Boot, Jesse, first Baron Trent 1850-1931, man of business and philanthropist, was born in Nottingham 2 June 1850, of humble origin. His lineage has been traced back to one Richard Boote of Diseworth, Leicestershire, who died in 1577. But he himself liked to recall that he was the grandson of an agricultural labourer: his family had lived for over 150 years in various Nottinghamshire villages. He was the only son of John Boot, by his second wife, Mary, daughter of Benjamin Wills, of Nottingham. His father traded as a herbalist in Nottingham, and died when his son was ten years old. Three years later Jesse left school and took complete control of the shop. He devoted all his spare time to the study of pharmacy, but it was not until he was twenty-seven that he opened his first chemist's shop in an adjoining street. His untiring energy made this venture a success, and after turning his business into a limited liability company in 1888, he went on opening new shops until he had built up the largest retail chemists' undertaking in the world
In middle age Boot had a complete breakdown in health. A description which he gave of his early days, of the work which he did, and of the hours which he kept, makes it no surprise that his health gave way, but remarkable that he lived at all. He says that after being busy all day in the shop, he had usually hours of writing to do. Later on when there were branches to manage, he would work at stocktaking all through the night for a fortnight on end. He was so worn out that when he was thirty-six, anyone could have bought his business very cheap. When he was fifty an insidious disease, ossification of the muscles, set in, crippling him so hopelessly that he had to be carried about like a child. But this disability did not affect his working powers: his business and philanthropic labours increased with his malady. He owed much to his wife, for she was a woman of remarkable judgement and business capacity, and her assistance was of the greatest value to him
In 1892 Boot's company began the manufacture of its own drugs and other commodities. Large modern factories were built at Nottingham, and the business, both retail and wholesale, grew rapidly. A new idea was the opening in his shops of other lines, circulating libraries, restaurants, jewelry, silver, and art departments. During the war of 1914-1918 the company rendered notable service by supplying the troops with effective respirators for resisting poison gas, and millions of tablets for sterilizing water. In 1920 Boot sold the controlling interest in his Pure Drug Company to the United Drug Company of America, and a few years later he retired from business, to be succeeded as chairman of all his companies by his only son
Boot's benefactions to Nottingham were on the most munificent scale, and cannot have fallen far short of £2,000,000. His greatest gift was the new University College at Highfields, together with the park of several hundred acres in which it stands. Part of this park was devoted to the public, and used for sports and games. He made other gifts to the city, and contributed handsomely to other good causes. In recognition he received the freedom of Nottingham in 1920. He was a man of plain, straightforward character, and his wealth afforded him welcome opportunities of extended social service
Boot was knighted in 1909 and created a baronet in 1917. In 1929 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Trent, of Nottingham. He married in 1886 Florence Anne, daughter of William Rowe, of St. Heliers, Jersey, and had one son and two daughters. He died at Millbrook, Jersey, 13 June 1931, and was succeeded as second baron by his son, John Campbell (born 1889)
Portraits of Boot, by Denholm Davis, at the ages of sixty and seventy, are respectively in the possession of the second Lord Trent and of the Dowager Lady Trent. A bust, by C. L. J. Doman, stands outside the Nottingham University College gates.
The Times, 15 June 1931.
Contributor: Alfred Cochrane.