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Moses Philip Manfield was born on July 26th, 1819, the son of a working-class Bristol cordwainer (shoemaker). When Philip (he preferred ‘Philip’ to ‘Moses’) was only two years old his father had to give up shoemaking because of ill-health. He set up a small bookstall which Philip often tended as a very young child. Since the family was poor it was necessary for Philip to earn money from an early age and he held various positions between the ages of seven and twelve.

Philip was educated by his mother until he was twelve years old when he was apprenticed to a Bristol boot closer. Intelligent and hard-working, Philip prospered in his work but he encountered prejudice in Bristol because of his working-class background. In 1843, after a brief spell in London, he moved to Northampton to become manager of a shoe manufacturing business owned by a Mr Swann. The business soon failed but, helped by local Unitarians and encouraged by the wife of his previous employer, in 1844 he set up in business himself making cheaper shoes and gaining government contracts.

In 1845 he married Elizabeth Newman. They had one child who died; Elizabeth herself died in 1852.

In 1854 he married Margaret Milne and they had two sons: Harry, born in 1855, and James, born in 1856. Margaret came from the Kettering Road area of Northampton.

Shoe manufacture at that time was mainly performed by out-workers but in 1856 (according to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) - other sources give different dates) Philip opened a large new warehouse in Campbell Square, where Isaac, Campbell & Co. was also developing shoe-making premises. With the introduction of the new closing machines (Singer sewing machines adapted for sewing together leather uppers) these premises became two of the first true shoe-making factories in the town and increasing numbers of people were employed in them. By the 1890s Manfield employed 630 workers in his factory but these were still outnumbered by home-workers.

The two brothers were made partners in 1878 soon after James came of age. Philip formally retired in 1890 but he was still a partner and took an interest in the enterprise for the rest of his life. He became increasingly involved in politics and succeeded Charles Bradlaugh as MP for Northampton from 1891 to 1895. He was knighted on July 18th, 1894.

In 1892 the Manfields purchased Monks Park Spinney, a four-acre wood in Wellingborough Road where they built a modern shoe factory which was capable of making 350,000 pairs of shoes per year.

Manfield Shoes

The firm had started selling direct to the public through shops called Cash & Co: they had three such shops in London from 1878-1883. They became Manfields in 1884 and by 1889 had 16 branches, 21 by 1895 and 30 by 1900. In 1898 they opened in Paris and by 1923 had 70 branches worldwide, 13 of which were in Paris.

Sir Philip and Lady Margaret lived in Redlands in Cliftonville and were Unitarians by conviction. They provided all the funds for the 400 seat Kettering Road Free Church in Abington Square, the foundation stone of which was laid by Lady Manfield on 25th March 1896.

They died within a few weeks of each other in July, 1899. Sir Philip was 80 years old and died of ‘organic disease and general senility’. He left £68,344 gross.

Sources & Further Information

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004) contains a short biography of Sir Moses Philip Manfield with sources. It is available online at: www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/47893.

An account of Manfield's life (“Sir Philip Manfield: A Romance of the Leather World”) written around 1901 can be found in: Fortunes Made in Business or Life Struggles of Successful People, pp. 345-352, London: Amalgamated Press; reprinted in 2003 by the Kessinger Publishing Company. Selected pages of this may be available to view online at Google Books.

For Philip Manfield’s connections with the Northampton Unitarians, see: www.northamptonunitarians.org.uk/story3.php

An interesting article on "Mechanisation and Northampton’s shoemakers" appears on the BBC Legacies webpages. It mentions MP Manfield and has small pictures of the factory in Wellingborough Road. (Unfortunately, it calls him 'Mansfield'!)

Information about the mechanisation of the Northamptonshire boot and shoe industry is also presented on the Northamptonshire Timeline at: www.northamptonshiretimeline.com/scene/1857-boot-and-shoe/

The Northamptonshire history website (www.northamptonshire-history.org.uk/?p=10) unfortunately contains a number of errors which appear to be copied from: www.dychurchlifestyle.co.uk/hints/.

The My Learning website is excellent and has some very interesting information about Victorian shoemaking in Northampton.
(See, for example, www.mylearning.org/victorian-shoemakers-in-northampton-1/images/.)
It includes a picture of the Manfield Shoe Factory, c1900, (www.mylearning.org/victorian-shoemakers-in-northampton-1/images/1-4045/)
and the interactive version used above (www.mylearning.org/victorian-shoemakers-in-northampton-1/interactive/2412/)

The drawing of Philip Manfield at the top of the page is a digitally modified copy of the picture printed with his obituary in The Northampton Mercury, Friday, August 4, 1899, p7. A better picture can be seen online at: www.lookandlearn.com/history-images/XD125173/Sir-Philip-Manfield.

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