This pair of laced shoes was purchased by William Box Kingston from Princess Maria Kelly who was given the shoe by the owner of a house where Queen Elizabeth 1 reputedly slept. The shoes and labels come from an important collection of footwear and shoemaking objects thought to have been initiated by the London shoemaker, Robert Dixon Box, and consolidated by his son, Joseph Box and the Box Kingham family during the second half of the 1800s. The collection ranges from remnants of leather shoes from the Middle Ages found in English archaeological sites, to intact European shoes from the 1600s onwards, 'foreign' shoes collected as 'curiosities' from around the world, shoe buckles, spurs and snuff boxes, as well as company documents relating to Joseph Box Ltd.
The Joseph Box shoe company was an important London shoemaking business established in 1808 by a 'ladies shoemaker' called James Sly. From 1816 Sly's apprentice was Robert Dixon Box, the fifteen-year-old son of a bankrupted Quaker attorney. Box became manager of the business when Sly died in 1826, subsequently attaining a reputation for fine shoemaking through participation at international exhibitions and by obtaining Royal Warrants. The business became known as Joseph Box Ltd in 1862 after it was transferred to Robert's son, Joseph. Like his father, Joseph started in the trade at the age of 15, but retired at the relatively early age of 42 to enable his daughters to enter society. Although he transferred the business to his cousins the Box Kinghams in 1882, Joseph maintained an active interest in shoemaking through collecting. Some of the shoes in the collection feature a remarkable 20 stitches to the centimetre exemplifying the attention to detail and quality of workmanship Joseph Box shoes became renowned for. At the end of the century the business was later taken over by royal shoemakers Gundry & Sons, which was itself taken over by John Lobb Ltd some time after 1953.
The Joseph Box collection provides a unique insight into footwear history, demonstrating how changes in contemporary attitudes, needs and etiquette directly affected shoe design. It also reveals the fine skills of shoemakers as well as the impact of scientific developments and technological innovations on the materials and construction methods.
Mitchell, Louise, with Lindie Ward, 'Stepping out: three centuries of shoes', Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 1997