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  • Richard Hanks

The New Shoemakers Museum at Clarks Village, Street

Updated: Jun 19

Wells Civic Society monthly meeting - 10th April 2024

Building a museum from scratch is Rosie’s idea of a dream job, which as Director of the Alfred Gillett Trust is what she is overseeing. She described a brief history of the Clark’s legacy, the extensive archives and the development of the new museum.

Rosie Martin, director of the Alfred Gillett Trust led the talk this month for Wells Civic Soc
Rosie Martin, director of the Alfred Gillett Trust led the talk this month

The sweet scent of nostalgia permeated the ambience at the April meeting of the Wells Civic Society as past memories were refreshed for many in the audience. Children’s brown buckle-up sandals; Wallabee and Desert boots; putting your feet into a device which X-rayed your young feet to ensure a healthy fit; these were the sort of things that gently lit fond recollections in the mind’s eye of so many, often with a wry accompanying chuckle.

These images were coming to life again as Rosie Martin, director of the Alfred Gillett Trust since 2021, enthusiastically illustrated the rapid progress being made towards the opening in 2025 of the new Shoemakers’ Museum at Clarks village, Street. But this state-of-the art-museum will by no means be only about sandals and primitive X-ray machines and things to do solely (no pun intended) with the chronology of the evolution of footwear fashions.

While it will show the history of 200 years of Clarks shoe manufacture, from when Cyrus Clark started the business, the collection will be much more than that, for there is indeed a vast, eclectic array of items awaiting display in purpose-built, themed galleries.

One aspect of the museum will be about the Clarks as a family and as generations of Quakers who, in effect, transformed Street into a Clarks company village and also put it on the map. Thus, their nonconformist values meant they built houses for the workers, schools, a swimming pool, library, clubs, theatre, the Crispin Hall and provided playing fields. These workers will themselves also very much have their place in the new museum and stories will be told of those who worked in the factory and business. There were instances when, for a period, piecework was in operation and safety guards might be taken off machines to increase their productivity, quite possibly with dire consequences. But there will mainly be testament to the sense of community and opportunities for social life that came with working for Clarks. This leads into the telling of the tale of the modern history and development of Street and how it has grown from its small village origins.

While The Grange, the familiar existing Grade 2 listed sixteenth century farmhouse, much developed, will be part of the museum, the new and impressive significant extra addition is currently under construction. This has included successfully relocating badgers to a specially designed set and gearing construction work so that several varieties of bat can hibernate safely.

In planning for the opening of what will surely rapidly become a significant attraction, there has been consultation as to what it is that people most want by way of facilities and attractions, the topmost of which turns out to be a cafe. The Trust has crystallised its target audiences, to include researchers, learners, families, and tourists but definitely not forgetting the local community, bearing in mind all the time that the Trust is essentially an educational charity, albeit one charged with protecting and preserving the collection. 

Clarks poster from the archives with Wells Cathedral in the background
Clarks poster from the archives

And what a collection. Yes, it’s about shoes, their manufacture, their history, the people who made them, the family responsible for the whole business, the development of Street, but it embraces so much more. It is to be wagered that a seriously important collection of fossils, especially, ichthyosaur, is not to be expected, but actually there certainly will be one. How come? Because Alfred Gillett, a cousin of the founders of Clarks but not connected with the business, was a serious amateur palaeontologist who amassed a fine collection.  And then,w

ho’s even heard of a Latin Verse Machine, called The Eureka? In the new museum, you will find this ingenious, extraordinary mechanism, created by John Clark in the mid 1800s, churning out Latin verse. So much to whet one’s appetite.

The size of the audience surely indicated what a pull Clarks, and all the name implies and stands for, still exerts locally, and with a presentation beautifully illustrated and vigorously delivered, Rosie had surely guaranteed the sale of a good few admission tickets when the Shoemakers’ Museum opens its doors. 

The next meeting will be on Wednesday, May 8, at 7pm in the Wells Museum, Cathedral Green. Members of the Wells Festival of Literature team will describe the festival in terms of its “Past, Present, and Future”, including examples of its charitable work with schools. Light refreshments are available: please note, cash only. All are welcome. For further details of this event or the society in general, please contact the chair, Chris Winter, email or is the society’s website.

Richard Hanks


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