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North Shoes: A Detailed History

North Shoes was founded in 1876 by William North, a boot maker from Haconby, a small village just outside Bourne. It is believed that it was his wife Sarah who instigated the business. She saw the property for sale whilst visiting the market in Bourne and proposed they sell shoes as well as make them. Boots were made on the premises until 1914 when demand became too high for the 12 employed boot makers and boots had to be sourced elsewhere. North Shoes, under the guidance of William North's great great grandson James, now has the original store in Bourne as well as three other shops located in Oundle, Cambridge and Stamford. Despite the expansion of North Shoes, the ethos of the business remains the same, quality footwear with honest dedicated customer service for all. North Shoes prides itself on being a children’s fitting specialist with staff trained to the highest standards. It hosts a generous range of width fittings and brands, to include Clarks, which has been part of the product range since the turn of the 20th century.

Where it all began...

William North - 1876 to 1920

William North began the North shoe family dynasty from humble beginnings, as a shoemaker in Hacconby, Lincolnshire, five miles north of Bourne.

His marriage to Sarah in 1875 was the catalyst for a story that has spanned over 130 years.

While William was working as a shoemaker in his home village Sarah spotted a property on a visit to Bourne one day that she felt would be ideal for their needs.

The couple bought the house in North Street in 1876 the year the first of their nine children was born. William was 32.

In those early days William continued the shoemaking and repair business in Hacconby while Sarah looked after the shop in Bourne. In around 1900 William moved into the Bourne premises, which became the family home and also the base for the business.

At that time he had eight workers and Bourne, a small town with a population then of around 5,000, boasted no less than 15 other shoemakers and repairers.

The business soon became established, with Sarah looking after the shop and William running the shoemaking and repairing side of things at the rear of the premises in North Street.

Gradually the demand for shoes grew. William was unable to keep up with demand and had to start buying in shoes – firstly from Norvic in Norwich, and then from Clarks in Northampton.

William and Sarah had nine children – and it was their fourth son, Frank (Jack), who provided the second generation of North Shoes.

Surviving the Depression and two World Wars...

Frank (Jack) North - 1920 to 1955

The Great War interrupted Frank’s arrival in the business. Although he worked alongside his father, Frank did not take over the running of it until around 1920.

Life carried on in much the same way, with the Norths making and repairing boots and shoes and buying in stock from outside manufacturers.

Without doubt, Frank guided the business through one of its toughest trading periods, safely negotiating the great Depression which gripped Britain for over 10 years from 1929 and saw 2.5 million unemployed at its height.

Boot and shoemaking ended on the premises in around 1930 and from then on North Shoes relied entirely on footwear bought in from outside manufacturers – setting the trend for today.

Frank typified the North philosophy of having the courage to follow their business instinct and, despite the Depression and the impending Second World War, invested in a new shop front in 1935 and almost doubled the shop floor space in his 35 years at the head of the company.

It is thought Frank had two ladies & his wife Bertha working for him. In those days, as now, staff stayed with the business for many years.

World War Two meant that leather was scarce and a new delivery of footwear at North Shoes was a major event, with queues forming in North Street. In a clever marketing ploy Frank created the impression of a fully stocked shop by leaving empty shoeboxes on the shelves!

By then, Bourne had just four shoe repairers and four shoe shops.

The next 40 years...

Frederick John (John) North - 1946 to 1986

Jack was joined by the third generation of Norths – Frederick John (John) – in 1946. The two worked alongside each other until Jack retired in 1955.

John left school in 1939 and took up a four year apprenticeship with Norwich shoe manufacturers Norvic – but he was only able to pursue it for two years.

The Second World War intervened and John joined the RAF, serving as a wireless operator on Lancaster bombers and then in India before joining North Shoes in 1946.

John led the company for 40 years and was responsible for its first expansion, launching a shop in neighbouring Holbeach in 1960.

They leased the property in the High Street for ten years, with John dividing his time between spending two days a week in Holbeach and the rest in Bourne. By now, business was growing considerably in Bourne.

A changing face and more expansion...

Roger North - 1964 to 2008

John retired from the business at the age of 65. He was joined by his elder son, Roger, in 1964 after Roger had completed two years’ training with Norvic and Clarks.

As Bourne expanded, so did North Shoes. In the Sixties Bourne’s population grew from a steady 5,000 to around 12,000 – and North Shoes needed to grow with it.

By 1975 18 North Street had ceased to be the family home as the shop gradually took over the building. It had begun life in 1876 as a six-bedroom property and had been the home for all five generations of the shoe dynasty.

The need for more stock room meant that the upstairs flat, developed in 1969, had to give way to storage as North Shoes increased their stock to keep up with customer demand.

Roger worked alongside his father until John retired in 1986. Display was Roger’s forte and he masterminded a modernisation of the shop, increasing the floor space yet again in the mid-Seventies and seeing off the threat of national retailers by offering a specialist, personal, service that allowed customers to get the correct footwear from a wider choice of manufacturers than other high street businesses could offer.

In 1975 Roger and wife Michelle moved out of the upstairs flat – which had also been home for children James and Catherine – as the shop was extended downstairs and upstairs was taken over by stock.

Roger gradually took over the reins of the business in the early Seventies and Michelle took on the book-keeping responsibilities from John.

By now Roger and Michelle were visiting shoe trade events across Europe to keep abreast of fashions as North Shoes’ customer catchment area grew to take in Stamford, Peterborough and Sleaford and surrounding villages.

More expansion followed in 1989 to meet demand. North Shoes was given a new shop front as the business took over the whole of the building’s ground floor frontage. The new look was continued with the re-design of the displays inside as the changing face of the business mirrored the development of the neighbouring Burghley Centre.

The changes at 18 North Street, coupled with increased advertising and marketing activities, saw the business move up to a whole new level. Roger and Michelle were now employing four part-time members of staff.

Reaching out across the world...

James North - 2006 to date

Until Roger’s son, James, joined the business in 2006 there was a very real danger that Roger’s retirement would mark the end of an era.

But in 2008 he handed over the reins to the fifth generation of Norths – something only two shoe businesses in the whole of the UK can better.

Now James is taking on the world – launching North Shoes’ website

The company’s website effectively its third ‘shop’ – went live in June 2009 and the business now literally began to boast customers all over the globe.

But James didn't stop there, opening a new store in Stamford in July 2011 and moving some staff from the other two stores. This ensured the North's high standards were upheld and new staff were employed to continue growth.

2015 sees the upgrading of the successful website with a new modern look and dedicated on-line team and the opening of a fourth store in the beautiful city of Cambridge. North's Cambridge will be the only 'sit & fit' shoe store in the city, with dedicated, highly trained staff measuring feet & using their extensive product knowledge to find the correct fitting style in the type of shoes customers require.

2017 North Shoes acquired R.C Cotton & Sons, a family run store since 1870. We strive to keep up with the traditional quality fitting service in the quaint English town of Oundle.  

2018 North Shoes has a long standing relationship with Loake and are proud to open the first Loake Factory Outlet in Lincoln. The shop is the first of it's kind. The high street presence gives the customer something the internet cannot offer, where they can by fitted by qualified staff using their extensive knowledge. 

What William North began from Haconby and took into Bourne in 1876 now reaches out across the world.