Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Pocock Street is a quiet street leading into Blackfriars Road and almost the only visible reminder of Pocock Bros, once claimed to be the largest shoe manufacturing company in the world. Their premises were at the southern end of Southwark Bridge Road where the family run company, founded in 1826, had begun trading in 1826.
In 1815, Thomas was 25 years old and two events, probably connected, inspired him to establish the shoe making concern. He had a falling out with his family and he decided to leave the family firm and to make his way in the world independently. Also at this time he married a Miss Gotch from Northampton whose family was involved in shoe making, and Thomas decided to go in that direction. At this time, before mechanisation, all shoes were made by hand usually by one man trading on his own who would both make the shoes and repair them.
Thomas began trading in leather and other items needed by the shoemaking trade. He also sold bags and other items made of leather to retail outlets in the towns he visited and as a logical extension to this activity he began selling some of the goods made by his shoemaking customers to these retail outlets. Before long shoe wholesaling became a larger side of the business than supplying materials to shoemakers. In 1826, Thomas bought a shop and a large house at 235 Southwark Bridge
Road that included an orchard running through to Borough Road.
Just over 30 years later, as the railways expanded throughout London, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway required some of Pocock’s land to build a new viaduct to carry trains from Elephant and Castle to the centre of London. In 1863, Thomas Pocock built new premises on the Southwark Bridge Road site (see above), perhaps financed by the money the company received from the sale of their land to the railway. He also leased thirteen of the newly built arches in the viaduct as additional storage space and, at this time, had a workforce of 400.
It was only a matter of time before Pocock themselves began to manufacture and their output consisted of goods made on contract and goods for their own retail shops in London and the suburbs, numbering 40 in 1895. The firm was contracted to supply boots and shoes to the War Office, the Admiralty, the Metropolitan Police Commissioners, the Colonial Governments and many of the largest orphanages, workhouses, hospitals, asylums and public and philanthropic institutions throughout the country. They also manufactured more fashionable footwear made from the finest leather, athletic goods for cricket football and special boots and shoes for theatrical productions throughout Britain and overseas. Their brand names included Crest, Stereos, Winter King, Summer Queen, Castlephant, Amherst, Kozietoes and Krownall.
The company had sold the retail side of the business in 1902 to Freeman, Hardy and Willis to concentrate on manufacture and wholesale and discontinued their own manufacture in 1935 and began to sub-contract out, again to concentrate on the wholesale side of their business.
The founder Thomas Pocock had three sons – Thomas Gotch Pocock, Alfred Pocock and Ebenezer Pocock who all entered the business. By the turn of the century, the company was in the hands of Percy Laurence Pocock and Dudley Pocock, grand-children of Thomas Gotch Pocock and fourth generation Pococks. The former became Chairman and was still attending the office in 1962 at the age of 81. Dudley also took an interest in the business at this time and it was said the company expanded 20 fold under the direction of these brothers. Their sons, fifth generation, John Laurence, Maurice Dudley and Mark Alan, were running the company in 1962.
Disaster had struck in 1959 when the offices and warehouses in Southwark Bridge Road were devastated by fire. Plans were drawn up for the construction of new premises at the same address and the foundation stone laid on 19 August 1961 by Chairman Percy Laurence Pocock. His brother Dudley was present along with their sons, together with two members of the sixth generation who were only schoolboys at the time, cousins John Michael Pocock and Richard Alan Pocock. The new building cost £150,000 and was able to store 375,000 pairs of shoes.
The company then went the way of many long standing companies in the 1960s and afterwards. In 1969 Pocock Brothers merged with John Carter & Sons to become Pocock Carter and then in 1984 Pocock Carter was taken over by Headlam Sims and Coggins. The building at 235 Southark Bridge Road survives and forms the London campus of the University of West Scotland. The foundation stone laid by Percy Laurence Pocock in 1961 remains in the lobby together with the foundation stone laid by Thomas Pocock 1863 for the earlier building.
Source: Pocock Bros (1962) History of Pocock Bros