His skills were passed down to his greatgrandson Thomas who opened a small factory with his sons and his wife Eliza in Northampton, on 1st May 1873. Northampton is a town not far from London with a history in shoemaking dating back to Cromwellian times.
In the space of a few years, Church’s was transformed from a craft workshop into a benchmark firm for high-quality footwear, both locally and for the most demanding shoe shops in London and elsewhere in Europe.
By the early 1880s the business was expanding so rapidly that William Church had to travel the country to keep up with new orders. As his special product, William had the “Adaptable” shoe, which in stark contrast to the “straight” shoes, was available in 6 widths in every style and material and in half sizes too. This shoe won the Gold Medal at the latest Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1881.
Church’s began to explore potential markets abroad later in the 1890s, beginning by sending a representative to the Union of South Africa in 1897 and others to Belgium, France, Italy, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was not until 1907 that William first found buyers in America and Canada for Church’s shoes.
1921 saw the first Church’s shop in London. In the same year, the multi-fitting “Archmoulded” shoes for ladies was introduced, in response to a new society in which both women and fashion were becoming prominent.
In 1929 the first shop abroad was opened in New York’s Madison Avenue. That store experienced the rigours of the Depression but survived and flourished to the present days.
Between the 2 wars Church’s became actively involved in the development of the footwear industry as a whole and so it remains. In 1919 the British Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association was created with Church’s as a founder-member and through this partnership the Northampton Technical College was established in 1925.
During the Second World War, Church’s centered the production on footwear for the armed services. The early postwar years were difficult economically. The society was undergoing a great evolution and so was Church’s. Inside the Company, a day nursery for employees’ children was provided, an Industrial Welfare Officer appointed and a contributory staff pension scheme made available.
In the early 50s, Church’s decided to enter domestic retail more fully via concessions to Austin Reed and purchasing three other manufacturers and retailers, Jones, Crashaw and James Allan. In 1957 a new factory was inaugurated in Northampton, St. James Road, which is still the Company worldwide headquarters. Church’s international expansion continued apace with new branches in America, Canada, Italy, Japan and Hong Kong.
The visit of HRH the Queen Elizabeth II in 1965, together with the prestigious Queen’s Award for exports, put the official seal of recognition on Church’s status as a leading international brand.
During Pierce Brosnan's tenure as James Bond, various selections of dress shoes from the Church's range were used in production. Lindy Hemming, who was the costume designer explained the choice of Church's shoes as having the appropriate weight to complement the silhouette of the tailored Brioni suits she had commissioned for Bond.
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond wears Church's Diplomat, Church's Chetwynd, in the movie GoldenEye (1995) and Church's Presley in the movie The World is Not Enough.
Daniel Craig as James Bond wears Church Philip and Church's Ryder III in Quantum of Solace
Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, has a "lucky pair" of Church's shoes that he wore to every session of parliamentary "question time."
Find store locations on the Church's website.