Jesse Boot – an Ethical Entrepreneur

10th April 2019

Sophie Clapp, the Archivist at the Boots Company was due to deliver this lecture on the 10th of April but unfortunately was unable to attend. More fortunately, she was able to ensure that we had the power point presentation and accompanying notes in time for our Chairman, Pat Smedley, to step up to the podium and to deliver a fascinating picture of a man of great character.

Jesse Boot had little in the way of early advantages except an exceptional father whom he described as “…without wealth, without money, without any business experience; his only asset was character”. John Boot moved his family to Nottingham when his health deteriorated and he had to give up his work as a farm labourer. There, he established the city’s first herbalist store, preparing and selling remedies and giving consultations, so preparing the way for a future retail empire.

When Jesse was ten years old his father died and his mother continued the business with the help of Jesse, friends and neighbours. They pushed a wheelbarrow through the streets of Nottingham with the herbs and flowers they collected from the hedgerows and these were then hung up and dried or boiled back in the shop. Jesse was made a partner with his mother in 1871 when he was 21 and within a couple of years he had opened a second shop.

Within a few years he had moved into selling medicines and household goods and the shops grew rapidly in popularity due to his commitment to buying in bulk and selling cheaply. His success was enhanced by his understanding of the value of advertising.

Unusually for the times, Jesse and his wife Florence had advanced views about the welfare of their staff and were committed to the idea of happy and healthy workers.

Within 15 years of the first shops in Nottingham there were nearly 200 stores throughout the country and by 1902 sales figures reached £1m per annum. By 1914 there were 550 stores.

In 1916 Jesse became a baronet and in 1920he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Nottingham. Then in 1929 he became a peer of the realm, taking the name Lord Trent. These honours were in recognition of his generosity towards the city including large sums of money for the General Hospital, recreation areas and the university.

When Jesse died in 1931 at the age of 81, the Lord Mayor of Nottingham said: “Nottingham has lost one of the greatest of her sons…in this city he will be best remembered as a princely benefactor of our educational and philanthropic institutions…By Courage, foresight, business acumen and honesty of purpose”.