-east. ‘Boots Cash Chemists (Northern)’ came into being in 1911, after the acquisition of J. H. Inman of Newcastle.

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Boots’ Scribbling Diary, 1905, detail (c. The Boots Archive)

The shops held by these companies were supplied by the Boots Pure Drug Co. Ltd. Many were purpose built to designs by the Nottingham architect Albert N. Bromley, or by Boot’s in-house architect and his team. In 1892 it was announced that the ‘central depot’ was moving from Goosegate to 2-10 Pelham Street ‘where premises have been specially built from the designs of the managing director’ (Nottingham Evening Post, 19 August 1892, 4). Boot reportedly loved building, a passion evidently shared by his wife. Due to street improvements, the Pelham Street depot was rebuilt, in the style of a large emporium, in 1903.

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2-10 Pelham Street, Nottingham, in the 1890s (c. The Boots Archive)

Boots’ manufacturing process had expanded beyond the premises on Goosegate. In 1889 Boot rented three rooms in Elliot’s lace factory on Island Street, Nottingham; by 1892 he had taken over the entire mill. At that time the firm employed nearly 300 people: 150 in the branches and 150 at the warehouse and laboratory (managed by E. S. Warning) on Island Street. Boot went on to lease every building lying between the Nottingham Canal and the Midland Railway Station. Here were the printing works, shopfitting department, general office and pharmaceutical laboratories. In 1908 an old Gas Works to the east was purchased and the site further extended.

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Bedford ( 1898)

During the Great War, 4,000 Boots employees joined the forces, which made it difficult to fulfil demanding Government contracts. These included chemicals previously imported from Germany, which now had to be made on home soil. In addition, Boots developed and manufactured box respirators, which protected soldiers from the effects of gas. They also produced saccharine, and tablets for sterilising water. Despite wartime conditions, new shops continued to be built.

Jesse Boot was knighted in 1909, became a baronet in 1919, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Trent of Nottingham in 1929. His philanthropy greatly benefitted his native town of Nottingham, where he was given the Freedom of the City in 1920. He financed the new University College, opened by King George V in 1928, and Highfields Park. In addition, he contributed generously to the Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital (‘the Cripples Hospital’) of 1928-29. It was built, at no charge, by the ‘Sir Jesse Boot Property & Investment Co.’, which had been formed in 1920. Boot also erected housing for war veterans and workmen, in Nottingham and in Jersey.

From the age of 50 Boot was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis and his motor car had to be specially built to accommodate his invalid chair. In 1920 he sold his company to the United Drug Co. of America and in 1922 decided to retire to Cannes, subsequently settling in Jersey. Boot remained Chairman of the company for some time, but eventually handed responsibility to his son John Campbell Boot (1889-1956). He died in Jersey in 1931.

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Jesse Boot’s bust (1934) at Highfield Park. Image c. Alan Murray-Rust, Creative Commons.

Postscript
When the United Drug Co of America bought Boots, it comprised 630 shops, extensive production facilities and 10,000 employees. By the time the Americans sold to British investors in 1933, two years after Jesse Boot’s death, the chain operated over 900 shops.

A new site in Beeston had been acquired in 1927 to augment the cramped factories in the city centre. A Soap Factory opened there in 1929; Sir Owen Williams’ Wets Factory (D10) opened in 1933, and his Drys Factory (D6) in 1936. D10 and D6 are both Grade I listed. A new headquarters building by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was erected in 1966-68.

The rival national chain Timothy Whites & Taylors was acquired by Boots in 1968. In 1971 the Boots Pure Drug Co. changed its name to ‘The Boots Company Ltd’. ‘Boots Opticians’ was formed in 1987 and became an important subsidiary chain. ‘The Boots Company PLC’ merged with Alliance UniChem in 2006 to become ‘Alliance Boots’. It is now a subsidiary of Walgreen Boots Alliance, and has 2,500 shops in the UK and Ireland.

Main Sources

Stanley Chapman, Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists. A Study in Business History, Hodder & Stoughton, 1974

Kathryn A. Morrison, English Shops & Shopping, Yale University Press, 2004

Acknowledgements

My thanks to Sophie Clapp of The Boots Archive for giving me permission to publish images from their collection. For Alan Murray-Rust’s image see Geograph.

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A Spotter’s Guide to Boots the Chemist

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Canterbury (c. Historic England Archive)

The Boots Scroll

The Boots scroll – the distinctive signature logo – is familiar to everyone. Boots’ name is written in flowing cursive script, with a pennant flowing from the bar of the ‘t’ and an understroke emerging from the ‘s’. This logo is thought to have been devised in the late 19th century by a signwriter in Boots’ Shopfitting Department named Jack Hunt (Boots News 10 April 1974, 15). Many variants have been produced, including one in Gothic script for the  medieval-style shops favoured by the company before the Great War.

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Southend in 1915 (Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive)

Several retailers plagiarised the Boots scroll, including Cash & Co., who sold boots. Their signboards looked very like ‘Boots Cash Chemists’ at first glance. The scroll was standardised in 1924, and shortly afterwards registered as a trade mark. It appeared all over Boots’ shopfronts, notably on the fascias. As is still does today, in its shiny blue badge.

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Midhurst, 2000 (c. Historic England Archive)

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Liverpool, 2017

The Boots Monogram

Boots’ cursive monogram can often be found on the upper façades of the company’s buildings.

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London Road, Liverpool, 1896

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2-10 Pelham Street, Nottingham, 1903

The monogram was often contained within a cartouche. As with the scroll (see above), several variants were used, including blocky Gothic-style lettering. This could be flanked by two back-to-back ‘Cs’ (for ‘Cash Chemists’). The monogram is sometimes – as in Tiverton – the last visible evidence that a building originated as Boots.

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Tiverton, 1916

Brown Terracotta Fronts

From the late 1890s until around 1907 many purpose-built branches of Boots were faced in caramel-coloured glazed terracotta (often called faience) or plain reddish-brown terracotta. These buildings often had shaped gables or corner turrets. The detailing was inspired by French Renaissance and English Jacobean architecture. ‘Dolphins’ – hybrid sea creatures common in classical and Renaissance art – were a favourite motif.

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Bedford, 1898

Boots’ so-called ‘central depot’ (its ‘flagship store’ in modern parlance) at 2-10 Pelham Street in Nottingham, of 1903, is the supreme example of this group of buildings though not, as sometimes claimed, the first. The architect was Albert Nelson Bromley.

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2-10 Pelham Street, Nottingham, 1903

Imposing branches of this type – all designed by Bromley – were built on corner sites in several other towns, such as Birmingham, Sheffield (1906; 252-4 West Street) and Southend, where the facing material was identified as Doulton’s Carrara Ware.

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Southend, photographed by Bedford Lemere in 1915 (Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive)

The style could be adapted to smaller branches of Boots, for example in Burton-on-Trent (1897), Bedford (1898), Buxton (1906), Sheffield (1905, 762 Attercliffe Road, listed Grade II), Cambridge (1906, Market Place), Dover (1908), Grantham (1899), Lewisham (1908), Lytham St Anne’s (1906), Mansfield (1904), Melton Mowbray (1898) and Nuneaton (1907).

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Buxton, 1906

Timber-Framed Fronts

Boots had altered a couple of genuine timber-framed buildings, notably in Chester and St Albans, before beginning to erect new mock-timber-framed frontages.

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Kings Lynn, built c.1903-8

Michael Vyne Treleaven, Boots’ in-house architect, prepared a design for a new black and white half-timbered front at 43-44 High Street, Kings Lynn, in 1903. The building standing on this site today does not conform exactly with Treleaven’s original design, yet it was certainly occupied by Boots by 1908 (London Daily News, 12 December 1908, 3). Perhaps it was an early experimental venture in this style.

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Lichfield, built 1908. Trent Bridge had a similar arcade.

Later examples of black and white fronts include Trent Bridge (1906-7; later Boots Social Club, now ‘The Embankment’), Wellingborough (1907), York (1907), Shrewsbury (1907), Winchester (1905), Kingston-upon-Thames (1909), Lichfield (1908), Bury St Edmunds (1911), Peterborough (1911-12) and Gloucester (1914). Derby (1911-12) offers a variation with a plastered front in the style of the 17th century. Indeed, no two of Boots’ historical fronts were the same – even the timber bargeboards and brackets differed from site to site. In most cases – at least up to 1912 – Treleaven can be established as the architect.

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Winchester, built 1905.

Several of these buildings had oriel windows with Venetian-style glazing, probably inspired by the well-known Sparrowe’s House (the ‘Ancient House’) in Ipswich, while others had mullion and transom windows with leaded lights and stained glass panels. The infill panels were often covered in plaster decoration. At Lichfield this included an owl wearing a mortar board, a beehive, and a jester playing a bagpipe.

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Former Boots, Bury St Edmunds, built 1911

Boots stopped producing historical fronts at the outbreak of the Great War, but the company architect Percy J. Bartlett designed a couple of timber-framed façades c.1930, in Hereford and Farnham. This was something of a short-lived fashion amongst multiple retailers at this time. Woolworth, for example, built a similar store in Kingston-upon-Thames.

Statues of Local Worthies

The statues of local worthies that adorned many of Boots’ historical façades were probably all made by Gilbert Seale & Son, an architectural sculptor, modeller and plasterer based in Camberwell in south London. Seale can be firmly identified as the sculptor of the statues at Peterborough (Peterborough Advertiser, 11 May 1912, 2) and at Bury St Edmunds (Bury Free Press, 25 November 1911, 3). He probably decorated the frontages of many Boots branches before the Great War, the plasterwork as well as the figures.

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Bury St Edmunds, built 1911

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Bury St Edmunds, built 1911

The individuals represented on Boots’ façades, generally identified by short inscriptions, were usually of local or regional significance. The two figures in the photograph of Winchester, above, were Bishops Walkelin and Wykeham. Those at Bury St Edmunds – from left to right as one faces the façade – were Agricola, St Edmund, Edward I and Edward VI. An additional relief panel in the central gable depicted ‘Canute Rebuking his Flatterers’ – this title is carved into a timber.

Boots’ Newcastle shop was adorned with Thomas Bewick, Harry Hotspur, Sir John Marley and Roger Thornton, while Derby featured Florence Nightingale, John Lombe, William Hutton and Jedediah Strutt. The figures at Peterborough were: Athelwold (‘Athwald’), Peada (King of Mercia), Henry VIII, Prince Rupert and the Earl of Essex. The local newspaper was baffled by the inclusion of the last pair, who alluded to the Civil War but had no obvious link with the city. At Kingston-upon-Thames Queen Elizabeth was accompanied by five kings, including Athelstan and Edward the Elder. Here the antiquary and mayor (in 1898, 1901 and 1908), Dr William Finney, is said to have advised on the identities of the statues, suggesting that Boots sometimes chose the identities of the figures through a process of local consultation.

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Newcastle, 1912 (repaired after fire 1913)

Boots’ Scottish flagship was the branch on Princes Street in Edinburgh, a baronial-style stone-faced building. As in Newcastle, timber framing would hardly have been suitable in this northern city. Nevertheless the frontage included statues depicting persons of national importance: Sir Walter Scott, John Knox, Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, George Wishart, Robert Burns and, in the centre, Bonnie Prince Charlie. It is not known what happened to these figures when the building was demolished in 1965 – maybe one day they will come to light.

Main Sources

Stanley Chapman, Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists. A Study in Business History, Hodder & Stoughton, 1974

Kathryn A. Morrison, English Shops & Shopping, Yale University Press, 2004

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Charles Morrison’s Diary, 1 to 14 March 1864

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From the Attic Window (Craigleor, Lewis Street, Stornoway), 26 May 1900, Gina G. Morrison

Tuesday 1st March

The day being fine I went along with Mr Miller, Miss C. Gerrie, Miss Maggie McEwen and Miss Agnes Kerr over to Arnish. We left at ½ past 12 and was back at 5. We enjoyed ourselves very much indeed. We were at the top of the Light House and across the hills to Prince Charlie’s Loch. I had a letter from father. At night we were at Mr Caunter’s singing.

Wednesday 2nd March

Very little doing. I wrote Kate and enclosed £3 to her.

Thursday 3rd March

I had a walk with Mr Miller up the Glen and down by the castle. At night we were at Mr Caunter’s.

Friday 4th March

The ploughing match was at Goathill. We were practising singing at my lodgings. I was busy copying music.

Saturday 5th March

The Barque “Doon” left this morning for Port Natal at 10 o’clock with a good easterly wind.

Sunday 6th March

In the morning the Revd Mr Adam preached an excellent sermon from the 22nd chapter of Luke 31st and 32nd verses And the Lord said Simon Simon behold Satan hath desired to have you that he may lift you as wheat But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not and when thou art converted strengthen thy bretheren. He shewed first man’s foe 2nd man’s friend & 3rd Man’s duty. In the evening he preached from the 5th chapter of Judges 31st verse But let them that love him be as the Sun when he goeth forth in his night. In the afternoon Mr Cockburn gave a very nice address to the young.

[Note on Mr Cockburn: this was Joseph Fleming Cockburn (1818-86), Examiner or Supervisor of Excise, who had been appointed Supervisor of the Long Island District in January 1864.]

Monday 7th March

Very cold with showers of snow. We were practising music in Mr Caunter’s.

Tuesday 8th March

I have been copying a few pieces of music and at night were up at Mr Caunter’s.

Wednesday 9th March

I had a letter from Lexy. It was very cold with showers of snow.

Thursday 10th March

Very cold and stormy. Very little doing. We were at Mr Caunter’s.

Friday 11th March

Very very slack few people in town. At night at Mr Caunter’s.

Saturday 12th March

A meeting of committee about the Soiree and up seeing the hall and ordering the bread from D. McRae Baker. Afterwards I was at tea in Mr Cockburn’s.

Sunday 13th March

In the morning Mr Adam preached from the 3rd chapter of Revelation 20th verse Behold I stand at the door and knock if any man hear my voice and open the door I will come into him and will sup with him and he with me. In the evening he preached from the 5th chapter of Joshua 14th verse As Captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. He shewed first the host of the Lord and 2nd their Captain. It rained heavily all day.

Monday 14th March

I expected a letter from Kate today but got none. At night we were at Mr Caunter’s.

Tuesday 15th March

The Bills and tickets for the Soiree out. At night we were at Mr Caunter’s.

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