Turtle Bunbury

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Rayne is back. That was the resounding message for shoe-lovers of the world with the opening of a Rayne pop-up shop by Brown Thomas on Grafton Street, Dublin City, on 26 February 2014.

Nick Rayne, who is leading the renaissance, flew in from London for the occasion. During his visit he was approached by a lady of senior years who told him it was her childhood dream to own a pair of Raynes. She scrimped and saved for years but accidentally put her money on a horse, lost and had to start over again. She got her Rayne’s eventually and she simply wanted to thank Nick for being part of the family that created the iconic brand.

Founded in 1885, Rayne’s were considered the most glamorous shoes in the world from the 1930s, when Royalty and Hollywood turned to them with a passion, through until the 1970s.

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Above: Joseph Walsh's outfitter, tailor and shoe shop on Castle Street,
Cahir, stood next door to the butcher shop run by Paddy 'The Pork' Ryan.
Was this a mere coincidence? (Photo courtesy of Joe Walsh).

It all started, as these things do, with an Irishman. His name was Henry Ryan and he is thought to have been born in Cahir, County Tipperary, in about 1840. Nothing more is known of the Irish connection but Joe Walsh of the Cahir Historical Society is optimistic that a direct link can be found.

‘Although Ryan’s are two-a-penny in County Tipperary, they were actually quite scarce in Cahir,’ says Mr. Walsh. ‘There was a butcher called ‘Paddy the Pork’ Ryan on Castle Street in the 1830s and I’ve heard it said that he had family who did well in London.’

As well as being a Quaker stronghold, Cahir was a garrison town. This may have compelled young Henry to join the British Army, serving in what would later become the Duke of Cornwall’s Regiment. [i] While his wife’s name is as yet unknown, his first son Henry Edward Rayne was born in the naval base of Devonport on the south coast of England in 1863. A second son was born in 1872 while bound for India on the troopship SS Himalaya; his parents duly gave him the impressive name of Himalaya Ryan. [ii]

Perhaps inspired by his Indian childhood, the younger Henry enjoyed an adventurous youth, travelling through the USA and then working as a waiter in Paris, France. By the early 1880s, he was living in South Lambeth, London, where he married Mary Clarke, a woman of Scottish origin who grew up on the Isle of Man. [See caption to image below]

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Above: Henry Ryan's second son Himalaya Ryan was born on SS Himalaya,
a steamship that carried British troops to India for four decades.

At this time Victorian London was in the midst of a theatrical boom, boosted by developments in gas lighting, public transport and general economic prosperity. Theatres and music halls mushroomed, primarily in the West End.

Henry and Mary Ryan espied a gap in the market. In 1885, they set up a stall at 115 Waterloo Road, near the Royal Victoria Hall (now the Old Vic), offering theatrical costumes. It soon evolved into a one-stop shop for anyone involved in the performing arts, offering everything from stage props to powder and rouge, as well as wigs and, most pertinently, footwear.

Anti-Irish sentiment in London was strong at this time, especially after the Jubilee Plot of 1887 in which a group of Fenians were arrested for allegedly trying to blow up Westminster Abbey and assassinate Queen Victoria. Sensing potential hostility to the surname of ‘Ryan’, the couple opted for the name ‘Rayne’ which, as their great-great-grandson Nick Rayne says, has ‘a dash of the French’ about it that would have appealed to their clientele.

By 1891, the Ryans were operating from three houses on Waterloo Road under the name of ‘Messrs. H. & M. Rayne - Theatrical Stores and Outfitters’. [iv] Henry’s younger brother Himalaya, known as Himmy, came south from Glasgow to help, while Henry and Mary’s seven children also grew up with the trade. As business boomed, so the Ryans – or the Raynes as they were now known – opened a theatrical shop in the West End itself, initially at 49 Charring Cross Road and then at 15 Rupert Street. They also moved to a grander residence at 71 Lambton Road in Wimbledon. [v]

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Above: An advertisement from a 1907 booklet 'Written by Himself' by Dan Leno.
Rayne’s original logo was a variation on the celebrated Manx symbol, the ‘Three Legs
of Man’, in a nod to Mary Ryan’s place of birth. It was also a play on the boy runners
employed by the company to scamper over to the West End and deliver goods, often
hastily required, to the various theatres. Boy runners were under strict instructions
that no exchange was to be completed unless there was cash in advance or cash on
delivery. Nick Rayne, present day head of the company, recalls that many of the old
timers he knew as a child started as boy runners.
(NB: The Rayne's daughter Jessica was nicknamed Manx.)

When the 20th century began, H. & M. Rayne was the leading ‘Theatrical Costumier’ in London. Among their supporters was George Edwardes, the pioneer of musical theatre in the West End, whose parents hailed from County Wexford.[vi] Another was Dublin-born Bram Stoker, the celebrated author of ‘Dracula’, who ran the Lyceum Theatre. With them came the leading actresses of the day such as Dame Ellen Terry and Lillie Langtry, the mistress of Edward VII. [vii]

International recognition was augmented in 1911 when the Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev brought the Ballet Russes to London in 1911 and sent his costume designers to Raynes for ballet shoes. Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova, two of ballets’ biggest stars, became lifelong devotees of the family firm.

The First World War inevitably brought a close to the golden age of theatre, not least as Londoners increasingly turned to the cinema instead. The Ryans were also undergoing a period of uncertainty. Perhaps on account of the stress of the business, Mary was confined to a mental institution while Henry Ryan passed away in August 1915 at the age of 52.

It fell to their son Joe to shake it all up.[viii] Born in 1893, Joseph Edward Rayne had followed his father’s advice as a young man and travelled extensively. As a teenager, he lived in France, Germany and Italy for one year each, mastering each language in turn. When war broke out, his linguistic skills ensured he was recruited into the Intelligence Corps. He rose to become Major and served along the Western Front. In 1919, he retired from the army and married Meta Reddish, an opera singer from upstate New York who he had met in Milan before the war. Two children followed. [ix]

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Above: From London Gazette, 23 November, 1915.

In 1920, Joe Rayne took a not inconsiderable gamble and opened the first Rayne’s ladies shoe shop on New Bond Street, London. On offer was a collection of day and evening shoes for ladies, all under the Rayne label. As Joseph’s son Eddie later remarked, this was an age when ‘the only people who bought stylish footwear were actresses and ladies of easy virtue.’ [x]

Joe wagered that the newly disenfranchised women of London would decide they’d had enough of the clumsy, lacklustre clodhoppers available from most shops, and turn with a passion to Rayne’s delectably well made and deliciously comfortable range.

He was correct. The New Bond Street shop was an overnight sensation. Vogue hailed Rayne’s button boots as the ‘smartest footwear in town.’ Musical icons Evelyn Laye and Jessie Mathews were amongst the first through the door, followed closely by Hollywood star Tallulah Bankhead.

Joe understood the power of celebrity. He recruited Anna Pavlova, his father’s patron, to be the ‘feet’ of Rayne. He also named specific shoes after stars such as the ‘Langtry Shoe’ for Lillie Langtry and the ‘Gertie’ for Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward’s favourite leading lady. The ‘Gertie’, a pair of flat, bowed pumps, was to be their best selling shoe for nearly fifty years.

By the time Marlene Dietrich became a Rayne’s convert in the early 1930s, Joe had bought his siblings out.[xi] While stars of stage and screen were still essential for him, Joe began courting a new line of fans over the course of the 1930s, namely the Royal family. The first to fall for his charms was Queen Mary, wife of George V, who granted him a Royal Warrant in 1935. Rayne’s would go on to become the shoe of choice for both the late Queen Mother and the present Queen Elizabeth, both of whom also granted the company Royal Warrants. As Princess Elizabeth, the Queen even sported a pair of Rayne’s shoes on her wedding day - ivory silk, embroidered with seed pearls. [xii]

Having the Royal seal of approval was a massive boost for the brand. In 1936, Joe signed one of the world’s first licensing agreements, under which Rayne produced shoes for the UK market on behalf of Delman, the iconic USA company. [xiii] Joe simultaneously imported state-of-the-art machinery from America to enable rapid manufacture of these flexible soled gems at a new factory in King's Cross, North London. [xiv] Some of these shoes made their way to Dublin where Rayne’s were exclusively stocked by Brown Thomas.

When Joe Rayne passed away in 1951, his 29-year-old son Eddie Rayne succeeded as managing director. Although born in America, the party-loving heir was brought up in England and educated at Harrow. The onset of cataracts in both eyes at the age of sixteen obliged him to leave school early and, while his vision was rescued, he thereafter wore the pair of thick pebble spectacles that was to become his trademark. [xv] He was also famed for his transatlantic phrases.

Eddie Rayne knew how to party but he also partied with a purpose, courting the American buyers and fashion press who traditionally flocked to Italy and France and luring them to London to view the latest British collections at a constant stream of fashion shows, banquets and gala receptions. The Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers - forerunner of the British Fashion Council - recognised his genius and appointed him chairman in 1960. [xvi]

During the eleven years apprenticeship he served before his fathers’ death, he befriended many of the upcoming greats of British design, such as the artist and set designer Oliver Messel whom he met while designing Vivian Leigh’s shoes for the 1945 film “Anthony & Cleopatra”. The two collaborated again to make Elizabeth Taylor’s shoes for her role as “Cleopatra” in what was then the most expensive film ever made. Messel was also commissioned to give the Rayne’s shop on New Bond Street an Edwardian revamp and the Rayne pop-up in Brown Thomas pays homage to that very work in a recreation by Oliver’s nephew Thomas Messel.

Under Eddie’s watch, Rayne’s completed its transformation into the most alluring shoe brand in Europe. He had one eye on the future. British women were starting to dance - ‘the language of the legs’ as Eddie called it –and new designs were required. Mary Quant came on board and designed her first leather-stacked stiletto heels and Shirley Temple-style ankle-straps for Rayne in 1960.

Under head designer Jean Matthew, Rayne created shoe collections for a who’s who of couturiers and designers that included Hardy Amies, Norman Hartnell, Bill Gibb, Bruce Oldfield, the House of Dior and Jean Muir. As well as ‘Cleopatra’, they made all the boots and shoes so effectively worn by Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in the TV series “The Avengers”.

Both America and France were smitten. By 1970, Rayne’s were on sale everywhere from Bergdorf Goodman and Harrods to their very own Rayne shop in the Faubourg St Honore of Paris. [xvii] However, a much more casual style of footwear was now wooing the youth culture. As more and more daughters decided they didn’t want to wear the same shoes as their mothers, Rayne’s slid from being the must-have brand to a retail store for other brands. It still had its devotees – including both the Princess Royal and Diana, Princess of Wales – and there were some outstanding Hollywood endorsements such as the dress shoes Karen Allen wore for the snake pit scene in Spielberg’s 1980 movie ‘Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark’.

Debenham’s bought the business in 1973, keeping Eddie at the helm. [xviii] However, when it was later sold to an entrepreneur, he refused to go with it and severed the family connection almost exactly 100 years after Henry and Mary Ryan opened their first stall. He was knighted in 1988 and, as President of the British Fashion Council, launched the British Fashion Awards in 1989.

Sir Edward Rayne was tragically killed in a fire at his home in England in 1992. [xix] Jean Muir called him ‘the best British shoemaker of his age - he worked to a quality that matched anything from abroad.’ Manolo Blahnik likewise hailed him as ‘the greatest shoemaker in England for many, many decades’.

In 1994, Rayne stopped play and went into liquidation. All appeared to be over until Eddie Rayne’s son Nick Rayne regained the trademark seven years ago. In conjunction with his wife Lulu, he has now re-launched the brand for a new generation, with French designer Laurence Dacade infusing his modern style with a sense of history. Their debu pop-up was at Selfridge's in September 2013 and an exhibition is lined up for the Fashion & Textile Museum at the V&A in September 2014.

History is certainly important to Nick, the fourth generation to take on the shoe. As to whether the Rayne connection will run to his children, the fifth generation, he says that they are certainly ‘curious’. [xx] Establishing the link to Cahir remains one of his greatest goals. In the 1930s, his great-uncle Charles paid a visit to the Tipperary town with his son Derek. They stayed in the Cahir House Hotel where they noted a stuffed bear on the landing. When Derek returned for a second visit a few decades later, he felt little had changed in his absence. Even the bear was still there. [xxi]

'One day I hope to visit Cahir and maybe meet some real, very distant, relatives,' says Nick. 'And I also want to know whether that bear is still on the landing at the hotel which Derek told me about!'


[i] This was created from the 1881 merger of the 46th (South Devonshire) Regiment of Foot and the 32nd (Cornwall Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot. I do not know which of these, if either, Henry was initially in.

[ii] Himalaya Rayne listed on the 1901 Census via Ancestry as born 1872 - http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?gsfn=Himalaya&gsln=Rayne&db=uki1901&gss=seo&hc=20 i

[iv] They were based at 115, 117 and 119 Waterloo Road.
‘The full name of the British company is H. & M. Rayne Ltd., referring to the founder, Henry Rayne (1860-1915), and his wife Mary . The firm has its origins in the shop opened by Henry Rayne in Waterloo Road, London, in about 1885 where he sold equipment and accessories for the theatrical business, such as ballet shoes and stage props. This side of the undertaking then faded out, with a more general emphasis on footwear and, subsequently , handbags. The firm was sold off in 1987.’ [p. 202, Corporate eponymy: a dictionary of the persons behind the names of major American, British, European, and Asian businesses, Adrian Room (McFarland & Co., 1992).
The name also highlighted the ongoing challenges faced by women in business at this time. Mary’s initial ‘M’ may have been on the shop literature but she was still down as a ‘Messr’.

One wonders is the following extract from the London Gazette relevant or is this a different family entirely?
NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, Henry Rayne, Michael Rayne the younger, and William Todd Rayne, as Tanners, Curriers, and Leather Merchants, at Kendal, in the county of Westmoreland, and elsewhere, under the style or firm of Rayne and Co., has been this day dissolved by mutual consent. All debts due and owing by the said late firm will be received and paid by the said Henry Rayne.—Dated this 13th day of December, 1878. Henry Rayne. Michael Rayne, jun. William Todd Rayne.

[v] They also appear to have been connected to a house – possibly a holiday home - at Ringwould near the White Cliffs of Dover according to the following.

HENRY EDWARD RAYNE, Deceased. ' Pursuant to the Statute 22 and 23 Viet., cap. 35. ALL persons having claims against the estate of Henry Edward Rayne, late of 71, Lambton- -road, Wimbledon, Surrey, and 115, 117 and 119, Waterloo-road, Lambeth, and "Holmcroft," Kingstown, Ringwould, Kent, Theatrical Costumier (who died on the 20th day of August, 1915), are required to send particulars to us on or before the 18th day of December, 1915.— Dated this 19th day of November,1915. RUBINSTEIN, NASH and CO., 5 and 6, Raymond-buildings, Gray's Inn , W.C., Solicitors for Executors.
From The London Gazette, 23 November, 1915. P. 11677 via http://www.london-gazette.co.uk/issues/29377/pages/11677/page.pdf

"The Rubinstein family left Russia in the early part of the nineteenth century to avoid the pogroms. They settled in Dublin for a couple of generations before some of them left for London and became a famous legal dynasty in England. They were jewellers in Dublin for at least one generation before becoming a legal family." (N. Rayne)

[vi] In 1885, the year the Raynes opened, Edwardes became manager of the Gaiety Theatre.

[vii] Other Edwardian patrons included Dame Madge Kendall and the soprano and comic actress Marie Tempest. Some patrons listed on Dan Leno advertisement at http://casafernandopessoa.cm-lisboa.pt/bdigital/9-42/2/9-42_master/9-42_PDF/9-42_0000_1-134_t24-C-R0150.pdf

[viii] The other sons were James Henry Rayne, born 1888, and Charles. I’m not sure which order they were born in; James seems to have been oldest.

[ix] Joe's army report at the National Archives suggests that he fell off a horse in September 1914 and spent a period at home on sick leave recovering.

While staying at a pensione in Milan, Joe met Miss Meta Reddish, an opera singer from upstate New York who was making a splash as a soloist in southern Europe. They maintained correspondence throughout the First World War, while she toured the Americas, and were married in England in 1919. Their daughter Joan was born in 1920, followed by a son Edward, who was born in the USA on 19th August 1922. Meta appears to have taken her life in Los Angeles many years later.
Meta Reddish, an acclaimed soloist, was a granddaughter of Hiron Reddish and Eliza Watkins, and a niece of Adelbert Reddish. The Reddish family hailed from Warsaw, New York, but had been in Maryland since the 18th century [check]. Her brother was pianist Claud Reddish. See Claude Reddish "A Chronicle of Memories", by Meta’s brother, who describes their childhood and the Reddish family. There is also a book entitled 'Success in Music and How it is Won' by Henry T. Finck, with a handwritten dedication to Meta Reddish, Napoli, Xmas 1909, by Mr Allen Olmsted of Buffalo. She made a successful debut at the San Carlo Opera house in Naples in April 1911 – see http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=266&dat=19110422&id=5PVEAAAAIBAJ&sjid=SbcMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3037,1036165
Eddie’s sister Joan Rayne died in California in about 1959.
“There are many who remember Miss Meta Reddish, daughter of Mr. and Mrs Frand Reddish and how Village Hall Would be filled with listeners, entranced with her beautiful singing and later how she won laurels in Italy and countries abroad. She married Major Joseph Edward Rayne of London. They are the parents of a daughter who is a gifted pianist; a splendid horse woman and enthusiastic motorist. On the 6th of July, 1938, she Was presented at the Court of their Majesties at Buckingham Palace.” (The Wyoming County Times, Warsaw, N. T., Thursday, August 18, 1938.)

Between 1930 and 1933, Joseph’s sister Jessica Rayne (nicknamed Manx) was married to Alexander Stuart Frere, the publisher, about whom more at http://www.oxforddnb.com/templates/article.jsp?articleid=31125&back=)

[x] That said, the Raynes had long known how to turn out shoes of a ‘natural, unstudied distinction’. See Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality (1923).

[xi] In 1929, Joe bought out his brothers and sisters and established H. & M. Rayne as a limited company. Some of his siblings went to Australia, others to the USA. His brother Charles, who designed the present-day company label, moved to the theatrical enclave of Carmel, California, but not before he and his son Derek called in to Cahir in the 1930s to see where their grandfather came from.

[xii] Meanwhile, Rayne’s shoes, already the toast of the couturier gurus of London, were being spirited away to faraway feet all across the British Empire. It was to the heads of that empire that Joseph now turned. Meta was presented to George V and Queen Mary in June 1932. When the Royals celebrated their Silver Jubilee three years later, Queen Mary granted Rayne’s a Royal Warrant.
The late Queen Mother was also a Rayne’s aficionado, preferring white shoes in calf or suede, with six-inch heels and platform soles. So too was the present Queen who sported a pair of Rayne’s ivory silk shoes, embroidered with seed pearls, on her wedding day in 1947. Neither woman forgot and two further Royal Warrants followed – one from the Queen Mother in the early 1940s and another from Queen Elizabeth in [about] 1955.

[xiii] The shop at Rupert Street was converted into a shoe shop and a new one was established on Regent Street, run by Joe’s uncle Himmy, who always wore a black silk top. Under the guidance of Joe’s nephew Guy Rayne-Savage, the company was also developing their handbag business.

[xiv] The factory at in King’s Cross opened in 1939. It survived WWII intact with only the odd incendiary device falling on it which were put out before too much damage had been done. The Waterloo road factory was destroyed in the Blitz in 1940.

[xv] One upside to his lousy vision was that he became a formidable bridge player. Unable to read books with his cataracts, he mastered the markings on cards so well that he was playing for England by the age of 21. Five years later he was on the team that won the European Championships in 1948.

[xvi] In 1940, the third generation of Rayne stepped forward as eighteen-year-old Eddie, Joe’s only son, commenced an eleven-year apprenticeship as a shoemaker.

[xvii] Wedgwood jasperware heels appeared in 1959, modelled on the Wedgwood china pattern. A 'Jaress' yellow shoe with mesh toe followed in 1963.
A shoe needs a shop. Rayne opened new London stores in Bruton Street and Knightsbridge. The collection went on sale in Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges.
America was smitten. Major licensing deals were struck with New York department stores Bonwit Teller and Bergdorf Goodman. Another deal with Genesco gave Rayne’s exclusive right to produce Roger Vivier designed Christian Dior shoes for the English market. In 1961, Eddie bought Delman.
The French were also conquered. First came ‘Le Look Anglais’, a sell-out Rayne fashion show held at the Tour d’Argent Restaurant in Paris in 1960. The French photographer Guy Bourdin was commissioned to shoot a major campaign that heralded the opening of a Rayne shop in the Faubourg St Honore of Paris in 1970. Amongst the prominent French couturiers to opt for Rayne were Lanvin and Nina Ricci.

[xviii] In 1973, Eddie sold the business to Debenhams, the British department store, but, while he remained at the helm, he resisted calls to shift production to Italy. Popular advertising campaigns were filmed in the 1970s and 1980s by David Bailey, Willie Christie and Uwe Omer. In 1975, Eddie sold the controlling interest to Debenhams, of which he became President from 1976-86. He was also President of the British Fashion Council from l985 to 1990.
By 1985, Raynes had 70 retail outlets throughout the world while Debenhams was the largest department store group in the UK. That same year, Debenhams was acquired by The Burton Group. Rayne was resold two years later to entrepreneur David Graham. In 1994, Rayne’s fell victim to the recession and, under its owner Richard Kottler, the firm went into liquidation.

[xix] On 7th February 1992, 69-year-old Sir Edward Rayne was killed when a television set at his home in Bexhill, England, caught fire and asphyxiated him. Just five days earlier, he had competing in the Portland Invitation alongside many of the world's leading bridge players. His wife, Lady Phillis, aged 73, escaped alive but required hospital treatment. He was survived by two sons.

[xx] Along with his wife Lulu, he has been closely involved in children’s clothing for 25 years, including the Brown Thomas clothing section which he runs.

[xxi] Billy Murphy of Drury PR writes: ‘Cahir House Hotel. My mother's aunt, Baby Burke ran the hotel in the 30's, 40's and 50's. She was succeeded by Aileen McCool, a cousin who ran the hotel from the mid 50's onwards. As a child on holidays in Cahir in the early/mid 60's, I remember the bear. I hasten to add that it was stuffed!’ Joe Walsh’s father Paddy Walsh, draper, The Square, now 83, also remembers the bear.


"Shoe Icons: Masters of style", Vogue Pelle, Sept 2010.




With thanks to Ally Bunbury, Joe Walsh, David Butler, Billy Murphy, Nick Rayne, Bairbre Power, Shoshana Kazab, Susan Curelop and Leslie Ann Horgan of the Irish Daily Mail.