Nineteenth century entrepreneur Cyrus Clark founded the business in the village of Street in 1825 and was joined by his brother James Clark to form the partnership C & J Clark Ltd, the company now known world-wide as Clarks Shoes. This famous Somerset business is a global brand, and one that will reach its two-hundred year anniversary in 2025.
As a Quaker family, the Clarks recognised the value of their Street employees beyond the factory and provided low-cost housing along with schools, a swimming pool, theatre, club and library.
Community and family are rooted at the heart of Clarks history, and their rich and vibrant stories, contemporary and historical, interconnect throughout the company and family archives and collections cared for by our Trust.
Our collections are significant, iconic material from point of sale design, commissioned from the best artists and photographers of the day, can be found alongside examples of shoes from across the globe, collected to energise and inform creative design. Day-to-day records of running a company over two hundred years sit alongside stories of innovation and experimentation.
The archives held by our Trust have a contemporary relevance today not only for the people of Street and Somerset, but for communities and partners in all parts of the world.
Alongside our international stories, family and community bind our collections together. Our archives and collections tell the story of the importance of place in people’s lives, along with the changing connection between community and industry through the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
They tell the story of shoemaking in Britain and document the history of a Quaker business, and importantly, hold the histories of characters who contributed along the way, including women’s rights activist and suffragist, Helen Bright Clark, the social reformer, William Stephens Clarks, the shoemaker who made Clarks a global brand, Bancroft Clark and Alfred Gillett who brought together and internationally significant collection of ichthyosaur fossils found in the area.
Our collections are about people: the people who made the shoes, the designers, sellers and wearers, and everyone in between, from the factory to the boardroom. Shoes touch all our lives, and Clarks shoes hold a special place in our culture.
As we share the stories of shoes, we will walk in the footsteps of our ancestors and discover how their endeavours connect to us today. We will invite audiences to share their own stories to enrich our collective histories, and together, we will be inspired by a village connected to the world, discovering invention and innovation from the rich and diverse narratives that are captured in our archives and collections.
We are based in the Grade II listed Grange, a purpose-built archive and museum store near Clarks Village and Clarks HQ in Street, which also houses a public reading room, seminar and conference rooms, cataloguing areas, photographic studios and staff offices.
Our Mission is to provide engaging spaces for developing and sharing stories of the collections we care for.
Our vision is to inspire the world with the family and community stories behind Clarks shoes.
The Trust’s charitable objects are:
to advance public education through the co-operation and assistance in the foundation and maintenance of a public records centre and museum in Street in the County of Somerset or such other place as the Trustees may decide for one or more of the following purposes namely:
a) the preservation within a library archives and records centre of the historic papers records and exhibits connected with the footwear and shoemaking industry in the town of Street and the surrounding area or elsewhere; and
i) those who developed the said industry and trades particularly in Street and the surrounding area;
ii) the domestic and social life of the area; and
iii) the Religious Society of Friends
b) the exhibition to the public of historic shoes material machinery equipment and buildings used in connection with the said footwear and shoemaking industry and its supply and distribution trades;
c) the exhibition to the public of any fossils and other articles of historic interest or articles of artistic merit including paintings drawings and works of art of all kinds.
The Trust has developed a strategic plan to take forwards our vision, mission and charitable objectives.
The Trust is named for Alfred Gillett (1814-1904), a local cousin of the founders of C & J Clark Ltd, Cyrus Clark and James Clark. Alfred retired to Overleigh House in Street and spent many years researching and excavating the ichthyosaur fossils for which Street is internationally renowned.
More information on the Trust’s geological collections are available for those who are interested.