The Shoe Museum, Street
Street in Somerset is a shoe town, well more accurately a village. Since the 1830s Clarks have been making shoes in Street, and while their shoes are now manufactured abroad, its headquarters are still located there. Within these headquarters is housed the most delightful little museum.
Passing through the corporate-style glass doors you find the introductory section which tells of the origins of Clarks and has a fabulous display of some of the fearsome foot measuring machines that used to feature in their shops. There’s also a selection of shop display showcards from the thirties, fifties and sixties. In fact ‘showcard’ does them an injustice - some are stylish and charming little 3D dioramas.
Up the wooden staircase the museum really gets into its stride, with a comprehensive chronological display of the history of shoes, housed in simple vitrines with hessian backed displays, a touch that reminds me of museums in the seventies and perhaps gives a clue as to when this museum was established. While the overriding emphasis is on shoes worn in Britain, from Roman times on, there are plenty of examples of footwear from all over the world, including some adorable Chinese silk children’s shoes. Even the most resistant visitor will soon be fascinated, as my (male) companion will happily confirm.
There’s plenty of contextual information should you need it, especially from the 19th century and on, including fashion pictures, advertisements, catalogue illustrations and photographs of shops. But its also possible, and perfectly natural, just to ooh and aah. One thing you can’t do it is rush through it - there’s so much to detain you despite its small size. Importantly, you are welcome to take pictures, something that cannot be taken for granted in many museums these days.
After the display of historic and international shoes is a room plastered with material from the Clarks archive about the company’s history. I have to confess that I skipped through most of this because I didn’t have much time to spare but it demonstrated that the company has been conscientious in keeping records and documents throughout its existence. The final section houses Clarks own shoes, from children’s shoes (more gorgeous showcards!), to a generous selection of twenties and thirties dance shoes (my ostensible reason for being there), to the venerable desert boot. Often, the original prices were noted on the information cards, which pleased me greatly for some reason; in1927 you could buy a pair of silver brocade shoes costing 21/6, and for 2/- extra they could be dyed in any colour you fancied!
Clarks shoes has an interesting history, its founders being Quakers with a social conscience and a paternalistic attitude to their employees, and Quaker ethics still inform its policies to this day. This is the corporate museum of a huge international concern but it doesn’t feel like one, being modest in scale and not the least bombastic or triumphalist. In fact I was rather disappointed that there wasn’t more merchandise at the front desk beyond a twirly rack of postcards. But then, the money you save not buying souvenirs can be used in the nearby Clarks Shoe Village - the first purpose built factory outlet in the UK according to Wikipedia - where I challenge you not to come home with a pair of bargain Clarks!
Shoe Museum photos
More of Trevira's Shoe Museum photos
How to get there
Shoe Museum, High Street (opposite the Bear Inn), Street, Somerset (free entry). Google map.