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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Ludlow, 2017 (R. Baxter)

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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

Most of the statues of local worthies that adorned many of Boots’ historical façades were probably 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, 2003

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This entry was posted in Boots the Chemist, Chemists' Shops, Spotter's Guides. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Spotter’s Guide to Boots the Chemist

  1. hazelnicholson says:

    I haven’t seen anything else quite like this Boots sign in Canterbury. https://www.flickr.com/photos/10515323@N08/29011494614/in/photolist-LcDuB1-s2N5mN-rXT8XB-i9LZud-hunqe7

    Liked by 1 person

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