Of all the countries with a reputation for quality shoe-making, England is likely at the top of most people’s lists. With its rich cultural and sartorial heritage, England produces some of the world’s finest shoes.
In this guide, we’ve created a top 10 list of the Best Men’s English Shoe Brands:
- Gaziano Girling
- George Cleverley
- Joseph Cheaney & Sons
- Foster & Son
- John Lobb
- Herring Shoes
- Barker Shoes
You can use the links to jump ahead or scroll down to read more. You can also learn more about the England’s shoe-making history and industry.
Joseph Cheaney Assembly Room, Desborough, Northamptonshire
What Are The Best English Shoe Brands For Men?
Following the menus below, we’ll reveal the top 10 best English shoe brands. Each of them were individually researched, contacted, and tested when possible. Furthermore, please bear in mind that they’re not necessarily featured in no particular order of preference.
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Founded in 2006 by Tony Gaziano and Dean Girling, the duo seeks to use their eponymous brand to create elegantly original and stylish shoes. Inspired by their 25 years of experience working for renowned English shoemakers, Tony and Dean seek to push the boundaries with contemporary designs and shapes.
Gaziano Girling operates from their London shop on Jermyn Street while all their shoe are benchmade in their Kettering workshop near Northampton. While they also offer rich customisation options with their made-to-order and bespoke shoes, their ready-to-wear collection is equally vast.
Read More: Gaziano Girling Brand Guide
George Cleverley founded his London workshop in 1958, which soon garnered critical acclaim from both royalty and celebrities alike. Today, it is still a family-run business that’s operated by the father-and-son team of George Glasgow Snr and George Glasgow Jr.
In fact, George Cleverley represents one of the few remaining shoemakers that continues to craft its footwear in the heart of London. Meanwhile, most others have transitioned to more spacious facilities in Northamptonshire.
The workshop’s services include affordably ready-to-wear shoes from $500 up to bespoke starting at $5,000. You can also opt for custom-designed made-to-order or made-to-measure adjusted last shoes.
Joseph Cheaney’s history is particularly interesting as it reflects the many changes experienced by the English shoe-making industry. Established in 1886, Cheaney originally produced private label shoes for renowned retailers around the world. Only by the mid-20th Century did it begin producing shoes under its own name.
In 1966, Church & Co, another renowned English brand and family business, bought Cheaney just as it was won the Queen’s Award to Industry for export achievement. However, Church & Co was acquired by Prada in 1999.
Ten years later, Jonathan and William Church purchased Cheaney from Prada. The cousins have since restored brand to its former glory by embracing Northamptonshire’s traditional craft.
Founded in 1840, Foster & Son is one of London’s oldest shoemakers. Specialising in traditional “West End” shoe-making, their bespoke shoes are hand-made in their London workshop.
Meanwhile, their ready-to-wear shoes are all benchmade using Goodyear welts in the brand’s new Northampton-based facilities. Prices for these start at around $600 and can be purchased at their Jermyn Street workshop. As for their bespoke shoes, these are from $5,000 and may take over 10 months to produce.
In the 190 years since it was founded in 1829, Tricker’s continues to operate as a family business. Its claim to fame was when Joseph Tricker’s son-in-law, Walter James Barltrop, designed and created the world’s first country boot. Needless to say, Tricker’s continues to excel in crafted rustic yet elegant boots for men.
Every single Tricker’s boot is crafted using 260 individual processes under the same roof as nearly two centuries ago. They’re also construction using a Goodyear welt and a wooden shank.
Prices for their stylish yet robust shoes and boots begin around $530. Finally, on its 160th anniversary, Prince Charles visited the factory and awarded the historical shoemaker with a Royal Warrant.
Firstly, bear in mind that the John Lobb that we feature here is no longer the same entity as John Lobb Ltd on Jermyn Street. While both have the same roots when John Lobb opened his London workshop in 1866, there were several changes during the following century.
Firstly John Lobb established a second workshop in Paris in 1901 following the success of the first. In 1976, this shop was acquired by Hermès with permission to keep the same. Since then, the French John Lobb has grown into an international brand.
All their custom made-to-order and bespoke shoes are handcrafted in their Parisian workshop. Meanwhile, the ready-to-wear range is actually bench-made within their Northampton factory, which is why the brand is featured here.
Otherwise, the true English John Lobb Ltd in London focuses solely on bespoke shoes that are handmade in their Jermyn Street workshop.
Herring is an interesting brand and something unique from the others featured in this list. Founded in 1966 by Richard Herring, the brand seeks to specialise as a supplier rather than a manufacturer.
In fact, Herring don’t actually produce any shoes themselves. Instead, they have developed a close working relationship with other brands such as Loake, Church & Co, Joseph Cheaney, and Barker.
Indeed, all of their footwear is carefully created from the best English shoemakers, which is then supplied to retailers or via their online shop. However, Herring have also ventured into creating their own eponymous brand, which is manufactured by Northampton’s pedigree craftspeople.
Founded in 1866 by William Green, his factory became known as one of the first to incorporate Goodyear welting as early as 1874. This Goodyear heritage can be seen today in their current collections like the “Triple Welt.”
In 1913, it received its current name by shortening “William Green & Sons”. Grenson supplied the Allies with boots in both World Wars. During this time, it even developed a flying boot for pilots that would make running easier if ever shot down.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Grenson truly expanded and earned international recognition when it was purchased by Tim Little. Shortly after his acquisition, Selfridges, Harrods, and Liverty began to stock Grenson shoes.
While most of their footwear is made in the UK, just keep note that they have since opened a second factory in India. Although it respects the English factory’s manufacturing standards, it’s not the reason you’re here! However, the Indian collection is clearly labelled under “G2” so keep that in mind when shopping.
Barker have been crafting shoes in the picturesque village of Earls Barton since 1880. They first earned recognition when Arthur Barker invented waterproof peg-sole boots. These pegs would absorb water to ensure that the sole itself would remain dry.
During the First World War, Barker supplied British troops with their boots. Today, Barker still operates as a family-run business and their English-made shoes start from as little as $370.
Founded in 1880, Loake is probably one of the most recognisable English shoe brands for those who aren’t self-confessed enthusiasts. The brand continues to operate as a family-run business in the same Kettering factory since 1894.
Furthermore, Loake provided troops with boots in the both World Wars alongside Grenson and Barker as mentioned above. In 2007, Loake earned a Royal Warrant that was awarded by the Queen.
Like Grenson, Loake have begun making shoes from their own factory in India. Fortunately, Loake is quite transparent about this and will clearly label when their shoes are made in England. Their English-made shoes mostly consists of the various 1880 Collections.
Finally, even their English-made shoes are among the most affordable to be featured on this list. Therefore, if you’re looking for English quality at a good price, Loake might be the most adapted brand for you.
English Shoe-Making History
Arguably, England’s reputed shoe-making craft established itself in the 13th Century thanks to London’s regulated guild system. This allowed for the regulation and control of the industry at a very early stage in its development.
For instance, it distinguished between the professions of a cobbler and a cordwainer. While the former was a professional shoe repairer, the latter was a craftsman who worked with new leather to make shoes.
Interestingly, the term “cordwainer” stems from the Spanish city of Córdoba. The word made its way to England via the Normans and was used to describe people who worked with cordovan leather. However, it soon evolved to describe a high-quality shoemaker.
Additionally, cordwain originally referred to a white goatskin as opposed to horse leather today.
The shoemaker’s guild, the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, received the right to regulate City of London trade in 1272. However, it wasn’t granted a royal charter of incorporation until 1439.
As guilds had the authority to enforce certain professional standards, cobblers were forbidden from working in new leather. Therefore, the shoe-making craft became highly specialised and was reserved for cordwainers.
Northamptonshire & The Shoe-making Boom
Northamptonshire’s reputed shoe-making heritage started with humble origins as a cottage industry in the Nene Valley.
This quiet county in central England proved to be an ideal location for the industry to flourish. While the River Nene ensured an abundance of fresh water for tanning, oak bark was easy to acquire locally.
Furthermore, the country’s geographical location made it the perfect trading hub. As a result, it proved ideal for dispatching the shoes while local cattle markets provided high-quality leather.
By the 1500s, the English had perfected the hand welting technique for constructing shoes and were revered by their foreign neighbours.
However, it was during the industrial revolution that the shoe-making business really blossomed in Northamptonshire and the rest of the United Kingdom.
While the county still prides itself for its hand or bench-crafted shoes today, the introduction of mechanisation gave it the opportunity to grow.
In 1864, the USA had perfected the McKay Blake stitch and Charles Goodyear Jr’s welting machine was introduced five years later. These devices quickly made their way across the Atlantic and greatly benefited the English shoe-making industry.
English Shoe-making In The 20th Century
The industry prospered and peaked just before the First World War. During this period, half of Northampton’s population was employed by either the shoe or leather industries.
Meanwhile, London’s own cordwainer scene blossomed with a plethora of shoe and bootmakers littered throughout the city. In fact, Bespoke Unit founder Paul Anthony’s grandfather was also a bootmaker and owned his own shop.
In both World Wars, many of the large-scale shoemakers were tasked with manufacturing boots for the Allied armed forces.
For instance, Grenson, Barker, and Loake listed above were all enlisted to provide towards the war efforts.
During the Second World War, the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers’ livery hall was destroyed in the London Blitz in 1941.
By the mid-20th Century, the industry began to experience its decline. Consequently, some manufacturing processes would be contracted abroad. Even entire brands would move their operations to other countries to save costs.
Unfortunately, some of these shoe-making firms would suffer as the quality of their products decreased. Not only was their reputation at risk but it also put the entire industry in peril.
Today’s English Shoe-Making Industry
Despite the industry having historically experienced a decline during the 20th Century, English shoes have experienced a renaissance. In many respects, Northamptonshire has remained the world’s shoemaking focal point against all the odds.
In fact, demand has risen to such an extent that the industry can’t keep up with the demand. As a result, the industry has developed a new apprenticeship scheme to draw people into the profession.
Today, the industry employs around 4,000 people throughout the United Kingdom and produces six million pairs of shoes a year of which half are exported. As for Northamptonshire itelf, it hosts 22 shoemakers and the number is growing.
According to Chairman Robert Perkins of the Northamptonshire-based British Footwear Association (BFA), “there’s a resurgence going on and we’re optimistic about the future.”
Sadly, the same can’t be said for London’s shoemaking industry. To our knowledge, only three genuine London shoe-making workshops remain today, which are George Cleverley, John Lobb Ltd, and Foster & Son.
Likewise, few guilds in modern London have the authority to exercise regulation and inspection. In the case of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, it has evolved to become largely a charitable body.
Similarly, it offers members networking opportunities thanks to its close relations with the curriers, leathersellers, saddles, and tallow chandlers guilds.
Why Buy English Shoes?
As you will have read above, England enjoys both a rich and prestigious shoe-making heritage. Despite the obstacles it has faced throughout the 20th Century, it has not only survived by thrived.
Consequently, English shoes have garnered a well-deserved reputation for their quality and craftsmanship. As a result, English shoes are often considered as reliable investments to discerning buyers.
While a few heritage brands moved their operations overseas, the companies that preserved their English manufacturing continue to offer some of the best quality footwear in the world.
Furthermore, English shoes today aren’t necessarily as stuffy and conservative as you might imagine. Although the country’s industry is often associated with tradition and convention, many historical brands are surprisingly innovative.
Indeed, most will offer classically conservative shoes but they also explore their own identities with breathtakingly contemporary designs too.
With stylish shoes that easily rival those made by the Italians and designer brands, you can also approach English shoemakers when seeking modern footwear. Furthermore, you will have the quality craftsmanship that comes with it.
That said, the traditional designs of English shoes will always be timelessly stylish in their own right.
Now that you have read about the best English shoe brands and their history, feel free to explore our other related guides:
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- Bespoke Unit Shoe Homepage
"What a brilliant guide. I learned a lot about the English shoe scene and now really appreciate their shoes. Great read!"Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★