Clarks shoes

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The shoes pictured were made by the company now known as Clarks, in about 1850. The shoes are made from black leather, and elasticated cotton. The cotton was designed to give maximum comfort and to ensure that the shoe stayed firmly on the foot, without the use of laces which could become knotted, or cause a child to trip.

Clarks started as a small company in a Somerset village in 1825 when two brothers, Cyrus and James Clark, started tanning sheepskins for rugs. As the off-cuts and cast-offs were piling up, James had a brainwave: ‘Slippers!’. A few years later, the sheepskin slipper was born.

By the 1880s, Clarks were well-known for producing high quality, comfortable shoes. They were one of the first manufacturers to use different shapes for the left and the right foot – now normal practice. The shoes pictured however, are ‘straights’. As they were made in about 1850, the left and the right foot each has the same shape.