What's In Store... Freeman Hardy and Willis Plaque

What's in Store... interesting objects from Leicester Museums & Galleries Stores.

Published: 19 June 2020

Plaque depicting the headquarters of Freeman, Hardy and Willis, circa 1920s.

Freeman, Hardy and Willis were a shoe retailer established in 1875. It was named after three employees of the company, one of whom was Alfred Freeman, a Russian shoemaker.

For many years, there was a branch in nearly every town in the United Kingdom. In 1929, the company was acquired by what was to become the Leicester-based British Shoe Corporation.

The headquarters were located on Rutland Street in Leicester and were bombed in 1940. New headquarters were built on the site after the war.

British Shoe Corporation was the name the Sears Holding used to consolidate the shoe brands they had purchased. Along with Freeman, Hardy and Willis it acquired Manfield, Dolcis, Saxone, Lilley & Skinner shoe shop chains.

In the early 1990s, the British Shoe Corporation converted approximately half of the 540 Freeman Hardy Willis branches into Hush Puppies shops and sold the remainder to Stephen Hinchliffe, an entrepreneur from Sheffield. After only a year, Hinchliffe's business empire collapsed.

After providing "Shoes For All The Family" since 1875, by 1996 Freeman Hardy Willis was no more.