The True-Form Boot Company was founded by John (known as Jack) Sears, from Nottigham in the late nineteenth century. In 1884, at the age of 14, Jack Sears left school to train as a cobbler. Once his apprenticeship was over, he decided to open his own business. He began by repairing shoes and soon after started making bespoke models with the help of his wife. At the time shoes were generally expensive and even though his were of good quality, customers often complained about the price they had to pay. This gave him the idea to produce lower quality shoes at low prices for the masses. Success was immediate and soon afterwards, Sears opened a small factory and then a larger one. The True-Form Boot Company, with its factory and network of own shops was born. Within a few years Jack Sears accumulated a fortune large enough to purchase Collingtree Grange, an impressive country house just outside Northampton. He died in 1916 at the age of 46, leaving his wife Caroline with the majority of shares in John Sears & Co. (True-Form Boot Co. Ltd). The company continued to expand and in 1927 it bought Freeman, Hardy & Willis and its 551 outlets to become the largest shoe retailer in Britain.
By the time of Caroline Sears's death in 1952, J. Sears & Co. controlled around 900 outlets, mostly through F, H & W. Caroline had remained the major shareholder in the company but the family and the board hadn't planned for her death. More specifically they hadn't made any provision to avoid the very high death duties that existed at the time. In order to pay the duties on Caroline's estate, her son Stanley (the father of racing driver 'Gentleman' Jack Sears) was forced to sell his family's shares in the company.
The news of Caroline's death and Stanley's financial problems sent the value of the shares down on the London stock market. This paved the way for Charles Clore to gain control of the company. Clore, the son of a clothing manufacturer from the East End, had made a fortune during the Second World War by investing in properties. He acquired them at low prices and after the war made money by selling the leasehold and buying back a long lease. By 1948 he had made enough money to be able to purchase several companies before stripping them of their valuable assets. These included Furness Shipbuilding in 1951 and Bentley Engineering in 1952. The same year he was made aware by an estate agent that the value of J. Sears & Co. on the stock market was much lower than its true worth. Through Investment Registry Ltd, of which he was director, Clore made a successful bid for the company in 1953, and immediately sold its properties to insurance and other leasing companies before buying the lease back. In the process Clore pocketed £4 million.
Following this take over, Charles Clore had Sears buy Furness and Bentley from him, netting an appreciable £11.760 million, and in 1955 brought all these companies together into Sears Holding Ltd, a company with no link to the Sears family whatsoever. In 1962 Clore reorganized his footwear interests into the British Shoe Corporation. All these shops and brands, except Dolcis, were sold in 1996 to Stylo plc, which decided to consolidate them into its Barratts and PriceLess Shoes brands. Therefore many familiar footwear names, including True-Form, were axed. As for Sears Holdings, it was acquired in 1999 by Philip Green's Arcadia Group.
Gents & [*]
*: indicates parts painted twice, originally in red.
Until early 2009 part of this sign was hidden behind a modern billboard. The shop next door still obscures the last line, which can only be seen by standing next to the wall.
March 2012 update: this ghost sign is now once more hidden behind a billboard. See here.
Location: The Broadway / Picture taken in February 2009