Monday, May 4, 2020

Ludlow, Shropshire

Hurrah for Jesse Boot!

When searching among my Ludlow pictures a couple of days ago, I came across this one, the mark of one of the most familiar names on the UK High Street. Jesse Boot was an exemplary businessmen of the 19th century. In an age of quack medicine and dodgy ingredients, he sought to sell only pharmaceuticals that were made of pure ingredients and that had the effect that was claimed for them. In a period when it was common for bosses not to care about staff conditions and wellbeing, he made these things a priority. At a time when many were driven (as when are people not?) to accumulate a huge fortune and use it for selfish ends, he gave away vast sums on education and workers’ welfare. He worked hard, and drove himself so hard that he risked seriously damaging his health – but was saved by a forced holiday…on which he managed to meet Florence, the love of his life, who became equally influential in the business they built together.

Among the many things, it is said, that Jesse did was to design his company’s logo, the distinctive wordmark with ‘Boot’s’ in a flowing script, usually enclosed in an oval. That symbol, dating from 1883, is recognised all over the country. Like any good logo, it has been used everywhere, from invoices to shop signs, advertisements to paper bags. Here it is below the window of a Boot’s premises in Ludlow, made, for a change, in mosaic. This method was often used to attach the shop name indelibly to an entrance, on the ground in front of the door. Here it works just as well on the narrow strip (the stall riser, in archi-speak) beneath the window. Making a sign of such durable materials, and ones needing a craftsman and plenty of time to produce, is a testimony to the way companies like Boot’s took a long view of their business. A shop with a sign like this was not going to be here today but gone tomorrow. Nor was it gong to reinvent itself every five minutes, in the way businesses have wanted to do more recently. Boot’s developed, to be sure, but it was still Boot’s. And to millions of shoppers, sick and healthy alike, that spoke volumes.


Jenny Woolf said...

wHSmith was also notable for this - a few wonderful shops from the early days still survive

Philip Wilkinson said...

Jenny: Yes. Thank you. If you look at my Instagram account (@philipbuildings) over the next couple of days, you'll find some examples of tiles from the W H Smith shop in Newtown, Powys. I normally post on Instagram in groups of three, over three days, so there's one there right now (Monday), two more to appear.