The “Youth must be served”, the development of the Teenage range

Single girls' red suede slip-on shoe; Clarks Teen-Ager 'Griselda', 1952

Single girls’ red suede slip-on shoe; Clarks Teen-Ager ‘Griselda’, 1952

The Teenagers range was a true reflection of Clarks capitalising on a period of dramatic social change reflected by the evolution of the ‘teenager’ into mainstream society.

The range itself, aimed specifically at girls, has its roots in the Craftsewn range. The term ‘Teenagers’ made its first appearance in the April 1948 trade and price retail list, and continued up until 1964.

Bill Graves (who had been made responsible for children’s production) was sent to the United States of America in 1952, along with Tony Clark, to research its shoe industry; this included learning about its shoe fashion and marketing. He discovered the rapid social change in post-war society created a new consumer market within the age group of 12 to 18 – the teenager.

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Goodbye, Charlotte!

Charlotte with her leaving present; a Moomin inspired 'Shoemin'

Charlotte with her leaving present; a Moomin inspired ‘Shoemin’

This month we said Goodbye to our Head of Collections, Charlotte Berry, who left the Trust to return to her hometown and take up the exciting role of Archivist at Hereford Cathedral.

Charlotte has worked for the Alfred Gillett Trust for five years and has achieved a great deal in this time. She was instrumental in moving the archive from its cramped home to a new purpose-built facility and growing the team from 3 to 12.

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Syd Brak, Athena and Clarks

If you grew up in the 1980s and 90s, you undoubtedly know of ‘Athena’ and the posters they were renowned for. A recent article by The Guardian online came up with the 10 best posters from the time they were around. I was excited to see that one of the posters was by an illustrator who had worked for Clarks. He had worked on the advertising that was to be seen in every Clarks shop of its time; Syd Brak.

Syd Brak studied at Johannesburg  Art School, South Africa, before entering the world of advertising as an Art Director for J Walter Thompson and McCann Erikson. He emigrated to the UK in the 1970s to pursue a career in illustration.

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The Hardy Amies influence

Single left men's black leather Chelsea boot; Clarks 'Savarin', 1964

Single left men’s black leather Chelsea boot; Clarks ‘Savarin’, 1964

Hardy Amies first gained recognition in the fashion business designing women’s clothes.  He started training in the 1930s before starting his own business in 1945 and being appointed Dressmaker to H.M. Queen Elizabeth.  He was eventually appointed as Design Consultant to the Men’s Division of Clarks in 1962, collaborating with Hugh Brooking Clark.  Hugh believed that Clarks’ men’s division would benefit development and expansion.  This involved making the men’s ranges more attractive and saleable, which was to be achieved using Amies’ name, and his knowledge about men’s fit and style.

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The Dilemmas of Collections Management

These ‘Duskdawn’ shoes were made in 1957, and are from the Skyline collection.

Pair women's blue/silver brocade/leather court shoes; Clarks Skyline 'Duskdawn', 1957

This image exemplifies the inevitable consequence of displaying our collection in a museum case.  Whilst the shoe on the right hand side has been held in a box away from any light, the shoe on the left has been on display in the museum, and has consequently sustained damage from the light used to illuminate it.  This is because light sources within the case can emit both light (visible radiation) and UV (ultraviolet radiation) which fades colorants, making the shoe lose its original colour.  Light sources can not only change the colour of organic materials such as this, but can also change the strength of textiles, making them weak, brittle, or disintegrate.

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Measuring Feet in the 21st Century

Clarks electronic foot measuring devices from 1967, 1996, 2000 and 2006

Clarks electronic foot measuring devices from 1967, 1996, 2000 and 2006

The Archive often deals with enquiries about foot measuring at Clarks and a new initiative has just been launched by the company which builds on its long heritage of foot fitting. An article on the BBC News website shows how iPads have been adapted for foot fitting and shows several examples of gauges from our collection.

This project has been running at Clarks for some time and the Archive has been donated examples of the prototypes for the permanent collection.

Short hair for girls in the Clark family – can you solve the mystery?

Can you help with a mystery which has been bugging the Trust staff for some time? We have a large collection of photographs relating to the Clark and related families in Street, Somerset. Several of the young girls in the family wore their hair very short in late 19th century, and we have always been curious as to finding a reason. The Trust staff haven’t come across this in any other photographs from the period on their travels through other family archives of a similar timeframe.

There may have been some medical grounds for this, since Helen Priestman Bright Clark’s family had a history of TB. Helen was generally very protective on the health front for her children, moving the family home from the factory to a new house on the outskirts of the village (now Millfield School of sporting prowess).

Clark and Morland family group, 1880s

Clark and Morland family group, 1880s

There is a good example of short hair for the girls in the family in this photograph (mid 1880s). Two of the group suffered from TB, one dying of it fairly soon afterwards as a teenager (Pollie Morland) and one suffering from it at various points in her life (Alice Clark).

The photograph shows Helen Clark’s four daughters. Esther (born 1873) is the eldest and is presumably growing her hair out (shoulder length, second from left in back row). The three younger Clark sisters, Alice (back row furthest right), Margaret and Hilda (seated, third and fourth from left), all have short hair, along with their Morland cousin Eleanor/Nelly. Pollie Morland (standing, furthest left, born 1872) also has bobbed hair. Alice in particular (born 1874) wore very short hair even as an adult, which seems unusual during the late Victorian/Edwardian era. Age doesn’t necessarily seem to dictate this, since Esther and Alice are just one year apart.

Does anyone know of other instances of this, or could anyone point Trust staff in the direction of a hairstyle expert who could give us some further ideas for research? Please email the Trust with suggestions – we’d love to hear from you!

Major Exhibition Opens at the Museum of Bath at Work

Clarks_vintage_Desert_Boot_advertThe World’s Most Travelled Shoe: Celebrating 65 Years of the Desert Boot

10 April – 31 October 2015

Come with us on a journey from Cairo to Burma to Chicago and Jamaica, across Death Valley in California, to 1960s Paris, and Weston-Super-Mare!

Clarks has sold more than 10million pairs of Desert Boots in over 100 countries and the boot rightly deserves its place as one of The 50 Shoes that Changed the World as well as its title of the World’s Most Travelled Shoe.

To celebrate the 65th anniversary of this British icon The Shoe Museum in collaboration with The Museum of Bath at Work is presenting the story of the Desert Boot in a new exhibition.

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Digging in the Clarks Archives


Our Research Archivist Tim Crumplin was recently interviewed for the Clarks Originals website and gave a guided tour of our facilities and collections.

He explores everything from the importance of archives and the significance of the iconic Desert Boot, to the future aspirations of the Trust.

Read the interview here.

Killer Heels

The Alfred Gillett Trust not only takes care of Clarks shoes, but also shoes belonging to many other companies.

World War II had a huge impact on footwear fashion through the 1940s, and continued to influence trends during the 1950s.

High heels were banned in 1942 as part of the war effort, when there was a restriction on materials due to rationing, including supplies of leather.  One consequence of rationing within Britain was the height of heels.  The maximum heel height allowed was 5 centimetres.  As a result a minimal heel, if any, was usually worn, with high heels only making their appearance during formal occasions.

Rationing continued after the war, and only ended completely in 1952.  Between the end of World War II and 1952, however, restrictions on styles were lifted.  Soon after the ending of the war medium-sized heels were still worn, but there was a re-introduction of pre-war styles, including peep toes and high heels for everyday wear.

This dramatic example of a high-heeled court shoe demonstrates the extremes that were achieved, and the creativity that was unleashed after the restrictive prohibition on high heels.

Single women's black leather court shoe; London House, c.1947

It was made in around 1947 and was created by London House.  The heel measures 13 centimetres in height.  However the height of the heel is only possible because of the depth of the platform, which is 3.5 cm deep.  The height of the platform is important, as there comes a point at which the arch of the foot prevents the heel from going any higher, making it impossible to wear.  The platform allows the height of the heel to be achieved.