Record Details

NHER Number:55620
Type of record:Building
Name:Norvic Shoe and Boot Company


Norwich shoe firm which provided boots and shoes to the services in the world wars and grew into a dominating force in global markets.

Images - none


Grid Reference:TG 2297 0895
Map Sheet:TG20NW

Full description

The founders, Howlett and Tillyard went into partnership in 1846 as curriers and leather sellers in Pottergate Street. According to Kelly's Directory of 1853 (S1). In 1856 they purchased a coal yard on St. George's Plain and built their shoe factory. The factory was extended in 1876, 1895 and 1909, all by aquiring other firms space. By this point the factory had encompassed Claxton lane and Water lane, turning them into internal roads for the facility.
During the 19th century the firm specialised in womens shoes and built up a global export trade, supplying these shoes to the (then large) British Empire. At the time Australia and New Zealand did not have much developed industry and relied on trade to bring in mass produced items, such as footwear. The firm had a strong relationship with South America and managed to fend off competition from newer North American shoe firms. They also shipped decorated shoes to China and a large number of womens tennis shoes to Germany.
By 1909, it was reported in the Illustrated London News that the firm produced shoes in "13 sizes, 4 shapes, 4 fittings, and 20 styles, totalling 4160 different kinds of womens boots and shoes".
During the First World War the firm produced shoes for the Allies: hospital slippers, shoes for the Navy, boots for the Armies of England, France and Russia and fur lined boots for the air force.
The war was hard on the firm, as shipping blockades made raw materials difficult to obtain, production was mainly for the war effort and not for trading, and major markets in Europe, namely Germany, were completely cut off.
After the war, America and Australia had developed their own shoe industries, so British firms had to concentrate on the home market, resulting in fierce competition.
To give themselves an edge, the firm decided to make shoes for all demographics, not just women, and so they bought out other, smaller and more specialised firms to make mens and childrens shoes.
The firm also adopted a concentrated selling plan. Basically starting a retail franchise, they moved from supplying shoes to retailers to buying shops to sell shoes themselves. They also offered free advice, advertising and management to storekeepers who were willing to sell only Norvic products.
In 1936 the premesis was extended towards Duke Street. This area was used as storage and showrooms, capable of holding 250,000 pairs of shoes for immediate delivery to the new chain of shops.
The Second World War had much the same effect as the first. Production was again geared to making footwear for the forces and again after the war there was a struggle to regain commercial viability.
In 1959 the firm was one of the first to recognise the teenage market, realising that although teenagers (in 1959) only made up 9.7% of the population, they spent 18.8% of the nation's total expenditure on shoes. The firm employed a board of 7 teenage girls to provide advice on marketing to teenagers.
In 1961 the site was extended right up to the River Wensum. In 1964 "Heathside" was opened on the Vulcan Road industrial estate, which had the capacity to produce 30,000 pairs of shoes a week. This was closed down in 1980 to reduce costs as competition from foreign imports was growing stronger. The firm lost a £2,250,000 contract to export to Russia and had to sell 180 retail shops to make up the money. In October 1981 the factory closed and the company was finished by the courts in October 1982.
In 1981, plans were made for the conversion of the factory into residential property. The St. George's Street side of the factory was to be retained and converted into apartments and small retial units, and the Duke Street side was to be demolished and rebuilt as houses, and subsequently a hotel.
See (S2)
W. Arnold (HES), 3 June 2011.

Monument Types

  • SHOE FACTORY (19th Century to Late 20th Century - 1856 AD to 1982 AD)

Associated Finds - none

Protected Status - none

Sources and further reading

---Map: Ordnance Survey. 1824-1836. Ordnance Survey First Edition 1 inch..
---Monograph: Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B. 1997. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. The Buildings of England. 2nd Edition. pp 285-286.
<S1>Directory: Kelly, E.. Kelly's Directory of Norfolk..
<S2>Archive: NIAS. Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society Records.

Related records - none

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