Our story began a long time ago, in fact nearly 140 years have passed since our great, great, great Grandfather opened a tannery in the village of Harrold, north Bedfordshire. and it 's gone on from there, generation after generation tanning and making leather for shoe makers and book binders, hand crafting leather goods in our Buckinghamshire workshop and supplying shoes to leading brands around the world.
Now the baton has been passed to the sixth generation. We are all much taller than the olds and as a result we have always struggled to find good looking shoes that fit well at reasonable prices. So the idea of Billy Ruffian was born, fabulous shoes at sensible prices in large sizes. Our first shoe was the Raglan Loafer. To develop this we started with the lasts (the wooden moulds which give the shoes their shape) and after a long search found some classic styles with the look we wanted from an old English shoemaker, now sadly closed. Using these as patterns, we made the Billy Ruffian lasts. Around these we wrap our beautiful leather and suede uppers, hand-stitched of course, before adding an Italian leather sole. Why leather soles you may ask? Simple, leather is a natural material that is warm in the winter, cool in the summer, moulds to the foot and is very comfortable... and perfect for dancing, too. Soon after the Raglan Loafer came the Trafalgar Brogue and Chatham Oxford, again with the same old English pedigree, timeless styling and incredible comfort - just so English.
At Billy Ruffian HQ we are not all work and no play and we just love sailing, but couldn’t find boat shoes that matched our ethos of fabulous shoes at sensible prices in large sizes and so the quest began!
Boat shoes, as we know them, evolved in America from the Red Indian moccasin. These were made by moulding and hand sewing wet leather around rudimentary lasts. As the leather dried it shrank and formed into the perfect foot shape that needed no sole and were just so comfortable. The rubber sole arrived in the middle of the last century courtesy of a Mr Sperry who put razor cuts into the bottom to prevent them slipping on wet decks and so the boat shoe was born. Our boat shoes continue this tradition. American leathers hand sewn on the last, siped rubber soles, Latigo laces and solid brass eyelets, comfortable, classic, durable - in a nutshell, Billy Ruffians!
In the 16th century shoemakers started to use a strip of leather to fasten the sole of the shoe to the upper. Over the centuries the technique evolved and became what is now known as ‘welted’ construction, a method widely considered to be Rolls Royce of shoe making. Given our love of all things classic and traditional we simply had to include some ‘welted’ shoes in our collection but as usual at Billy Ruffian we wanted them to be exceptional. We have achieved this by making them using leathers from some of the world’s finest tanners; calf from Tannerie d’Annonay in France, suede from Charles F Stead in Leeds and Shell Cordovan from Horween in the USA. The results are simply fabulous; beautiful and timeless footwear that will offer incredible levels of comfort and durability...just so Billy Ruffian.
And the socks, beautifully made in England, striped for a bit of fun and odd because it's always good to know there’s a bit of rebellion tucked away when conformity is the order of the day.
Finally, why Billy Ruffian? Well, this was the affectionate name given by the sailors of Nelson's Fleet to HMS Bellerophon which fought at the Nile, Trafalgar and accepted the surrender of Napoleon in 1815. So why did we choose it as a name for our shoes? It would be nice to say that it's because it represents integrity, dogged Englishness and adventure, but the truth is more prosaic... we just liked it!