The story of the Chelsea Boot

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//Anello & Davide Baba Boot, mid-60s.//

The story of the Chelsea Boot goes back to the 1830s, when they were known as paddock boots, their elasticated sides, snug fit, sturdy design and relative lightness a boon to the equestrian community.

According to traditional footwear suppliers Samuel Windsor, the shoe was originated by J. Sparkes-Hall, bootmaker to Queen Victoria (who wore them regularly).

In the mid-1950s they were sported as leisure-wear by the monied, young¬† Chelsea Set which gathered in the King’s Road and frequented The Markham Arms, Mary Quant’s Bazaar and her partners Archie McNair and Alexander Plunket Green’s jazz club/restaurant Alexander’s.

Slimmed, with a centre seam and a heightened Cuban heel for Flamenco dancers, London’s theatrical shoemakers Anello & Davide introduced their version, the Baba boot (“a new Italian-inspired version of that long, lean look”) in the early 60s.

Soon the shoe design entered the visual language of rock & roll via fashion-mad teenage beatniks, art students and modernists.

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//Baba boots, Anello & Davide catalogue, 1966. (C) Lloyd Johnson.//

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//The Joka, Anello & Davide catalogue, 1966. (C) Lloyd Johnson.//

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//The Embassy, Anello & Davide catalogue, 1966. (C) Lloyd Johnson.//

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//The Curzon, Anello & Davide catalogue, 1966. (C) Lloyd Johnson.//

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//The Mexican, Anello & Davide catalogue, 1966. (C) Lloyd Johnson.//

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//The Corsi, Anello & Davide catalogue, 1966. (C) Lloyd Johnson.//

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//The Apres Ski, Anello & Davide catalogue, 1966. (C) Lloyd Johnson.//

“We all dressed in that look,” said Granny Takes A Trip founder Nigel Waymouth, then a blues-mad student. “Pea jackets, very tight jeans and pointed Anello & Davide shoes. Probably a matelot shirt. I’d go to the Railway Hotel in Richmond and the Gee Club in Ealing to see Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies.”

The style was popularised by The Beatles; according to the MerseyBeat website John Lennon and Paul McCartney bought a pair each at Anello’s shop at 96 Charing Cross Road on the way back to Liverpool from a visit to Paris in October 1961.

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//Anello's brochure, 1999.//

They and George Harrison and Ringo Starr matched what became known as “the Beatle boot” with the smart showbiz suits produced by Dougie Millings from autumn 1962 onward.

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//Mid-60s customers queue for Anello's shoes, Drury Lane, London WC2.//

The Rolling Stones also opted for Anello’s Baba boot. These were not cheap – ¬£3 15s was not far off the average weekly wage in 1962 – but the store in Charing Cross Road loaned stock to the theatres in the area and sold shoes at a discount if they had been worn for even a single performance.

With another outlet at 33 Oxford Street, Anello’s moved from Charing Cross to 30-35 Drury Lane in the mid-60s, by which time the range of Chelsea Boots included the Angleless, Apres Ski, Corsi, Curzon, Embassy, Joka and Mexican.

Other shoe companies (notably D. Senker & Son’s Denson brand, which operated out of a factory in Kingsland Road, London E2) produced variants as the Chelsea boot became established as a menswear staple.

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//Denson's 1963 range. (c) Lloyd Johnson Collection.//

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Denson's 1966 range. (c) Lloyd Johnson Collection.

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//Denson's 1968 range. (C) Lloyd Johnson.//

Read Samuel Windsor’s history of the Chelsea Boot – “From Queen Victoria To Darth Vader” – here.

Anello & Davide produces bespoke shoes from a shop in Kensington, west London. Contact details here.

Thanks to Lloyd Johnson for providing images from his archive.

Jeff Dexter said,

April 1, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

I got my first pair of Denson’s 1958, the rear entrance to my school was opposite the factory store rooms, and sometimes there would be rejects binned outside. Not so many styles in my tiny size at the time though.
I got my first Anello Apre Ski’s 1961, they were perfect for dancing all day and night, they sold them with either buckskin or Neolite soles.

cyclo2000 said,

April 1, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

The Angleless style is so sharp. I used to have a pair of my dads in brown Moc Crock. I wore ‘em through most of the early 80’s till they fell apart. I still have one pair made by Lotus similar to the Densons with a covered gusset. I hardly ever wear them now as the soles are so thin and I don’t want to risk ruining them at the cobblers. I’d love new a pair but who makes that kind of short boot nowadays?

rockpopfashion said,

April 1, 2011 @ 2:20 pm

Let’s throw it out to those that should know: any ideas anybody?

Andy said,

April 8, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

In the old Sears & Roebuck catalogues of the 19th century, this style boot is referred to as a “men’s Congress.” I’m wearing some now!

http://foottalk.blogspot.com/2006/01/congress-boots.html

rockpopfashion said,

April 8, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

Great! Got any photos/images from the catalogue?

raymond sgregory said,

October 7, 2011 @ 8:56 am

Used to have a pair of my dads in brown Mac Crock used to have a pair of my dads in brown Mac Crock shoes at a discount if they had been worn for even a single performance.

Joly MacFie said,

July 19, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

I had a brown pair with a crepe sole!

Richie Betancourt said,

February 27, 2013 @ 2:35 am

Where in the world may I obtain a pair of ‘Stallion’ mersey boots in U.S. size 7 1/2?

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