Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Howlett and White

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September 1940

of St. George's Plain, Norwich - Head Offices and Factories. London Showrooms and Warehouses at 18 Newman Street, W1 and 44 and 45 Rathbone Place, W1. Telegrams: "Howlett, Norwich." Telephone: 48 Norwich. Codes: A. B. C. and Marconi. (1922)

of the Norvic Shoe Co, Norwich. Telephone: Norwich 1091. Cables: "Howlett, Norwich". (1929)

1846 James Howlett invested (what was then) the huge sum of £10,000 in the Norwich leather-currying business of Robert Tillyard. It was the start of a shoe-making empire that would become famous across the world and later turned into the Norvic Shoe Co.

At the time, Tillyard was operating from rooms on Elm Hill, but the money allowed him to move to bigger premises and expand — first in Princes Street, then in Swan Lane and later to St George’s Plain.

James encouraged his son, John Godfrey Howlett, to take an interest in the company and eventually he did.

1859 He studied the leather trade and by 1859 was cutting the uppers for harness and heavy boots.

He went on the road, travelling by pony and trap, collecting orders and covering vast distances. It was during a trip to Bourne in Lincolnshire that he met customer Thomas White and his 14-year-old son, George. George White was to become a famous Norwich man, a real working class hero.

1856 He agreed to join the Howlett company as a junior clerk, and worked his way to the top.

Eventually the firm became known as Howlett and White and it was White who realised that the policy of employing people who worked from home was wasting time, so they built factories. The factory at St George’s Plain grew to become one of the great shoe-making centres in the country, employing almost 2,000 people and producing 25,000 pairs of shoes a week.

1912 George White died at the age of 72. A life-long Liberal, he had been a man of the people. He had no formal education and started working at the age of 16. He never forgot his workers and looked after them well. When he died the city came to a standstill. Hundreds of people turned out to pay their last respects.

He was described as the father of the shoe industry who played a huge role in the development of Norwich. They named a school after him.

The company moved into the control of the sons of the founders, who also played a major part in civic life in Norwich. It continued to expand to become the biggest shoe factory under one roof in the British Isles.

WWI. During the First World War, Norwich factories, accustomed to making light women's shoes, turned over to making heavy army boots, not only for the British Army, but for other Allied Armies. These included heavy brogue shoes for Highland Regiments, Italian Alpine boots, boots for the French Army, sheep skin lined thigh boots for airmen and one firm even made Cossack boots for the Russian Army. As men joined the forces women took their place on the factory floor, often working machines formerly only worked by men. Because of the blockade of shipping and the shortage of materials, Norwich firms could not continue to export as they had done before and exports to Germany, such as "Tenacious Tennis Shoes" made by Howlett and White, stopped.

Post-WWI. After the war it became clear that many countries that had previously imported British shoes had since built up their own industry.

1922 British Industries Fair Advert (double page) for "The Premier Export House in Norwich". The Norvic Shoe Co. Manufacturers of Ladies' Fine Evening Shoes in Satins and Brocades, Walking Pumps in Black and Coloured Glace Kid, Welted and Machine Sewn Walking Shoes, Children's Shoes, Dancing Pumps for Men, Tennis and Sports Shoes for Men and Women, Canvas and Poplin Shoes, Sandals, etc. Makers of Norvic, the Shoe de Luxe and Mascot Shoes for Women. Also "An Example of a Court Shoe." (Stand No. J.153) [1]

1929 British Industries Fair Advert as 'Sole Makers and Distributors of Norvic and Mascot Shoes'. (Textiles and Clothing Section - Stand No. R.71) [2]

In the period between the wars Norwich, like all British footwear manufacturing centres, had to concentrate on the home market and secure as large a share of the home sales as possible. Advertising and building up of strong brand names became increasingly more important. Names given to successful brands of shoes were adopted as names for whole firms. Thus Howlett and White became 'Norvic'.

1946 Advert on this page for Norvic shoes. [3]

1981 The company closed.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1922 British Industries Fair Adverts cxiv and cxv; and p40
  2. 1929 British Industries Fair Advert 187; and p84
  3. [1] History World
  • [2] Norwich Evening News 24
  • [3] Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service