Edits since publishing - Added more specific price info per range. Bumped Edward Green & John Lobb Main Range up a tier. Split Loake 1880 into separate entry. Added George Cleverley RTW. Shuffled Oliver Sweeney and Jeffery West down a tier. Bumped JL Main Range back down a tier - sorry JL. Added a D Tier to differentiate at the low end. Removed Oliver Sweeney - they are made in Italy. Added Tim Little. Added Wildsmiths. Added some comments to Church's.*
Most of my shoes come from British makers and thanks to the dubious political direction my country is going and ever-increasing import fees, this trend looks likely to continue in future. This is intended as an overview of the major British makers who are primarily RTW focused, and will also pull out RTW collections from bespoke makers where viable. It won't talk about bespoke shoes, even if the maker in question does produce them.
This post is not an attempt to diminish or demean shoes from any of the "lower tier" brands, just to provide a bit of guidance to a selection of makers that can sometimes be impenetrable and a bit confusing.
"Methodology" (such as it is)
In instances where a RTW maker has ranges of significantly different quality I’ll attempt to highlight it, although ultimately many makers will have a smaller, high-end range made to a higher specification that may belong in a higher tier (such as Cheaney Imperial or Loake Export Grade), and the list might get a bit overwhelming with too much detail.
Obviously quality and value are tricky, subjective concepts so I’ve resorted to the time-honoured tradition:
S Tier - Highest
A Tier - High
B Tier - Mid
C Tier - Low
D Tier - Lowest
For quality I’ll be considering the consistency, choice and quality of leather used; fineness and consistency of finishing; how appealing the styling is (very subjective obviously) and the overall quality of the construction.
“ Low” quality in this context doesn’t mean terrible by any means - it’s just relative to the quality of the other makers. Clearly, Clarks make a lower quality shoe than Gaziano & Girling - that doesn’t mean they are “bad” for the money, because you can buy 15 pairs of Clarks for the price of one pair of Gaziano & Girling.
These tiers aren't an exact science - you may well feel that a maker should be higher or lower, particularly where a brand is on the "border" of a tier - but hopefully they help as a guide.
For price the breakdown is as follows:
££££ for shoes £1,000+
£££ for shoes £500 - £1,000
££ for shoes £200 - £500
£ for shoes less than £200
Edit: I've added in more precise price information per entry following feedback that some bands were too broad. All prices include VAT (20%).
Lastly the most difficult to assess notion, which is value. For this you need to balance the price against the quality and ultimately decide how much you’re willing to spend - to my mind, Crockett & Jones Main Range is the best value readily available RTW shoe.
I’m pretty confident in the below - I’ve owned at least one pair of shoes from all of these makers and sub-brands, and many more in the case of some of them - although obviously, your mileage may vary somewhat. But hopefully it’s a good introduction at the least.
££££ (£1,300) / S Tier
G&G are the current darling of the English shoe industry. A relatively young, forward looking and energetic brand who make strikingly styled shoes and boots. Undeniably expensive, but the drama and theatre of their designs makes them my favourite maker. Their leather quality is impeccable and their finishing is generally pretty unimpeachable.
££££ (£1,650) / S Tier
As one of the most venerable bespoke makers, Foster & Son traditionally outsourced a lot of their RTW offerings to brands like Crockett & Jones. They now produce RTW in their own factory, and some of the new designs are of a strikingly high quality (and with prices moving into the £1,600 region you’d hope so!). I spent some time handling them in their shop (back when going to shops and handling things used to be a thing) and would put them above G&G in terms of finishing, if a bit more conservative in styling.
££££ (£1,500) / S Tier
Similar in quality to Edward Green’s Top Drawer, the designs in JL’s Prestige Line have finer finishing and smaller, limited-edition design compared to their main range. I’ve compared the finishing quite closely between the two as I was considering some as wedding shoes, and would say the extra cash is worth it if you can afford it, if only because the main range designs can be a tad monotonous compared to more flamboyant makers like G&G.
££££ (£1,300) / S Tier
George Cleverley is a legendary bespoke maker, and their Anthony Cleverley line is made to very high standards with a surprisingly broad range of designs. Quite aggressively styled to reflect the aesthetics of the bespoke models from GC proper, with a very slim fit and profile, these are really top tier. Not to be confused with the more readily available George Cleverley RTW options, which are I think made by Crockett & Jones for GC.
££££ (£1000 - £1,300) / S Tier
Not a maker that needs a lot of introduction, with iconic models like the Galway boot or the Dover split-toe derby. I personally find their pricing just a bit uncomfortably high for what you get, but can’t fault the quality of their output. While I love the drama of Gaziano & Girling, many would probably find EG to be a more practical day-to-day maker. They also have a number of models in the sub-£1000 price range, though the aforementioned iconic designs lean towards £1,300-ish pricing. EG also have a Top Drawer MTO range, with finer waist treatment, finishing, materials and customisation options, although it's not readily available online.
££££ (£1,000) / A Tier
Another very well-established maker - the RTW options are from the Hermes-owned brand, distinct from the bespoke makers at John Lobb St. James. You can expect a supremely well-made pair of shoes, although JL’s designs and choices of leather are a bit sterile and boring sometimes. Scrolling through their current collection lacks *oomph* compared to Edward Green or even the much cheaper Crockett & Jones.
£££ (£400 - £600) / A Tier
Alfred Sargent are an underrated maker - it’s unsurprising as they keep a pretty low profile online. They’re actually quite hard to buy at this point, particularly the higher-end ranges here which I think now can only be ordered straight from the brand. Tiers are a bit tricky for this one - Handgrade probably belongs in A tier, and the Exclusive collection is potentially B tier, but both punch well above their weight in terms of quality and styling, and should be picked up quickly if you see them for a good price on eBay.
£££ (£600) / A Tier
The Handgrade collection sports better finishing, sharper and more asymmetric last shapes, and a higher grade of leathers. The price increase from the main range is noticeable, and many would find the increase in quality marginal, so I'm torn on recommending them over the main range.
£££ (£600) / A Tier
A newer range from Gaziano & Girling - pricing is about equivalent to Crockett & Jones Handgrade. The styling is noticeably less sharp than G&G's main collection designs and the construction is relatively cruder (though still really impressive), but they have a solid collection of models that would fit in an everyday dress shoe rotation. Is it worth losing the quality from the main range just to get the G&G name and lose half the price? I’m on the fence.
£££ (£600) / A Tier
A distinct collection from Anthony Cleverley, George Cleverley RTW is priced just into this tier at about £525. The prevailing opinion is that they are made by Crockett & Jones and Alfred Sargent for GC.
££ (£465) / B Tier
Tricker’s are best known for their boots but they have a respectable selection of dressy shoes too. Robust and long-lasting - provided the chunkiness of the aesthetic works for you - a pair of Tricker's, properly cared for, really will last a lifetime. Readily available at reduced prices in regular sales and from Tricker’s own outlet website.
££ (£450) / B Tier
If money was no object I’d have only Gaziano & Girling shoes, but as it is I think Crockett & Jones offer the best value of any British maker. They have an extremely wide range of styles and continue to innovate seasonally, and their Shell Cordovan is second to none in the British market. They are my go-to recommendation for anybody looking to buy their first decent pair of shoes (though I think I've probably owned about 30 pairs by this point). They also have, by a wide margin, the friendliest and most helpful store experience of any of the big Jermyn Street stores. Compare and contrast with some of the higher-end stores which sometimes give the impression they'd rather not have you cluttering the shop up.
££ (£300) / B Tier
Solid but not spectacular, Alfred Sargent’s main range options are a good choice. Like the higher grade ranges, they appear to have been withdrawing from a number of more prominent online retailers - maybe they are looking to consolidate sales through their own site in the future?
££ (£300 - £400) / B Tier
A robust and strong maker that continues to fly under the radar compared to brands like Crockett & Jones or Tricker’s. Unfortunately a lot of their designs can stray into quite gimmicky territory - as a brand they seem to lack a core identity or sense of direction.
££ (£500) / B Tier
Church’s long and storied history is largely, and I think fairly, overshadowed by the perceived decline in quality since their purchase by Prada and shift towards designs defined by sequins, spikes and horrible bookbinder leather. They still make an excellent and classic shoe in models like the Consul, but brand name aside they don’t really hold a candle to Crockett & Jones these days. They do have a strong international presence, and continue to sell very well on eBay though.
*Edit - from the comments, there is a lot of contention around the decline in Church's. The core Custom Grade range is still relatively well respected, but many of the more quirky looking design directions are aimed at overseas youth market trends. Up to you where you think the brand stands overall balancing that all out.*
££ (£500) / B Tier
Not a widely known name, but one with a lot of interesting history. The brand was formed in 1847, though the company in its current form is owned by Herring Shoes, with shoes made by Sargent, Cheaney and Barker. They don't have a wide collection - I remember they had a relatively large relaunch a few years ago, but the range seems to have shrunk since. Only a handful of models are now available to order through Herring directly, so in spite of some slick-looking models I fear the brand isn't that long for this world.
££ (£410) / B Tier
I forgot to include these in the initial list, which is surprising as I have a pair of Tim Little shoes hidden at the back of my wardrobe. They are a small brand with only one shop, but the owner is also the owner and Creative Director of Grenson, so they clearly have some manufacturing weight behind them. The Goodyear welted options are made in the UK. The pair I have are well made, although the last is a bit banana-shaped and elongated in the toe for my tastes. May be worth picking up on eBay or at a discount.
££ (£300 - £400) / B Tier
Grenson aren’t without their charms - the Triple Welt boots have a real chunky appeal. Like Cheaney, I think they tend to cast their net a bit wide in terms of wild new designs without maintaining a core stylistic focus like a brand like Crockett & Jones manage to. In a rapidly more crowded pricepoint, makers like Grenson, Cheaney, Barker and Loake are facing real challenges in staking a claim.
££ (£250 - £400) / B Tier
As suggested from comments, I've split Loake's higher-grade collections out. The 1880 Export Grade have some particularly impressive models, though a pretty limited range of designs.
££ (£200 - £350) / B Tier
Very similar models and aesthetic to Tricker’s, but somewhat cheaper - at a glance you’d be forgiven for confusing their Acorn calf Aintree boots with Tricker’s Stow boots. No real standout designs, but as a pair of reliable boots you could do a lot worse.
££ (£350 - £450) / B Tier
As well as being one of the best UK sites for buying a number of brands on this list, Herring have their own label with unique designs. Some of the Premier models are a tad overdesigned with a lot of mixed materials and bold colours, but Herring's regular sales offer a good chance to get some of the classier models for a good price.
*Edit - I may have been thinking of past collections more with this - the current collection is pretty understated.*
££ (£250 - £400) / C Tier
Largely defined by gaudy colours, pointy (or square toes) and an overall eye-sore, wrong-side-of-dandy look. To say I am not a fan would be a delicate understatement - I would say Jeffery West have the distinction of making the ugliest shoes on this list.
*Good insight from the comments: "Whilst Jeffrey West are a bit out there and some of their designs miss the mark a tad, I do think it's nice to see something a bit different to the usual kinda dull offerings I think English shoemakers put out." Fair point and I agree to an extent, so do take my own views with a pinch of salt!*
££ (£250) / C Tier
Barker are not in an enviable position - they are a relatively well-known brand but lean more into eye-catching, gaudy models each season without much connection to a central aesthetic. Some of their higher-end models are okay, but they really dive deep into the low-end too which mars things a bit, and are competing with a lot of other makers for their slice of the pie.
£ (£120 - £250) / C Tier
Herring has some really cheap and cheerful models at the lower end. Even so, a lot of the designs are pretty classic and versatile, and alongside Herring’s excellent service these are actually a really solid bet in the sub-£200 price range.
£ (£150) / C Tier
Loake offer a pretty bewildering array of ranges and quality levels - at best the 1880 Export Grade could comfortably slip into tier B, and at worst their L1 or Loake Lifestyle ranges (which I believe are made in India, although Loake's site very much fails to make this clear) would fall to the bottom of Tier C. Most of their output these days falls into this lower standard of quality, although they are probably the most readily available maker on this list in terms of third-party sellers. A good option for those who need a sensible pair of shoes but don't want to splash out C&J money.
£ (£170) / C Tier
NPS have the “British work-boot” aesthetic nailed down - not astounding quality, but a far better alternative if you’re thinking of buying a pair of Doc Marten’s. NPS did produce Doc Marten's under license in the 50s, but by the 80s the company was nearly dead in the water until it was saved in the mid-2000's. Speaking of DMs...
£ (£180) / D Tier
It's remarkable that this brand is so far down the list, as it probably had more cultural impact than any other maker here. In the 60s and 70s Doc Marten's became a bona-fide cultural icon - a uniform of the anti-establishment. The company fell to near bankruptcy in the 2000s, but appear to have bounced back since. Although they do still have a selection of boots made in England in the original factory, much of their output are cemented models that will fall to bits pretty rapidly.
£ (£100) / D Tier
I know, I know - "Thou Shalt Not Disparage the Desert Boot", but Clarks sticks in my head as the place my mum took me to buy shoes for school. They seem to have given up the push from a few years ago into competing with higher quality GYW boots, and what we are left with is, in terms of material and construction, the lowest position on this list.
Anyhow, that's pretty much it. Please comment with any I've forgotten, and feel free to chastise me if you think I've viciously misrepresented your favourite maker.