At its peak there were 26 shoe factories employing 12,000 people. In steep decline since the ‘70s, the last 10 years
has seen a mini-renaissance in the British footwear industry. For those leading shoe manufacturers who survived the
barren years, orders are increasing and production is booming. Flexing the parameters of irony, the same companies
that survived the factory closures of the Thatcher years have found consumer demand in places like China – when
cheap production at one time threatened this industry’s very core. Markets as far away as South Korea, Japan and the
Philippines have provided a lifeline for shoes made in Norwich.
As the last of the shoemaking giants relinquish their spaces in Norwich’s historic shoe quarter, there is one small
city manufacturer keeping the tradition alive. Handcrafting slippers and house shoes since 1874 - and still kept in
the family under the stewardship of Roger Jury, Bowhill & Elliott are quietly making slippers for British
royalty, presidents and film stars. Discretion and traditional methods of business are two of the reasons why the
factory underneath the shop’s floor on London Street, where it all started has been such a closely guarded secret.
The lifeblood of the business is held in the seven skilled artisans’ hands, who handcraft shoes and slippers to
Bowhill & Eliott are best-known for their embroidered slippers of which The Rake takes great pleasure in
stocking. Invitations to lavish balls in stately homes or in London’s grand hotels may not be occupying your
dresser, but there has perhaps never been a better time to invest in handmade slippers, which are now recognized as
an all-purpose shoe. One of the brand’s most popular styles, the black velvet slippers with embroidered stag’s head
can be worn well with jeans, T-shirts, blazers, suits and of course dinner clothes from day to dawn. The new-found
adaptability of the slipper has been a prominent reason of its resurgence. However, we’re not talking about the
crumpled sheepskin lined types. People across the globe are looking for slippers that are manufactured with
traditional methods with full provenance traceability. Very few firms can offer this and so it is no surprise that
Bowhill & Elliott’s slippers are extremely popular in the forward-thinking country of Japan. Often seen on the
feet of menswear icons at shows such as Pitti Uomo, Bowhill & Elliott’s business is greatly admired to those who
know about it.
Often deemed to be smart shoes, the comforting attributes of Bowhill & Eliott’s slippers are perhaps best-served
in the home. Their plain cotton/velvet Signature slipper, which come in either black or brown have an
ultra-comfortable quilted lining and slugged-leather sole, which make them the perfect every-day shoes to wear
around the house. To add a touch of detail, their Coronet slippers, with either a crown or cabaret skeleton
embroidered on the pair are also charming options. Wear with comfortable trousers and a knitted jumper – and you
won’t want to take them off to go outside.
It is so rare to come across traditional British shoemakers who are still honing their craft from the same premises
from where it all began, with such little fuss. Bowhill & Elliott might be going about their business
discreetly, but investing in a pair of their slippers will no doubt put any shoe buying disquiet to bed for a