8th May 1941. Leisure Wars.

‘I’m Happy when I’m Hiking’: song of 1930’s.

The Youth Hostelling Association (YHA) had led the way along with the National Council of Ramblers’ Federation, later the 1935 Ramblers’ Association. 

So ‘kitted-out’ with wide khaki shorts and ‘lemonade picnics’, people headed outdoors. Those in the south strode out, helped by the Southern Railway poster, which advertised ‘Hike for Health-Go as you Please Cheap Tickets’.


One company founded in 1923 which was to supply camping equipment was Blacks of Greenockmanufacturers of army tents, and later fenders for D-Day boats, which Today in 1941 unfortunately was flattened by a parachute mine.

The company was founded by an entrepreneur of Empire, Thomas Black who had prospected for gold in Australia in the 1850’s and worked in Spanish Guinea for Laughland & Brown as an agent trading calico for ivory.

Blacks Leisure Group (1985) acquired the Outdoor Group which included Millets and Free Spirit in November 1999.(1)

Then in May 2002 Blacks sold its Sports Division to JD Sports, before buying 47 outlets of Famous Army Stores. In 2004 it bought 27 outlets from the Scout Association.

However the good days were receding and its Kent Bluewater Estate, closed within 12 months.

By 2008/9 they had made a loss of £6.8m and in October stores were being shut and the Company went through the Company Volunteer Agreement (CVA) where insolvency allows the company to come to some agreement with creditors for repayment of all or part of the debt.(2)

Before Blacks Leisure folded it owned 256 Millets, 116 Blacks and 32 Free Spirit outlets.

On 7th December 2011 Blacks Outdoor Group was up for sale and later in the month was in Receivership. The company was in Administration for one day which allowed JD Sports to take the business debt free.

Out of the ashes Blacks Outdoor Retail along with Millets continues to trade, under the parentage of JD Sports as of 2016.

(1) Millets, founded in Southampton and Bristol in 1893, was to suffer bomb damage, but like Black’s picked itself up after the war. In 1986 Foster Bros. had acquired Millets, to become Millets Leisure.

(2) A CVA can only be implemented by insolvency practitioners and 75% by value of the creditors have to agree. However many failing stores had been ear-marked for refurbishment prior to the CVA being activated.

Ref: wikipedia.org/blacks_leisure.

Ref: telegraph.co.uk/jd-sports.Harry Wallop. 9.1.2012.

Ref: millets.co.uk/history.

Ref: pinterest/Pic Image.

Ref: gracesdirectory/blacks-of-greenock.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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