From modest origins, the Bata Shoe Company has grown to become one of the world’s largest shoe manufacturers and retailers today.
The founder of the company was a cobbler called Thomas Bata who set up a shoe making business in the Moravian town of Zlin in 1894. By 1918 Bata was the largest shoe making concern in Czechoslovakia and had opened its first retail outlet. In the 1920s the company focussed on penetrating the foreign markets of Europe.
An independent branch of the parent company was founded in London in 1924 called the Bata Shoe & Leather Co. Ltd. It was initially concerned with the sale of imported products, but in 1931 the decision was made to expand into manufacturing and, as a consequence, the British Bata Shoe Co. Ltd. was established in 1933.
British Bata acted as both producer and distributor, controlling every aspect of shoe manufacture. The company’s factory at East Tilbury concentrated on the manufacture of rubber and leather footwear.
In 1940 a factory in Maryport, Cumbria, was purchased for the production of rubber footwear. Additional plants were acquired in Dudley, West Midlands (1949), specialising in heavy industrial leather boots and football boots, and Cumnock, Scotland (1964). British Bata owned plantations in Nigeria which supplied the rubber. A tannery in Leicester produced the leather and a mill in Chorley, Lancashire manufactured the textiles.
By the 1950s British Bata employed around 5,000 people. By 1964 the company owned 300 retail shops and was exporting around 50 % of its total annual production, making it the largest exporter of footwear from the UK.
From the 1960s manufacturing began to shift overseas to factories that had been set up in developing countries. The retail shops were acquired by Sears in the 1990s. British Bata finally went out of business in 2006.