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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.