Freeman Hardy and Willis Ltd. was incorporated on 2 December 1876. It was six years earlier, however, that the founder, Edward Wood began manufacturing boots and shoes in Leicester under the name of Edward Wood and Company. In 1876 he appointed as its directors an architect, Arthur Hardy, his factory manager, William Freeman, and his traveller. The new company continued as boot and shoe manufacturers, and in 1877 decided to concentrate on the retail shoe business, opening the first branch in Wandsworth, London, in the same year. By 1921, when Sir Edward Wood retired as chairman, the company had 428 shops. In 1903 Freeman Hardy and Willis acquired the boot and shoe retailers, Rabbits and Sons Ltd., of Newington Butts, London. The Kettering Boot and Shoe Company Ltd., a firm who supplied F.H & W. with footwear, was acquired in 1913 and in 1925 the whole of the shoe capital of the well-known Leicester firm Leavesley and North Ltd., was also acquired. Sir Edward Wood was succeeded as Chairman in 1912 by Jonathan North:
In 1927 Freeman Hardy and Willis Ltd., was taken over by J. Sears and Co. (True Form Boot Co.) Ltd. of Northampton (q.v.) and in 1956 became the nucleus of British Shoe Corporation. The company now has 551 branches, making it the biggest retail shoe store chain in Europe.
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