Nissen Richards Studio has been commissioned by the Alfred Gillett Trust to work with its curatorial team on the content, visitor experience and exhibition design for a new Museum, showcasing and preserving the collection of historic artefacts and archives associated with British shoe manufacturer and retailer Clarks. The new Museum will be located in Street, Somerset – where brothers Cyrus and James Clark first set up in business in 1825 – and will explore the history of shoemaking, Clarks’ company history and the people and family behind its creation.
Alfred Gillett Trust (AGT) is a charitable organisation set up to safeguard and preserve the collection and archives associated with the Clark family and C & J Clark Ltd. Phase 1 of the new Museum is due to open in 2025, with a second phase planned for a later date. Architects Purcell are lead consultants on the scheme, which will encompass both new build elements and repurposed historic buildings, with Nissen Richards Studio the project’s Design and Interpretation Consultants.
“The new Museum will harness and celebrate the unique qualities of the Alfred Gillett Trust collection and the stories it holds, creating a museum that celebrates the people and stories behind Clarks, in the place where it all began” Pippa Nissen, Director of Nissen Richards Studio commented. “The Museum will also be an important historic, social and community asset, where all are welcome, with both the Museum itself and the legacy of the Clarks family and company helping to create a unique and exciting project and a first-class destination of international standing.”
The Clarks Family and Street
Street is Somerset’s largest village, within reach of the Somerset levels, offering views over Glastonbury Tor and the Mendip Hills, and is home to both Clarks shoes and Clarks Village. From the 1825 founding of the shoemaking company onwards, Street’s architecture and its economic and social life have been influenced by the Clark family and their Quaker beliefs and values, as well as the business they founded. The HQ of C & J Clark Ltd is still situated is here, whilst Crispin Hall (named after the patron saint of shoemakers), Greenbank Pool (Grade II listed) and Millfield House (now part of Millfield School) were all built by family members. Strode Theatre was also built by the Clarks Foundation, whilst much of the housing surrounding the HQ was built for Clarks’ workers.
The Alfred Gillett Trust
The Alfred Gillett Trust was formed in 2002, taking its name from Alfred Gillett (1814-1904), a local cousin of founders of Cyrus and James Clark, who had his own additional passion, spending many years researching and excavating the ichthyosaur fossils for which Street is internationally renowned and from which the village takes its emblem.
The vision of the Trust is to inspire the world with the family and community stories behind Clarks shoes. The collection it cares for preserves over 100,000 historical objects amassed by six generations of the Clark family, helping to tell the story of the development of Street as a village with nearly 200 years of shoemaking heritage. Its nationally-significant archive includes iconic point-of-sale literature and design material, commissioned from leading artists and photographers of the day; classic Clarks shoe ranges and examples of shoes from across the globe, collected to energise and inform creative design – as well as Alfred Gillett’s own collection of some of the best-preserved ichthyosaur specimens in the UK.
The New Museum
The new Museum will offer the opportunity for a much wider audience to engage with the Trust’s unique collection, though a series of exhibition and dedicated spaces for community and learning. It will tell stories of manufacture and innovation connected to the shoemaking industry in Street and will spark nostalgia and memories for visitors through experiences that showcase shop interiors and advertising.
“The Museum will be an outstanding new Somerset visitor destination and a rich local resource” Elin Simonsson, Head of Interpretation and Experience at Nissen Richards Studio commented. “The collection holds incredible potential for engaging people with a wide variety of themes and stories, from evolution and geology to the cultural histories of shoes and shoemaking. As well as drawing visitors from far and wide, it will also become an active hub for the Clarks, Street and wider surrounding communities.”
Rosie Martin, Director of the Alfred Gillett Trust said: “We are delighted to be working with Nissen Richards Studio to help realise our vision of inspiring the world with the family and community stories behind Clarks shoes. In 2020, we became the owners of the Clarks company collections, paving the way for opening a new museum, accessible to all. We look forward to working with Nissen Richards Studio and our local community to create something enjoyable, fun and an inspiration to all, putting Street firmly on the map as a place of creativity, entrepreneurship and sustainability.”