Welcome to a new bit of my blog. It’s called A Brit Excellent, which is very clever isn’t it.
It’s because I bloody love Britain. I love our humour, our quirkiness and all the excellent things we make, so this is a little nod to those. A small celebration of British brands, foods, people and places that I love.
I decided 2016 is the year I stop wearing clothes usually kept for people on kid’s TV and grow up. And so I bought my first pair of Grensons.
Jon (my sweetheart) has a pair of beaten up oxblood Grenson brogues which always look brilliant and are part of the reason I fell for him. Lauren Laverne is a Grenson fan and Elly Pear (who is excellent and you should follow on Instagram immediately) is one of their pin up girls. Not only are they amazing shoes but the story of the brand is equally good.
William Green started making shoes in a loft in Northamptonshire in 1866. His mother had taught him to make men’s boots and he opened one of the earliest shoemaking factories in 1874. They opened a bigger factory in Kensington in 1895 where they stayed making shoes and boots until 2013.
When William died, William and Sons was shortened to Grenson and became one of the first names ever to be registered in the UK. They made shoes and boots for the Armed Forces during both wars, including a clever zip which made the flying boot easier to run in.
I didn’t know that Grenson sales then started to decline in the 1970s and it was only in 2008 that the first shop was opened on Liverpool Street London. The first women’s collection for 30 years was launched in 2011 and this year is the 150th Anniversary. To mark it they are creating the “Archive Collection” to reproduce the original shoes and cover all decades of their shoemaking.
Now I can’t remember where I saw the Grenson brogues with neon panels but I fell in love with them. I went along to the shop on Meard Street, an almost Dickensian little road in Soho, where the lady who worked there told me it was probably part of the Grenson:LAB range. LAB launched at Libertys in 2013 and allows you to design your own shoes, choosing the specific colours and textures you want. I have vowed one day I WILL do this.
Until then, I decided I would go for the silver brogues called “Emily” after finding them on the website. I love her brilliant white sole which makes them almost look like trainers. We trotted back down to Meard Street to the chocolate box of a shop with it’s little window panes and lovely rug, almost disappointed there wasn’t an open fire burning. There was however Tim from Corrie in a flat cap having a look at some brown lace ups so this more than made up for it.
I did that typical faux browsing you have to do when you already know what you came in for. The shop is sparse and dark with shoes on bookcases and a huge full length so it kind of felt I like I was in their front room as I sat on a chair in front of a locked door. Everything is perfectly placed, mis matching chairs and big lily display with little pots of wax and different coloured laces. Apart from shoes that’s pretty much it. Emily and I hit it off and after some debate between 4 and ½ or 5, I bought them.
Advice from Grenson man Luke is to look after them, something historically I’ve never been very good at. He said to rub beeswax into them to make them soft, don’t wear them in the rain and resole them. Luke talked about how amazing they look all beaten up but then with a brand new sole. He said Grenson would always resole them but don’t take them anywhere else because then they can’t touch them. I asked how long until they would need new soles, thinking about 9 months seemed right. Luke gazed up thinking before saying “maybe, 10, 15 years?”
I love them so much I wore them out of the shop.