Do you know how old Norwich's Start-rite Shoes is?

Start-rite Shoes History Norwich

The shoe room in 1909 - Credit: Norwich Heritage Projects

There was a time when more than 10,000 men and women were making boots and shoes in Norwich which were sent across the world.

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

For generations of people, shoe-making was more a way of life than a job and then…cheap imports were the start of the end which was fast and furious.

Factories closed, jobs were lost…times were changing.

Start-rite Moon

The twins make it to the moon - Credit: Norwich Heritage Projects

But Start-rite, the company launched in 1792 by John Smith, is still selling its much-loved shoes in the city.

Born in the 1760s, James Smith was a travelling leather seller 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 people were moving from the countryside into the city to find work.

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James had a son, Charles, and a daughter, Mary, who married William Winter. Other members of the family 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, over so many years, different members of the famous family ran the business as it developed, producing some of the best-loved and popular shoes in the land.

Back in the 1840s the demand for ready-made shoes was growing and Charles was said to be the first manufacturer in Norwich to use a sewing machine. Within a few years he was employing up to 900 people working in the factory or at home.

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

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

Start-rite Shoes Norwich

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 the guidance of such popular bosses as Bernard Hanly, James Hanly, David White, Peter Lamble and others, Start-rite went from strength-to-strength, and its reputation grew and grew.

It was selling attractive and comfortable shoes for children everywhere, including young members of the Royal family.

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

The original drawing for the famous twins in the advertisements was produced in 1936 by Nancy Gardner – and they are still romping along together.

The factory closed in 2003 and production went 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 awful. There were a lot of tears. There was such emptiness. We knew each other as a family.”

While not made in Norwich anymore, Start-Rite is still selling top quality children's shoes, operating from Broadland Business Park, Norwich. A company we can all be proud of.

Long live the twins.