Our history, one that spans centuries, paints a meaningful portrait of a brand that fully appreciates the value of tradition and how it can keep us grounded while propelling us forward. Much like any structure, heritage is built from the ground up, maintaining stability and strength by staying faithful to foundations, possessing an astute sense of the present and an unwavering focus on the future.next
A Legacy is Born
A Legacy is Born
The Church family tree can be traced back to as early as 1675 when Stone Church, the company founder’s great-grandfather, was born in Northampton, a town that has been known for its thriving leather and footwear industry since Cromwellian times. The skills and mantle of Master Cordwainer were passed down from generation to generation, all the way to Stone’s great-grandson, Thomas, who would establish the world-renowned eponymous brand nearly two centuries later.next
In a small workshop at 30 Maple Street in Northampton on the 1st of May, Thomas, his wife Eliza and his two sons, Alfred and William decided to set up a small factory, marking the official birth of Church’s Shoes. This structure would house the company only until 1880 when they would eventually expand to a larger premise on Duke Street. At this point, the majority of work was still being carried out in the homes of individual craftsmen, though over the next twenty years, all of the manufacturing processes would be brought in-house.next
Growth and Gold Medals
Growth and Gold Medals
These first few decades would prove crucial to the growth of the company as the number of orders continued to rise, developing in stride with the end of the early Victorian boom and the rise of factory industrialisation.
In a bold break with the footwear trends of the time and an early manifestation of the brand’s innovative spirit, William introduced the revolutionary concept of right and left shoes in the “Adaptable” model, advertised to be available in a variety of widths, materials and unheard-of half sizes. Another style, the Trademarked “Adapted” boot, went on to win the Gold Medal at the 1881 Great Exhibition.
An Evolving Clientele
An Evolving Clientele
As the end of the century approached, William turned his eye to foreign markets and began to lay the foundations for its export business, sending representatives to South Africa, Belgium, France, Italy, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire. The growing success of the American footwear industry during this time would open the company’s eyes to the vast potential of this new market.
Thomas, the father, retired in 1892 and made his youngest son, Thomas Dudley, an associate partner. Two years later, a major reorganisation led to the rebuilding of the Duke Street structure into a six-storey modern factory.
During this period, the brand’s range of sporty and casual footwear expanded considerably, echoing the continuously evolving tastes of the clientele.
Here and There
Here and There
By 1907, the first deliveries were being made to the American and Canadian markets, solidifying the foundations on which the brand would continue to grow. In 1910, Church’s offered special lasts to U.S. retailers like Lord & Taylor and the English shoes began to make their way across the country, beginning to appear on America’s West Coast and throughout Canada.
When King George and Queen Mary visited Northampton in 1913, Church’s had the honour of creating a pair of shoes to be presented to the Royal princess and in 1919, Church’s acted as founding member of the British Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association, now known as SATRA.
The Dynamic Decade
The Dynamic Decade
The Roaring Twenties saw major upheaval in terms of lifestyle, culture and fashion. In 1921, Church’s opened its first boutique in London and introduced the brand’s first women’s shoe, “Archmoulded”, shaped to the foot’s arch.
Through the company’s partnership with SATRA (the research and technology centre of which Church’s was a founding member), the Northampton Technical College was established in 1925.
In 1929, the company strengthened its foreign presence even further by opening its very first store abroad on Madison Avenue in New York City, an outpost that would weather the Great Depression and remain for nearly 70 years until it was moved to its current location at 689 Madison Avenue. In this same year, Church’s launched the iconic Shanghai model, which was recently reissued from the archives to resounding success.
1940s – 1950s
During the Second World War, Church’s concentrated its manufacturing efforts on producing shoes for the armed forces. After braving the trying economic times of the post-war period, the company underwent several significant developments, including the introduction of new employee benefits like a day-care centre and pension scheme.
In the early 1950s, the brand fortified its domestic presence through concessions in Austin Reed and the purchase of manufacturers and retailers, Jones, Crashaw and James Allan. Around this time, a new range of women’s footwear was launched as well.
In 1957, a new factory was inaugurated in St. James Road, where the company’s headquarters still reside today, while branches continued to open abroad in North America, Italy, Japan and Hong Kong.
In the brand’s second royal encounter, HM Queen Elizabeth II visited Church’s and bestowed the company with the prestigious Queen’s Award to Industry for excelling in exports. This achievement further demonstrated Church’s growing recognition as a distinguished name in the international footwear industry.next
A new chapter
A new chapter
In 1999, with the support of the family, Church’s was acquired by the Prada Group, a paradigm of artisanal excellence in its own right and the ideal ally to help the shoemaker take its brand to the next level. Prada, whose luxury leather goods and shoes have enjoyed international renown for over a century, combined its inherent appreciation of heritage with a more marketing-oriented mentality to evolve Church’s global strategy. This new path saw a continued, rigorous dedication to craftsmanship and the label’s quintessential English identity with some adjustments, such as the introduction of contemporary and seasonal styles alongside the more traditional offering.next
2000s to present
The early years of the century saw the opening of several boutiques in international capitals throughout the world, including Milan and Paris in 2001, Rome and St. Moritz in 2002 and New York City in 2003.
Starting in 2008, the brand set a new development strategy in motion, leading to a slew of international openings in Venice, Bologna, Leeds, Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Singapore. In July 2011, the first shop totally dedicated to the women’s collections was inaugurated at the heart of London’s luxury shopping district in New Bond Street.
A true icon is defined not only by the impact that it makes at the moment of its revealing, but the lasting relevance it enjoys more than half a century later.
In 1929, Church’s presented the Shanghai, a completely innovative style that was designed for Englishmen living abroad (particularly in the Far East) and one that redefined men’s footwear. In 2009, after finding an original model at the Northampton factory, the brand decided to re-issue an identical version with an intentionally vintage feel, a move that successfully resonated with clients, retailers and the fashion industry.
The shoe’s structure – a unique composite of a monk strap and brogue with tassel detail – is offset by a palette of natural shades, which serve to subtly tone down the elegance factor. The Shanghai’s aesthetic, which was considered avant-garde as much in 1929 as it is now, combines tradition with modernity, successfully achieving that ever-fickle balancing act between sophisticated and sporty.
The Shanghai’s most defining characteristic is the original rubber sole, which features an artfully designed “CHURCH CO” logo across the bottom and took an entire year to reproduce. This remarkable sole has appeared periodically throughout the brand’s style repertoire and was created to resist wear and tear, offering up the added benefit of versatility to an already exemplary shoe.
The contemporary rendition, which is constructed exactly as it was in 1929, features yet another element of distinction – the shoes are intentionally broken in and weathered by hand to fully evoke the vintage spirit of the original.
The Shanghai demonstrated Church’s foresight and innovative spirit when it was introduced while the style’s re-issue established its undeniable status as an icon of timeless elegance.
Our shoes have been known the world over for their superior quality and incredible durability for nearly a century and a half and for good reason – it takes us up to eight weeks and more than 250 manual steps to craft a single pair.
A shoe is only as good as its construction, which is precisely why we use the world’s finest manufacturing processes – the Goodyear method – to create it. We take a strip of leather, known as the welt, and sew it around the bottom of the upper and the insole. That same welt is then sewn onto the sole. This particular composition bestows every pair with an unparalleled level of resistance and allows for future refurbishments, lengthening its lifespan by years or even decades.
From the meticulous selection of leather and brogue perforating to the construction and final stages of finishing and polishing, our team of experienced craftsmen undertakes every step of the manufacturing process of the men’s collection at our factory in Northampton with passion and dedication. Given the artisanal quality of our work, we can say with confidence that every shoe we craft is its own unique masterpiece.
The founding family’s shoemaking roots date back to 1675 as artisanal traditions and an unwavering dedication to quality and craftsmanship have been passed down from one family member and artisan to the next – a heritage of excellence that gives us our staying power, making our clientele among the most loyal. Clients, with years of firsthand experience in the reliability and excellence of the Church’s product, readily convey their appreciation of an exquisitely made shoe to sons and grandsons alike, introducing them to the brand as if bequeathing a well-kept secret. The appeal of Church’s quite literally spans generations, bearing further testament to the versatility of our collections, attracting the seasoned buyer as easily as the dress shoe dilettante.
Church’s shoes, on average, take about eight weeks and more than 250 manual operations to produce, constructed with the world-renowned Goodyear method that allows for refurbishment – even the most worn in pair will come back looking like new. In terms of aesthetic, the classic elegance of their design – some models have been around for over a century – is a trend that never goes out of style.
The integrity of Church’s, both as a brand and as a product, lies in its timelessness and its ability to transcend time, age and generations.