I was given this lovely button hook by Gary and Julie Sharpe in 2017 along with some crochet hooks and latch-hooks. As usual, this set me off on a trail of discovery to find out about “Randall’s Boots.” It led me to H. E. Randall of Lady's Lane, Northampton – the shoe- and boot-making capital of England. Here are a few interesting instances from the H.E. Randall and Co story. In 1953, the company was taken over by Rayne Ltd. In 2021, this was reunited with a member of the Randall family!

randall's boots button hook

Company Founder – Sir Henry Randall

Sir Henry Randall was born on 27th December, 1847, the son of a draper in Bridge-street, Northampton. He went to the (very dilapidated) Northampton Grammar School, then to a private school at Coventry. After school, he was apprenticed to his uncle, Mr. W. Jones, a shoe manufacturer, whose factory was in Newland. After serving his apprenticeship he entered into partnership with fellow apprentice Mr. Thomas Wickes, and they started business in a small warehouse in St. Andrew’s-square in November, 1869. Business boomed and they moved to larger premises in Lady’s-lane in 1880. In 1887, the partnership between Mr. Randall and Mr. Wickes was dissolved by mutual consent, the business being carried on solely by Mr. Randall. His factory was destroyed by fire, and he lost heavily, not being sufficiently insured, but the business was soon up and running again in temporary buildings, where it was continued until the present [1930] factory was completed. At the opening of the new factory, Sir Henry was presented by his employees with his portrait in oils, painted by Mr. Harris Brown, the Northampton artist. The factory very considerably enlarged in the following years.

Sir Henry Randall was one of the first boot manufacturers to open retail establishments, and as by the late 1880s he already had twelve shops in London. His inventive capacity was illustrated by the “Tenacious” tennis shoe, which he patented in 1882. Before that time the rubber soles were often became detached, causing loss and annoyance to retailers, and by introducing a process of stitching Sir Henry produced an important improvement in tennis footwear. In 1884, he was granted a US patent for his method of bonding India-rubber soles to tennis- and cricket-shoes to improve durability. Up until 1896 Sir Henry remained a sole trader, but in that year he transferred his business into a limited liability company of which he was managing director. By the time of his death, Messrs. H. E. Randall, Ltd., sold their products in 58 retail shops.

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Messrs. Randall, Ltd., were among the most versatile boot manufacturers in Britain, their products ranged from the stoutest sporting boots to the most delicate of ladies’ footwear, and during the First World War they turned out a large share of Army boots. Sir Henry’s Army connection resulted in Northampton receiving an order for half-a-million pairs of boots for the French Army, the order to be completed in six weeks. Sir Henry was also loyal to his business partners, for example when he started in business he opened account with the late Mr. John Phipps. That account, now with Mr. Charles Phipps (John Phipps’ successor), was still in place at the time of Sir Henry’s death.

He was knighted in 1905, and in 1909 he became High Sheriff of the county. An account of Sir Henry Randall's career appeared in The Northampton Independent, Dec. 13th, 1919. On his 50th birthday he received many gifts of appreciation from those connected with his business, including an oil painting of himself by Arthur Hacker. He received a cheque from the shareholders, and being a philanthropist, he used this to set up a fund for impoverished ladies of Northampton. This fund became the Sir Henry and Lady Randall Annuity Fund.

Sir Henry Randall died age 83 after period of poor health. In early July 1930 he was taken ill and his health deteriorated until it became evident that he would not recover. His obituary reported that his interests were not confined to his successful shoe manufacturing business. He had also served on the Town Council, and served twice was Mayor of the Borough. He was a strong Conservative, and until Mr. Chamberlain’s Tariff Reform crusade of 25 years early, he had been one of the leaders of the party in Northampton. He remained a Free Trader, and largely lost touch with politics, but he remained Conservative. He was a keen sportsman (especially athletics, croquet and golf) and owned racehorses (his son, Herbert, became a professional jockey); he was a philanthropist, a lover of music, an educationalist, and an active church-going Christian. His obituary appeared in the Northampton Mercury of 25th July, 1930.

randall's boots

H.E. Randall, Ltd.

Percy Randall, director of H.E. Randall Ltd, along with company foreman George Davis were granted a US patent for a boot-stitching machine (the British patent would have been a year or two earlier).

According to a visitor to London, writing in 1902, “The English firms are coming to initiate American shoes. Some manufacturers in England turn out shoes and give them an American name. This is the case with Randall, of the American Shoe Co. He manufacturers what is called the “American” shoe. This firm has been in Liverpool since Dec., 1901. They have their branch in London, one in Birmingham, one in Glasgow, one in Manchester, and are opening new branches right along. Some English shoe firms have buyers in the United States.” They soon had premises in Edinburgh and Dublin as well.

randall's boots

In 1902, the company pursued a court case over the use of the phrase “American Shoe Company.” This was reported in the Northampton Mercury during May 1902. H. E. Randall and Co., of Northampton, v. The British and American Shoe Company, of Putney was heard in the Chancery Division of the High Court.

The plaintiffs, H.E. Randall and Co, sought a perpetual injunction to restrain the defendants, three ladies named Clapp, from trading as the London and American Shoe Company, the British and American Shoe Company, any other name or style that resembled “The American Shoe Company,” which was registered to H.E. Randall and Co. They claimed that the Clapp sisters were representing their business as a branch of the plaintiffs’ business and were passing off their goods as those of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs also claimed damage and costs. H.E. Randall and Co had gone into the retail trade in 1896, and the sale of American boots and shoes had become the most important part of their trade. From the first they had carried on business as the American Shoe Company, using the title of H. E. Randall and Co. such a way as to satisfy the Companies Acts. Their name was recognised throughout the United Kingdom.

In November, 1901, the Clapp sisters set up a business in Putney as “The London American Shoe Company." When the plaintiffs objected they changed this to “British and American Shoe Company," which they said they had a right to use. The plaintiffs objected to the use of the words “American Shoe Company." The plaintiffs claimed sole rights that that phrase. The defendants claimed that their principal business was the sale of American shoes, and that they had a right to use that wording.

Mr. Henry E. Randall, J.P., said that in 1897 he opened his shop in Regent-street for the sale of American footwear, and found there was a large demand for this. High-class, but not high-price, footwear was manufactured especially for his firm by American makers. Since then, they had sold some 400,000 pairs, and had spent £5,000 in advertising them. Therefore, the American Shoe Company was entirely identified with this trade. If a buyer saw "The British and American Shoe Co.” or "London and American Shoe Co." outside a shop, that buyer would believe the shop was a branch of Randall’s. He claimed the monopoly of this title in the United Kingdom on the grounds that he was the first person who opened a store this country for the sale of American shoes. The shoes sold by his company were originally stamped "H. E. Randall, Ltd.," as well as "American Shoe Co.," but were now stamped “Made expressly for the American Shoe Co." He had established his claim to the name of the phrase “American Shoe Co." and the public attached the words "American Shoe Co." to his firm alone. He believed the term "Putney American Shoe Co.,” or "Edinburgh American Shoe Co." etc would mislead buyers and presented evidence to support this. He had already obtained injunctions in Dublin and elsewhere against persons who had used the words "American Shoe Co." and "American Boot Co."

The defendant's claimed their name was different from that of the plaintiffs and accurately described their business. They claimed that no-one had ever been misled by their use of the name "British and American Shoe Co.," and that such goods as American shoes, which could be sold by the trade generally, could not be monopolised. They claimed that the plaintiffs were in a new way of business, and therefore had no new usage or reputation to conserve. Because the plaintiffs used “The American Shoe Co." in combination with "H. E. Randall and Co.," there was no confusion. They contended that the severance of the two names in the way adopted by the plaintiffs was unlawful, and therefore protection could not be claimed under the law. Miss Lily Clapp, one of the defendants, said she and her sisters carried on the business of selling boots and shoes, at Putney, under the style of "The British and American Shoe Company," her father being a wholesale boot and shoe merchant. In contrast, Randall was not a wholesaler of American shoes. When they took over his business they intended to sell American shoes entirely under the name "The London and American Shoe Company." At that time she did not know of anyone carrying on business as "The American Shoe Company," and had never seen any of the plaintiffs' shops.

The defendants denied that the plaintiffs were the pioneers of the American shoe or that the title of the British and American Shoe Company, was intended to deceive the public. The defendants said that they adopted the title bona fide for the purpose of clearly distinguishing their business from that of the plaintiffs. They also claimed that the plaintiffs had contravened the Companies Act of 1862 (by separating the two phrases), and had not acquired any right to use exclusively the style of the American Shoe Company.

Mr. Justice Swinfen-Eady, in giving judgment, said that he was satisfied that the names London and American Shoe Company and British and American Shoe Company were not adopted innocently, but with the intention of deceiving the public. In his opinion the plaintiffs had not done anything in the way of contravening the Company Act which would disentitle them to relief. There would be an injunction to restrain the defendants or any of them, their servants, agents, or workmen from carrying on business under the name or style of the London and American Shoe Company or the British and American Shoe Company, or any other name or style which so nearly resembled the name of the American Shoe Company as to represent or lead to the belief that the defendants' business was a branch of or in connection with the business of the plaintiffs. The defendants must pay the costs the action.

In 1916 the company made a claim for £2719 6s 5d for stock-in-trade destroyed by fire, and damage to building at 25 Henry Street, Dublin. Payment of £2019 11s 4d was recommended by Committee. The damage occurred during the Irish Rebellion of April 1916 and the property in question, along with its contents, was completely destroyed. The total loss was estimated at £7,720 – a considerable sum at the time – but were only able to claim for £2,206, 9s and 5d. The company sought compensation from the Irish government under their compensation scheme.

In 1919, H.E. Randall Ltd (The American Shoe Co) were involved in a court case in Edinburgh: H. E. Randall, Limited v. Summers, at the Court of Session Inner House First Division, Tuesday, March 4. 1919. H. E. Randall, Limited (trading as “The American Shoe Co.,” but selling footwear made in Northampton ) at 118b Princes Street, Edinburgh, brought the action against their landlord, Miss Margaret Sibbald Summers. Their lease said that Miss Sibbald was not to lease any other shop in her property in Princes Street to a business that sold boots and shoes. Five years later, she had leased part of her property two doors away, on the corner of Princes Street and Castle Street ,to Messrs Gieve, Matthews, and Seagrove, Limited, naval outfitters, who also sold boots as part of their military outfitting business.

The ten-year lease between Randall and Summers, signed in 1911, was for a shop to be used exclusively for the sale of boots, shoes sellers and the usual accessories (polish, cream, brushes etc). During the continuance of this lease the Summers was not to lease any other shop in her property in Princes Street, Edinburgh, to a business of similar nature. In 1916, Miss Sibbald leased another shop unit to Messrs Gieve, Matthews, & Seagrove, Limited, for five years. The latter lease contained no restriction as to the selling of boots and shoes. Messrs Gieve’s customers were mainly persons serving in or connected with the Navy. They sold all articles of men's clothing, particularly uniforms, kits, and equipments. As an essential part of this they sold men's boots and shoes, but not ladies' or children's boots or shoes. While the bulk of their customers were naval, they would sell to the general public.

The case hinged on whether the businesses were comparable and in competition, and whether it caused financial loss to Randall. Was Gieve Limited’s sale of men’s boots and shoes an integral part of their naval outfitters’ business or a separable department? It was judged that Randall sold nothing but boots and shoes and accessories and that their business was “almost entirely business with civilians.” Gieves Limited were military outfitters and sold goods only for male naval officers, their sale of boots and shoes (the latter for shore leave) being a small, but integral, part of that trade. The naval outfitter's business overlapped a dozen different businesses, but it could not be said to be “of similar nature” to these other businesses. In this case they did not sell ladies' or children’s boots. Randall lost the case.


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