Crockett & Jones was founded in 1879, in Northampton, by Charles Jones and his brother-in-law, James Crockett. They established the business with a grant of £100 each from the Thomas White Trust ‘to encourage young men of good character in the towns of Northampton and Coventry to set up business on their own’.
Northampton had always been renowned for shoe making in England since the middle ages; starting as a centre for tanning. The abundance of local oak forests provided the oak bark, which was considered the best tanning material at the time and the River Nene was the source of water for this process. The central location of Northampton, en-route to London, gave the town good communications and enabled the tanners to obtain hides from the butchers with ease. After this it wasn’t long before shoe makers naturally gathered where leather was readily available, working out of their homes and in small workshops. By the time that Crockett & Jones was established, shoe makers had begun to join together to open small factories using new machinery that had been developed specifically for the shoe industry during the Industrial Revolution.
The first Crockett & Jones factory in 1879 was a small building in Carey Street, Northampton with 20 employees. Here they concentrated on making men’s boots. The leathers were cut at the factory before being distributed to out-workers who would take the parts home. They would then return the finished components to the factory, so that the boots could be completed.
The business was successful and expanded rapidly with more and more work being done inside the factory. In the 1890’s the 2nd generation (Harry Crockett and Frank Jones) began to integrate new machinery, which was invented by Charles Goodyear from the USA for stitching the uppers, welts and soles together. This made the process much easier, and faster, and gave rise to the name for the superior construction process that we continue to use today, called ‘Goodyear Welted’.
Towards the turn of the century James Crockett and Charles Jones recognised the need to find a larger factory for continued expansion of the business. In 1897 they bought a new factory in Perry Street, which Crockett & Jones still occupy today. In 1910 a 5 storey wing was built onto this factory; the first all-steel structured building in Northampton. It boasted a huge proportion of glass to give superb natural lighting for production – an attribute which still benefits the workforce today.
Around this time most of the shoes were sold in the home market but the company was also exporting a significant volume through-out the world to: Australia, Argentina, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, USA and the Far East. Crockett & Jones had now established a reputation as one of the best shoe makers in the country. In 1911 they were awarded the Diploma D’Onoro (Diploma of Honour) at the International Manufacturing Exhibition in Turin for their designs.
In 1911 Percy Jones, the brother of Frank Jones, joined the company – this was to be the start of a long serving, 67 year partnership in the business. In 1914 Crockett & Jones footwear was used for the 2nd time on a Shackleton Polar expedition thus emphasising the excellent quality of the shoes and their construction.
In 1924 Crockett & Jones was honoured with Royal Patronage; a visit to the factory in Perry Street by H.R.H The Duke of York (later King George VI) who paid great attention to the shoe making process on his tour around the factory. This visit sparked much national press interest and people crowded the streets to get a glimpse of The Duke.
In 1927 Gilbert Jones, the son of Frank Jones, started at Crockett & Jones becoming the 3rd generation of the Jones family involved in running the business. By this stage the company employed over 1000 people and production had reached record levels of 15,000 pairs per week; the majority of which were women’s shoes and boots.
An intensive advertising campaign was launched in the 1930’s to drive sales using the Swan and Health brands. As the company continued to succeed a second wing was added to the Perry Street factory in 1935, providing a new office block, showroom and an in-stock department. The original front door was moved from Magee Street to Perry Street with a new staircase and reception. This is still used as the main entrance today and retains its impressive 1930’s Art Deco design.
During the 2nd World War Crockett & Jones manufactured over a 1 million pairs for the armed forces. They were under instructions from the government to switch the majority of the production to military footwear; making officers’ shoes and boots for the army, navy and air force. To produce this volume many retired men and married women came back to work to join in the war effort.
After the war in 1947 Richard Jones, son of Percy Jones and grandson of founder Charles Jones, joined the business. Today Richard is still involved as Chairman and imparts his vast knowledge of shoe making to everyone. In 1948 the Crockett & Jones Partnership was dissolved in order to found Crockett & Jones Ltd and Percy Jones became Chairman.
In the 1950’s the bulk of production was sold in the home market, although exports had begun to expand again. By 1961 around 21% of the output was exported. The factory continued to embrace new technologies to aid production, while keeping the traditional hand processes passed on through the generations, in order to maintain high quality standards at all costs. In the 1970’s however, sales in the Commonwealth countries began to decline following Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1974, Crockett & Jones dropped the 'Swan' brand for women and 'Health' brand for men. After this all shoes made by Crockett & Jones were made under the Crockett & Jones brand.
Jonathan Jones, son of Richard Jones, joined the company in 1977, the same year that Richard was appointed Managing Director. At this time, a decision was taken to re-focus the business. From now onwards they would concentrate on producing men’s high quality Goodyear Welted footwear and developing export sales in Europe, USA and Japan. A new marketing division was put in place under Jonathan’s management and the UK and International collections were re-defined.
As the business began to build again over the next 15 years, exports reached 70% of the overall production and in 1990 Crockett & Jones was awarded the coveted Queens Award for Export Achievement. Crockett & Jones continued to supply some of the world’s best known “own label” collections but now as Managing Director, Jonathan also wanted to increase the ‘Crockett & Jones’ branded distribution. As part of this strategy it was decided to re-visit the company’s long standing interest in retail. In 1997 Crockett & Jones opened their 1st retail shop in Jermyn Street, London. Over the next 14 years another 10 retail shops and concessions were opened by Crockett & Jones across London, Birmingham, New York, Paris and Brussels.
In 2004 the factory in Perry Street was designated as a Grade II listed building, in order to preserve the history of the shoe trade in Northampton. The building has, in fact, changed very little since the 1930’s. In 2005 Nicholas Jones, Jonathan’s brother, joined the company as Production Director and Jonathan, as Managing Director, concentrates on strategy, sales and development. In 2006 Philippa Jones, Jonathan’s daughter, started in the family business as the 5th generation of the Jones family.
Crockett & Jones continue to export about 70% of the production. The expansion of the retail division together with on-going development of worldwide distribution has led to the brand becoming internationally established. The strong reputation of Crockett & Jones, which continues to flourish, is built on solid foundations and a great ethos started many generations ago. The fact that the business remains in the hands of the family who started it, ensures that the standards of the past are maintained today and lends a more personal touch to the fine shoes that they produce.
Now after more than 130 years Crockett & Jones' shoes still retain the attention to detail, quality, comfort and durability that was the hallmark of their founders, Sir James Crockett and Charles Jones.