Person NameBoot; Lord; Jesse (1850-1931); 1st Baron Trent
ActivityJesse Boot was born in Nottingham on 2 June 1850 to John Boot, a medical herbalist and his wife, Mary Wills. When Jesse was only 10 years old, John Boot died, leaving Mary to continue the herbalist business at 6 Goose Gate, Hockley, assisted more and more by Jesse as he grew up.

Jesse attended the Agnes Mellers Free Grammar School on Stoney Street in the Lace Market until the age of 13 when he left to help his mother in the shop full-time. His hard work was rewarded with a partnership in the business when he turned 21 and the name of the store was changed to M & J Boot. In 1874 Jesse introduced proprietary medicines, buying in bulk directly from the manufacturers and selling them at cut prices as part of his desire to provide affordable, reliable medicines for everyone.

In 1877 Jesse took sole control of the business and during the same year ran a major advertising campaign in the Nottingham and Midland Counties Daily Express from February until August. With slogans such as ‘Health for a shilling’ and ‘Reduced Prices’, few readers could ignore these adverts. Jesse’s newfound success meant he had to expand and in 1883 he opened a much bigger shop, in premises on Goose Gate, taking his trade closer to the city centre. New stores began to appear elsewhere in Nottingham, followed by others in neighbouring cities such as Lincoln and Sheffield.

In 1884, Jesse employed his first qualified pharmacist and created a dispensing department at the Goose Gate store. The following year he increased his manufacturing capacity by leasing several rooms in a factory in Nottingham, gradually taking over the entire building for his ever-growing empire.

Whilst on holiday in Jersey in 1885 Jesse met Florence Annie Rowe, a Booksellers daughter, and they married on the 31st August 1886 at St Helier Parish Church, Jersey. A son, John, was born in 1889, followed by daughters Dorothy and Margery.

Florence took a keen interest in her husband’s business, setting up staff welfare initiatives and introducing new services and products outside the traditional chemists lines. Together, in 1891, Jesse and Florence acquired a site on Pelham Street in Nottingham and built an impressive new store, which became a model for future department-style stores. By the turn of the twentieth century, Boots stores could be found in over 250 locations across Britain, each claiming to be the ‘Largest, Best and Cheapest’ chemist in town.

Nottingham had always had a special place in Jesse’s heart and he began to donate towards a number of projects in and around the city. In 1908 he gave a generous amount towards the rebuilding of the Albert Hall, Nottingham’s leading Methodist centre, which had previously burnt down. He gave £5,000 for the construction of a new Binns organ and funded the organist’s salary for three years, on the condition that musical concerts were arranged for Saturday evenings ‘for the purpose of promoting the love of high class music especially among the working classes.’

Jesse’s ambition was to extend the store network right across the country and by 1914 he had opened over 550 branches throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

He introduced a number of interesting and enlightened schemes to promote the welfare of his employees. Scholarships were offered to pharmacy students, a pension fund for chemists was started in 1897 and later extended to the entire workforce. Sports facilities were acquired for staff use and regular excursions were planned to the seaside or the Derbyshire Dales. Boots was one of the first companies to employ welfare workers who went on to improve staff canteen facilities and introduce factory surgeries.

Jesse was an active member of the Liberal Party and donated generously to their cause and held the position of President of the Nottingham Liberal Association for over twenty years.

He received a knighthood in 1909, followed by a baronetcy in 1916.

The onset of the First World War meant a huge loss of Boots staff to foreign parts. In Nottingham, some of the city’s larger firms were soon under pressure from the Government to consider ways in which they could contribute towards the war effort. Jesse responded with characteristic vigour. In addition to organising the production of a whole new variety of products including sterilizers, vermin powder and anti-fly cream. He ensured Boots answered the call to fill the gap left by Germany when war broke out, to supply aspirin and saccharin for the Government.

By the end of the war Jesse illhealth meant that he was unable to work for months on end and he eventually decided to sell the company. The United Drug Company of America bought Boots for £2,250,000 in 1920. John, his son, went on to be Chairman from 1926 until 1954.

Jesse retired to Jersey and the South of France, but spent much of his time devoted to philanthropic causes. He gave large sums of money to the city of Nottingham to provide parks, boulevards and hospital wards, but the main beneficiary was University College Nottingham, which was rebuilt on land that Jesse had donated. He also gave £150,000 towards the building project and gave £20,000 to endow a chair of chemistry.

A few months later Jesse was elevated to the peerage and took the title Lord Trent. He continued to show a keen interest in the University’s progress and in Nottingham’s activities. After a long struggle, he passed away on 13 June 1931at his home in Jersey. Tributes poured in and the press was unanimous in praising the life of such an outstanding individual. Jesse was buried on Jersey in the cemetery of St Brelade’s, whilst in Nottingham there was a memorial service at St Mary’s Church attended by hundreds who came to pay their last respects.

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