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The bootprint of Karl Marx, from the records of Peal and Company, c1870-1885

The foot book of Peal & Co, recording the foot and shoes made for Karl Marx.
Reference: LMA/4454/02/003

​Archive Treasures: Karl Marx visits the bootmaker

Richard Wiltshire

Peal and Company, boot makers, produced bespoke footwear for 174 years, between 1791 and 1965. The image shown on this page details the order made for Karl Marx (1818-83), philosopher, political economist and communist revolutionary.  Marx spent the last thirty-four years of his life in London, mostly in difficult financial circumstances with help from friends and supporters.  He was just one of Peal’s numerous famous customers, including Fred Astaire, Theodore Roosevelt and Sir Laurence Olivier, along with many less well known names, whose footwear requirements are recorded in an aptly titled series of 617 ‘feet books’ in the firm’s archives.

The salesmen made measurements and outline drawings of every customer's feet in these books. The volumes were extensively used in the firm's shop as well as by the travelling salesmen. Entries include particular instructions for each customer order, together with any subsequent details on re-fits and repairs.

Founded by Samuel Peal, a shoe maker from Wirksworth, Derbyshire who moved to the capital, the business began in Stepney Green in East London. Peal devised a technique, which he patented, for rendering clothing materials waterproof by finely brushing them with a coat of Indian rubber solution known as caoutchouc.  The process quickly proved its worth, and Peal's boots and shoes became renowned for their comfort and durability. The success of their products allowed the firm to relocate to the more prestigious West End, moving in 1886 to a prime location at 487 Oxford Street. Their international reputation was strengthened through salesmen who, from the 1880s onwards, travelled extensively throughout North and South American, Europe, Asia and the Far East.

These books have an obvious relevance for historians of footwear, but are also examples of the kinds of archives that can be used to surprise and enthuse younger audiences. They have proved popular in family learning events, at which archives are used to help bring history alive in unexpected ways. Children have enjoyed using the Feet Books to match up famous people with their footprints, and to go on to create drawings, three-dimensional shoe models and footwear fashion shows. 

Further information

  • The article above appears in a book which showcases the holdings of LMA, Guildhall Library and Guildhall Art Gallery - find out more by visiting our London: 1000 years page.
  • You can find out more about the records held by LMA on our collections pages.
Published:
16 October 2013
Last Modified:
06 September 2018

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