Moses Philip Manfield (1819-99; better known as Sir Philip Manfield MP), was born in Bristol, the son of a shoemaker. He began his working life as a boot closer, stitching uppers to soles. In 1843 he arrived in Northampton, the heart of England’s boot and shoe industry, as foreman to a manufacturer named Swan. A few years later, when Swan gave up his business, Manfield decided to remain in Northampton and establish his own company. Success was swift. According to the census of 1851, Manfield was a ‘patent shoe manufacturer employing 200 hands’. In 1857-59 he built a ‘monster warehouse’ on Campbell Square, Northampton, where he installed closing machinery, thus inaugurating the indoor factory system for boot and shoe making. This imposing and revolutionary building was demolished in 1982.
Manfield’s sons Harry (1855-1923) and James (1856-1925) entered into partnership with their father in 1878. Harry settled in a country house, Moulton Grange, while James commissioned the local architect Charles Dorman (1838-1901) to design a neo-Jacobean mansion at Weston Favell, just east of Northampton. This was completed in 1899. After trying and failing to sell this property, Manfield donated it to the town in 1925 as the Manfield Hospital for Crippled Children (later Manfield Orthopaedic Hospital). This closed in 1992 and was converted into apartments under the name Manfield Grange.
The mass production of footwear in factories inspired the development of retail chains, selling machine-made boots and shoes cheaply, for cash. Initially, manufacturers sold to shops through intermediaries: boot and shoe factors. By 1880, however, Manfield & Sons had become one of the first Northampton manufacturers to develop their own retail outlets, cutting out the middleman.
The first shops operated by Manfield & Sons were called Cash & Co. Some subterfuge was necessary because, rightly or wrongly, Northampton boots had acquired a poor reputation. Moreover, Manfield believed that it would arouse ill-feeling if other manufacturers in the town knew that he had entered the retail trade. In December 1883, with others diversifying in the same manner – and, confusingly, also trading under the name Cash & Co. – the shops were renamed ‘Manfield & Sons’. According to advertisements issued at this time, there were branches in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Brussels. Liverpool alone boasted three branches. By 1889, when the first Parisian branch opened, Manfield had 16 shops, some of which had been acquired from independent footwear retailers. This grew to 21 by 1895, 30 by 1900 and 70 by 1910. By 1901 additional Continental shops had opened in Belgium and the Netherlands, and many more outlets opened in France in the first decades of the new century.
In 1892 Manfield built a new factory at Monks Park, Wellingborough Rd, Northampton. This was one of the first large single-storey factories in the industry, but only the front range survives today. When Monks Park opened Manfield & Sons reduced their export trade and concentrated on supplying their own shops. By 1950 Manfield had three other factories: in Northampton, Towcester and Atherstone.
A photograph taken in 1899 by Bedford Lemere, the great architectural photographer, shows Manfield’s branch at 54-55 Cornhill, London. The shopfront surround – and especially the beautiful fascia lettering – evidently formed part of the original architectural design of the neo-Jacobean building, designed by the architect Ernest Runtz and erected in 1893. The building survives with its fantastical terracotta gargoyles, but sadly without Manfield’s shopfront.
Nine years later, in 1908, Bedford Lemere photographed Manfield’s shop at 68 Gracechurch Street, just prior to its demolition. Aspects of the windows – such as the style of the transom lights and the low stall risers – closely resembled the Cornhill branch, confirming that this was the company’s house style. By 1914, however, Manfield had adopted a curly ‘M’ that endured as the company’s emblem, or logo, until after the Second World War, for example in Gloucester and Liverpool.
In 1914-18, like other major footwear manufacturers, Manfield concentrated on producing boots for the Army. During the Easter Rising of 1916, the shop on Sackville Street in Dublin was plundered: some of ‘the mob’ were spotted sitting on the kerb trying on Manfield boots (The Times, 2 May 1916, 10). By 1918 the principal London branches were New Bond Street, Strand, Piccadilly, Cheapside, St Paul’s Churchyard, and Poultry, soon to be joined by 88 Oxford Street. Oxford Street sprouted dozens of shoe shops in the middle years of the 20th century.
Manfield was incorporated as a private company in 1920. In 1921 a new floor for men’s footwear opened at the large branch at 59-60 St Paul’s Churchyard and 61 & 62 Paternoster Row, advertised as ‘A Man’s Club’. This shop had opened in 1917 for women only. Similarly the shop on Poultry was exclusively for men, but most Manfield branches catered for both sexes. It was also in 1921 that a new branch opened in at 170 Regent Street, designed by G. Crickmer & Sons with a shopfront by Frederick Sage & Co. This shop boasted ‘the most extensive stock of footwear ever seen under one roof. No shoppiness or fuss, just large, beautifully decorated and furnished apartments, comfortably provided with divans, settees, writing tables and everything that tends to make a congenial atmosphere while one decides on delicate questions of footwear apparel’. It is now (2016) occupied by Calvin Klein.
Manfield was converted into a public company in 1950, in order to repay post-war loans (the company’s bank overdraft stood at £760,000). At that time there were 93 branches in the UK and Eire, plus 15 sites acquired, including one on Oxford Street. There were eight shops in Belgium, one in the Netherlands, and the company held 20% of the Société des Chaussures Manfield (France), which had 20 shops (17 in Paris, with others in Lyons, Marseilles, Bordeaux). The company had a thriving export trade to the USA. The early 1950s delivered record profits, and saw the opening of new branches, for example in Belfast, Newton Abbot, Sevenoaks, Lancaster and Rugby.
In 1956, however, Manfield was acquired by Sears and became part of its British Shoe Corporation. It was integrated with another BSC company, Saxone, in 1990. At the same time a new chain of 30 Manfield stores opened for the over-40s market. In 1995 Manfield was handed over to Fascia, which went into administration in 1997. Manfield stores in the Netherlands were bought out by their management. The Manfield and Dolcis brands are both owned currently by the Jacobson Group.
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