How old are Start-Rite shoes?


7:00 a.m. July 23, 2022

There was a time when over 10,000 men and women made boots and shoes in Norwich which were sent around the world.

In 1972 we reported how nearly 11 million pairs of shoes and boots were produced. An all-time record.

For generations of people, shoemaking was more of a way of life than a job and then…cheap imports were the beginning of the fast and furious end.

Factories closed, jobs were lost… times were changing.

The twins arrive on the moon
– Credit: Norwich Heritage Projects

But Start-rite, the company started in 1792 by John Smith, still sells its much-loved shoes around town.

Born in the 1760s, James Smith was an itinerant leather salesman until he opened a shop where he made and sold ladies’ shoes in the Upper Market, Norwich (St Peter’s Street).

The spinning and weaving industry was in decline and more and more people moved from the countryside to the cities to find work.

James had a son, Charles, and a daughter, Mary, who married William Winter. Other family members joined the expanding business over the years. Charles Winter ran it from 1827 to 1867 when the factory was established.

Start-rite shoe factory Norwich James Henly Mr Jim

James Hanly remembered as “Mr Jim”
– Credit: Norwich Heritage Projects

From then on, for so many years, different members of the famous family led the company as it developed, producing some of the most beloved and popular shoes in the country.

By the 1840s the demand for ready made shoes was increasing and Charles is said to have been the first manufacturer in Norwich to use a sewing machine. In a few years, he employed up to 900 people working in the factory or at home.

They were top quality shoes and customers, it was said, were treated as friends.

The first factory was on St. Peter’s Street – where the Town Hall now stands – then a larger one was built on Crome Road, and others were taken over as the business grew .

Norwich Start-Rite Shoes

Dennis Williams at work in 1960
– Credit: Norwich Heritage Projects

Start-rite Factory last day 2003

The last day at the factory in 2003
– Credit: Norwich Heritage Projects

Under popular patrons such as Bernard Hanly, James Hanly, David White, Peter Lamble and others, Start-rite went from strength to strength, and its reputation grew steadily.

Everywhere he sold attractive and comfortable shoes for children, including young members of the royal family.

The Start-rite name had first been used by Quant & Son, in Bury St Edmunds – boss James Southall liked it and he took over.

The original drawing of the famous twins in advertisements was made in 1936 by Nancy Gardner – and they still have fun together.

The factory closed in 2003 and production moved elsewhere.

One of the workers, Avis Brown, told Michael and Frances Holmes, authors of the best-selling Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade: “The last day was horrible. There were a lot of tears. There was such a void. We knew each other like family. »

Although no longer manufactured in Norwich, Start-Rite still sell top quality children’s shoes, operating out of Broadland Business Park, Norwich. A company we can all be proud of.

Long live the twins.


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