Jesse and Florence Boot

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Jesse Boot

Jesse Boot, 1st Baron Trent (1850 - 1931) founded Boot's the Chemist in Nottingham. His wife Florence (nee Rowe) (1863 - 1952) was deeply involved with the business in its early years and was largely responsible for its expansion into areas outside the core pharmacy business. Both were significant philanthropists.

Jesse Boot

Jesse boot was born in 1850 in Nottingham. His father John, who started out as an agricultural worker, moved to Nottingham and opened a shop in the city selling herbal remedies. John died in 1860, and three years later Jesse went into partnership with his mother, collecting the herbs and managing the shop.

Jesse was determined to expand the business, first by retailing proprietary drugs purchased wholesale at prices below the prevailing retail price, and later by dispensing prescription medicine. The business prospered and Jesse began small-scale manufacturing behind the main shop. However, in 1885 his health failed. He came to Jersey to recuperate, and met Florence Rowe at the Wesleyan chapel. They married in August 1886, despite her mother's opposition.

Jesse and Florence Boot

Florence Boot

Florence was born Florence Rowe in St Helier, Jersey. Her father William Rowe was a bookseller and stationer in Queen Street. The family lived above the shop and Florence often helped serve in the shop, providing her with an excellent grounding in selling and dealing with customers.

The Boots business was already a substantial one when Florence married Jesse. The first shops outside Nottingham had opened two years previously. However, Florence drove the business forward in several directions. One innovation was the introduction in 1898 of paid lending libraries into Boots stores: users paid 2d a copy to borrow books. Using her shrewd understanding of design, the library counters were generally placed at the back of shops, so patrons would have to walk past all the other merchandise. Florence also fostered lines of business such as silverware and picture framing. Between 1890 and 1914 Boots expanded from 10 stores in the East Midlands to over 500 stores across England, Scotland and Wales.

Florence was also committed to the welfare of staff at Boots, more particularly because many of them were women. Among her innovations were the employment of welfare officers and the provision of breakfast for staff.

Boots set up in Jersey in 1896, next to the Rowes' small shop and the two were integrated in 1908 when Mr Rowe died. Both shops were eventually demolished and rebuilt in the early 1930s.

Later years

Florence loved entertaining, whereas her husband sought a much quieter life. Inevitably their wealth meant that they grew is social standing, but they undertook philantrophic work in the Nottingham area, which led to Jesse being knighted in 1909 and created Baron Trent in 1917. However, by this time he was increasingly crippled by arthritis. He sold the company in 1920, and in 1928 he and his wife retired to Villa Millbrook in Saint Lawrence in Jersey. He died in Jersey in 1931: his funeral took place in the Parish church of Saint Brelade.

A detail of the Lalique glass in St Matthew's Church

Philanthropy

Jesse Boot was believed to have donated upwards of £2m at 1930 prices to charitable causes. Much of his giving was focused upon his home city of Nottingham: however, he also made major gifts to the people of Jersey. The best known is the athletics complex in Saint Clement which is known as FB Fields. He also paid for the building of the school at La Motte Street in St Helier, and provided the land adjacent to FB Fields for the new St Nicholas Church.

After her husband's death, Lady Trent commissioned the rebuilding of St Matthew's Church at Millbrook with interior fittings by Rene Lalique - this was slightly ironic, as her husband was a lifelong Methodist. She also donated the land surrounding the church to be laid out as a park - this is now known as Coronation Park or Millbrook Park.

All these gifts are very well known, but that of ten horse-drawn spraying machines for combatting potato blight remains relatively obscure.

Gallery

References

Boots - company history

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