I had planned to start with a county for the first edition of Delving Deep, but just recently I have had cause to contact Clarks Shoes here in the United Kingdom and thought that I would share with you, through this edition of Delving Deep what I have discovered.
Clarks Shoes began in 1825 in the Somerset village of Street when James Clarks who was working for his brother Cyrus who owned a tannery. As the off cuts were gathering on the floor, the inspiration of slippers sprang into James’ mind and now 189 year later Clarks shoes are probably known the world over.
In the 1960’s here in England there was a shoe shop chain called Peter Lords. They were the outlet for Clarks shoes and at some point in the early 1960’s they employed my Mum.
I wanted to understand if any employment records had survived from those days therefore I contacted the Clarks archives in Somerset.
The archivist informed me that the employment records for the factory are held at the central head office in Street, and some employment records for the early shops, such as Peter Lords and John Farmers are scanty and if they survive then they are located at Street.
Sadly I was unlucky, and no employment record for my Mum exists, but there was some early more general material pertaining to the store my Mum worked at, which sets the scene rather nicely.
So what is at Street in Somerset?
The archive for the Clarks business is in the care of the Alfred Gillett Trust and contains a vast wealth of material about the shoe development over the company’s history, early designs of shoes, various advertising details, photographs, financial records. There is also material relating to the Clarks family, such as wills, diaries and journals.
The museum holds over 20,000 examples of shoes made by Clarks and its various subsidiaries, such as K shoes. I still own a pair of shoes made by Clarks and branded as K shoes!
The library catalogue holds details of over 2,000 books, journals and shoe catalogues. The material provides details to the broad aspect of the shoe making industry in the United Kingdom, then in the area of Street, genealogy, history of the area and some details to the Quaker religion as was practiced by the Clarks family. There are also examples of the company newspaper, called The Courier
Access to the collection
Access is available to researchers by utilising the Clarks archivists and via external researchers. The archive and museum are located at Clarks Village in Street Somerset.
Over a decade ago shoe manufacturing stopped at Street. The derelict buildings given another purpose in life and Clarks Village was formed. Here there is the Clarks outlet shop, where the company sells at a reduced price end of line shoes and much more. Also located there is the museum and archive. The other buildings were let to other retailers and the community is a well-known tourist destination.
Clarks heritage are in the midst of creating a digital archive of the shoes in the collection.
Alfred Gillett Trust (The National Archives link)