The Public Benefit Boot & Shoe Co
The Public Benefit Boot & Shoe Co – what a name! It makes an overt claim to altruistic philanthropy, something that was often little more than a cynical advertising ploy for Victorian businessmen. Multiple branch retailing was in its infancy when this company was formed in 1875. The multiple system promised to bring cheaper goods within reach of the working classes by following three key principles:
- cutting out the middleman
- refusing credit (cash buyers only!)
- bulk purchasing
Many companies thus fulfilled their noble pledge to benefit the public. They also made a tidy fortune for their founders and managers.
William Henry Franklin (1848-1907), who founded the Public Benefit Boot Co, left £78,000 (over £8 million in modern terms) on his death. He established his business in Prospect Street, Hull in 1875. By the time it merged with Dickinson Bros (of Bramley, Leeds) in 1897, it comprised 51 shops and a factory in Wellingborough. In 1904 the Public Benefit Boot Co struck a deal with Lennards (see below), which was trading under the same name in the south of England. The shopfronts of the two firms, with their large plate glass windows, were very similar.
By 1920 there were 143 Public Benefit Boot Co shops (11 of them freehold), mainly in the north and Midlands. In 1946 the company and its shops were renamed Benefit Footwear Ltd. Through amalgamation with the merged Saxone and Lilley & Skinner (1957), it passed into the hands of Charles Clore’s British Shoe Corporation in 1962. The date on which the last ‘Benefit’ shop closed is not known.
At least one of this company’s shopfronts survives, at 13a Saville Street, Malton, Yorks. Others are possibly unrecognised because they have lost their mosaic tiling and other obvious branding. Quite a few historical postcards of British town centres highlight branches of the Public Benefit Boot Co and could well have been commissioned by the firm.
Lennard Brothers was founded as a boot and shoe manufacturing firm in Leicester in the 1870s (incorporated 1897). The prime mover seems to have been Samuel Lennard (1851-1901), who opened his first factory on Crafton Street in 1876, later moving to Asylum Road (subsequently the site of the now-demolished Liberty Building). Branch factories opened in Kettering, Northampton and Blaby, and a warehouse in Leicester. Samuel married the daughter of Edward Wood, the Chairman of Freeman, Hardy & Willis.
Some of Samuel’s brothers were more engaged in retailing. Thomas Lennard (1861-1938; knighted 1920) moved to Bristol where he established Lennards Ltd in new headquarters on Queen Street. In 1904 Lennards Ltd – with 104 branches trading as the Public Benefit Boot Co – reached an agreement with the Public Benefit Boot Co of Leeds (see above) to form a new company embracing both concerns.
Whilst Lennards’ shops were concentrated in the Midlands and south, those of its Leeds namesake were largely in the Midlands and north. Before long, however, Lennards’ shops were trading under the ‘Lennards’ name.
By 1909 Lennards had 130 shops, and by 1920, when the freeholds were transferred to the Lennards Real Property Co Ltd, it had 200, a number it never greatly exceeded. In this period the pilasters framing the shopfronts had panels engraved with the locations of principal branches, and the low stallrisers displayed the Lennards name. In 1923 an important new store was built on Edgware Road, London, designed by Bridgeman & Bridgeman, with a cupola over the canted corner bay. The discreet ladies’ fitting room to the rear of the shop was warned by a gas fire. In 1929 the 50 or so shops of Alfred Tyler & Sons of Leicester – mainly situated in northern towns and cities – were acquired and reorganised, and in 1938 Lennards moved into new headquarters on Soundwell Road, Staple Hill, Bristol.
Lennards failed to buy back its properties in 1952, losing them to Lombard. The company developed subsidiaries abroad, notably in Ghana and Nigeria and acquired England’s Smart Shoes Ltd in 1970. Lennards was bought by Great Universal Stores 1973 and then (with 260 shops) by Charterhall in 1989. Charterhall went into receivership shortly afterwards, and the shops probably closed in 1991-92.
There’s a Lennards sign still visible in Rugby https://www.flickr.com/photos/10515323@N08/16799220456/in/photolist-rAuoY1
There are lots of original shops right across the nation still standing- The public Benefit boot company erected lots of them- one is in Truro for example and is now a bank. There are two main branches still standing in Hull east yorkshire
Here’s a picture taken in June 2016 that shows the IoW Lennards facade without the rather gauche “Qualified Opticians” addition -:)
Public Benefit Boot and Lennards were sizeable companies and lasted for a very long time dealing not only in this country but also abroad via the postal system generally.
Just cleaning up in our garage and found a metal shoe horn with The Public Benefit Boot Company inscribed together with the boot cart logo. Very interesting history.
Pingback: A trip to Newport, Isle of Wight in photos: ferry, architecture, Quay Arts, The Crispin and street scenes | urban75 blog
Lennards shoehorns had an engraved logo on which read Lenards Shoes Easy on the feet. I still have mine . Bruce Lennard
Bruce if you take a look at my website it contains quite a bit on those two companies Public Benefit and Lennards. There are many articles on it that I have written and lots of advertisements and images of branches all of which I imagine would be of interest to you. Dave
On renovating our Cafe in Swansea we uncovered a sign that reads Lennards Boot and Shoe Manufacturers so we kept it and some of the lovely stained glass windows (which are framed inside the shop). We decided to name it The One Shoe Cafe with a nod to its past, and have a tiny wooden shoe last framed inside. We have been given a photograph of the shop when it was the Public Benefit Boot Company, circa early 1900’s if you would like to see it. Kirsty Hill.
Kirsty just read your great message can I see your photo of the shop when it was a Public Benefit Boot shop.Where was it as you don’t elaborate on that part lol
Apologies Kirsty you do mention the cafe’ is in Swansea I have a picture of your cafe on my website http://www.originalpublicbenefitbootco.uk
would love to see the old image you have please
Hi, how do I leave an image?
If you contact me via:
you can send as an attachment
Looking forward to seeing the image
An outlet of the Public Benefit Shoe Company stood at the corner of Essex Road and new North Road, Islington, London. Image c.1910 available.
Where is the image Barry
Pingback: An old boot | Market Lavington Museum
I worked for,Lennards in Bristol first Merchant st then Penn st from mid 60s till1973
Hi Christine, do you remember Robbie Roberts? He was my grandad and worked for Lennards at that time at the main office in Bristol, unfortunately not still with us.
This is fascinating – thank you. Please could you tell me whether the description of the Northern PBBC’s business model at the beginning of your article – early multiple, no middleman etc – also applied to Lennards trading as PBBC in the south? And was the trademark of the giant horse drawn boot, which was used in Cornwall in 1896 (and a form of which appeared in a carnival), also used by the northern PBBC? I have been trying – with some success – to unravel the circumstances under which the two small original PBBC shops in Penzance began to trade as Lennards between 1906 and 1910, despite having an enormous new shop (which survives to this day, as you probably know) with high quality and prominent ‘PBBC’ badging – this was known however as ‘Lennard’s Chambers’
Here goes! One of the Lennard brothers was involved with Franklin in setting up the original PBBC. Although that partnership was soon dissolved, both families kept using the PBBC name, albeit one in the north and the other in the south-west. They probably maintained some form of association, leading to ‘amalgamation’ (not merger) in 1904 with T J Lennard managing Franklin’s company for a few years. This didn’t work out and ties were severed in 1909. Reflecting this, Lennard then changed the name of his shops from PBBC to Lennards. Both were manufacturers as well as retailers, though northern PBBC gave up its factories in 1934. Hope this clarifies things for you. I don’t think the two chains ever used the same trademarks (unless their association involved retailing one another’s footwear at one time).
Many thanks for that. I have done quite a bit of work on PBBC Penzance
if you are interested
Yes please I would love to know what you have on the Penzance shops thank you Dave..Just to give you a heads up all my researches on PB & Lennards ha sen handed over to Leeds Archives. As the Northern PB established HQ there very early on. The files are quite substantial and i am waiting for the archivistHelen Skilbeck to get back to me to write a blog and I believe she is waiting for someone to catalogue the information. However she is open for enquiries on the two entities