William Henry Fleming
William Henry Fleming was a Liverpool based importer of cigars and tobacco. Obviously an astute businessman, he saw potential in the hardwearing denim trousers worn by the visiting American sailors. In 1881 he started Fleming's Ltd, selling tailored denim clothing to the many manual workers in Liverpool from his premises in Scotland Road and Park Road.
Fleming's son-in-law sold the company to a family called Shieldhouse, who opted to keep the more established company name of Fleming. The shop continued to sell to the local workforce for many years. It had retail outlets in Scotland Road and Great Homer Street, before finally settling in Walton Road. At its height the company employed more than 40 local workers. When they closed their retail outlet in 1998 Fleming's were the oldest company in the UK making jeans.
In the 1950s influenced by American teen culture, jeans became more fashionable and no longer the sole domain of the worker. By the 1960s and 1970s, Fleming's jeans were an essential item in any fashionable Liverpool wardrobe.
Jim Pankhurst from Speke remembers the Fleming's experience:
"I must have bought maybe five or six pairs of Fleming's between about 1973 and 1976, from when I was about 14 to 17. Me and my mate Joey used to get the 500 bus from Speke and get off on County Road. There was always lads from all over the city in there (the shop). The first thing you noticed was all these wooden pigeon holes behind the counter with the jeans in them. You used to ask the fella behind the counter for a pair of 28 inch waist, 28 inch bottoms, and without even looking he'd reach up to a pigeon hole behind him and slap them down on the counter, then wrap them up in brown paper and hand them to you like a bag of chips.
Fleming's were THE jeans to have at that time in Liverpool - usually worn with Tuxon brown Air Wair, with a 2 inch turn up on the bottom."
Sometimes customers asked for EJ's or PM's etc. Fleming's were unique in that each treble stitched 14oz pair was stitched from start to finish by the same worker, who would then stitch her initials into the label and sometimes even put a short note in the pocket.
The glass counter inside the shop in Walton Road doubled as a display board of requests for jeans from scouse customers all over the world.
Fleming's jeans were always popular with football supporters from both Anfield and Goodison.
Bill Wheeler from Huyton remembers going to watch Liverpool play in the early 1970s:
"I always used to wear my Fleming's jeans and jacket when I went the match. I remember it cost loads to get in the Kop, so we would pay buttons to get into the boys pen, and then the old fellas would lift us over into the Kop stand, and we would squeeze down to the front for a better view. I remember me mum went nuts because I caught my jacket on the fence climbing over and ripped the pocket off."
Fleming's is still going strong but no longer makes jeans. Having come full circle they are back making industrial clothing for the Liverpool workforce.
A pair of Fleming's jeans owned by Mike Gold, managing director of Fleming's, were on display in the former Museum of Liverpool Life during July 2004 in a special feature about the company.
Mike Gold with his Fleming's jeans