No 24 Fleet Street is one of the buildings I mention in the New Swindon/town centre trail that I wrote in my Born Again Swindonian guidebook. The whole point of that trail – indeed the entire book – is to urge and encourage the reader to find the interest, the story – yes even the beauty – in the less obvious. It exhorts one to look up because so often that’s where you’ll find the aforementioned.

And this building is no exception. Indeed it’s a perfect example. At street level, as the photograph below shows, it’s pretty dire. In fact, it’s a bloody eyesore. BUT – look up and you see the remnants of a once attractive building. Or at least you did before developers got their hands on it. And more of that at the end.

 No 24 Fleet Street 1902 - taken late March 2023
No 24 Fleet Street 1902 – taken late March 2023

The images below show the windows on No 24 Fleet Street before developers mucked about with it. With thanks to Strolling in Swindon for these. Well – I’m calling it Fleet Street but of course, being on the corner, it’s Fleet Street and Bridge Street.

Now compare and contrast:

The drainpipe records this building as being built in 1902. Thanks to Strolling in Swindon for this one.

Drainpipe with date circled

The Public Benefit Boot Company

Anyway, way before this building housed the Liquor Lounge and various other drinking establishments before that, it housed the Public Benefit Boot Company. And doesn’t that sound grand? Indeed, as this website points out, the company name makes a grandiose claim to philanthropy and altruism. In Victorian times such claims were pretty commonplace and often little more than a cynical advertising ploy. Below you see it in its heyday. Thanks to “Local Studies (Swindon Libraries)”  for use of the image taken on April 30, 1908.

No 24 Fleet Street Swindon also known as The Public Benefit Boot Company
No 24 Fleet Street Swindon also known as The Public Benefit Boot Company
Source: Scan of a postcard from our image collection.
Date: 1908.
Postmark: 30th April 1908, East Dowes.
Repository: Local Studies at Swindon Central Library.

When, in 1875, this company came into being, multiple branch retail was a new thing. The multiple system promised to bring cheaper goods within reach of the working classes by following three key principles:

  • Cutting out the middleman
  • Refusing credit – no cash – no buy
  • Bulk purchasing

Many companies thus fulfilled their noble pledge to benefit the public. They also made a tidy fortune for their founders and managers.

The Founder

1875 saw William Henry Franklin opened the doors of his meagre Public Benefit Boot shop for the first time. The Victorian era was enjoying a period of prosperity. great technological progress, enormous optimism and expansion. Within thirty years his little shop in Hull had evolved into a nationwide network of 200 boot stores. Also several repair shops and four modern factories stretching from Newcastle to Cornwall, South Wales and Ireland.

Franklin worked with other shoe making families. He co-operated with the likes of Lennard, Dickinson, Harker, Kirby, and Hunn. Lennard and Franklin were soon making and selling boots and shoes by the million. They cut out the middle man; gave no credit; and consistently made quality and fashionable shoes.

Advertising was critical to their success. And Henry Lennard used a special cart carrying a large boot which stood four feet high from which the driver’s head and torso stuck out as he drove the horse.

1883 saw the horse-drawn boot registered as a trade mark in Bristol. They’d merged with Dickinson’s in 1897 and again with Lennards after 1904. After the Second World War they renamed themselves the Benefit Footwear Ltd. They merged with Saxone and Lilly & Skinner in 1957 and became part of Charles Clore’s British Shoe Corporation in 1962. And that’s when the name finally vanished from so many high streets.

The developerswhat’s occurring

Via Strolling in Swindon – and you’d do well to watch that page for updates on the situation.

‘… the developers working in Regent Street have removed the elaborate window from the corner shop, that’s been there since 1902 and replaced it with modern PVC windows. This it appears, is completely contrary to the plans submitted to the Council for planning permission, and contrary to the permission granted. 

The Council are aware of this and I’ve since been told that the Council are furious that the developers haven’t followed the original plans. Permission wasn’t given to remove the window frames unless they were to be restored. Further they were given clear instructions that they were not to be removed. One stipulation was that ‘The development hereby permitted shall not be used or occupied until the facades including windows and all masonry detail of numbers 18, 22 and 24 Bridge Street and 16 Fleet Street have been restored and refurbished.’

The council are making an active planning enforcement investigation after the public made complaints about the loss of the windows.

And this lovely vintage street sign has disappeared too. That’ll be on Ebay I’ll be bound.

Vintage Fleet Street enamel sign
Vintage Fleet Street enamel sign

See more Swindon in 50 More Buildings posts here:

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