There can’t be many shoppers in Britain who haven’t heard of Clarks shoes. There is a Clarks shop in most high streets. And Street in Somerset, an important area of sheep farming, is where it all began. In the village of Street, James Clark was working at the tannery owned by his brother Cyrus when he had a brainwave to use up the offcuts and castoffs from the sheepskin rugs. He had invented the sheepskin slipper or as it was known , the Brown Petersburg. By 1842 1000 pairs a month, of the hand stitched slippers month were being sold, and the Clark Brothers won two awards at the Great Exhibition in 1851. When recession hit in 1863 the brothers James and Cyrus stepped down and James’s youngest son William took over. William modernised the manufacturing process by bringing in the Singer sewing machine and the factory system, C&J Clark was soon revitalised and in 1883 the first shoe to fit the shape of the foot was launched. From there they took one big step forward!
Today Clarks make most of their shoes overseas. Closing their factories in the UK was essential for them to be able to compete in a global market. Their head office though is still in Street, near Glastonbury. In 1993 the old factory buildings were converted into Clarks Village probably the first purpose built factory outlet village in the UK, where you can buy Clark’s shoes and a whole lot more!
We took advantage of some bargains and then headed off to our Premier Inn, a stopover on the way to Cornwall.
Right next to the Premier Inn is another fascinating building. The Red Brick Building was once a tannery. In 1870’s a new partnership between James Clark and his son William and John Morland, James’s son in law, was formed bringing new capital into the building. The firm Clark son and Morland (later Morlands) went into production with 65 employees. In 1906 Morland introduced sheepskin motor rugs and footmuffs for passengers in motor cars. During the second world war Morlands made flying boots for the Air Ministry and skins for other firms to make into flying clothing. In the post war years, Morlands became Glastonbury’s largest employer. However eventually the company was unable to compete and the building finally fell into disuse.
In 2008 it was saved from demolition from a group of young people with a vision, and the Red Brick Building Centre Community Benefit society was formed in August 2009. Thanks to a community share offer, loans and grants, the Red Brick Building has started to come back into use in the community. There is still a huge way to go though, due to the sheer scope and size of the building.
In 2013 the building opened for business providing studios, exhibition and event space, hot desks, workspace, a community garden, radio station and – of most interest to two hungry travellers – a restaurant. The Bocobar run by local restauranteurs, provided us with a very good supper !