HIGH Street shoe firm CJ Clark yesterday beat off a #184m bid to wrest

control from family hands.

Shareholders rejected a move to sell the 168-year-old firm, founded on

Quaker traditions, to conglomerate Berisford International.

After an orderly and sometimes passionate extraordinary general

meeting at Shepton Mallet, Somerset, shareholders voted by a majority of

more than 52% to reject the resolution recommending the sale. With

around 72 million shares involved in the voting, 52.57% were pledged

against the sale.

The decision was greeted with cheers and some applause at the

Showering Pavilion in the Royal Bath and West showground.

Around 800 shareholders had spent most of the day debating the

resolution which was recommended by most of the board of CJ Clark -- one

of the UK's largest privately owned companies.

It took nearly two hours for the scrutineers to sort out the

complexities of the voting system which decided the fate of the family

business founded by two Quaker farmer brothers at Street in Somerset,

who made sheepskin slippers for sale.

The bid had come from the international holding company, Berisford

International headed by millionaire chief executive Alan Bowkett.

Berisford's offer split the board and led to feuding among family

members, who together hold 70% of the shares. Institutions, pension

funds and employee groups each held 10% of the remainder.

Seven directors backed the sale proposal while another abstained. But

three directors strongly opposed the sale move maintaining that claims

of a family feud had been hyped up.

Their case is that the company is in profit and has good prospects

under good management. They proposed a public flotation of the company

within five years, a slimmed down board with fewer family members and a

shareholder council.

Company chairman Walter Dickson, who backed the bid, told the meeting

that a ''close'' result was likely and warned shareholders the

alternative proposals could not be turned into reality.

''There is no coherent action plan and timetable available. There is

every reason for anxiety that good management may leave or fail to be

attracted with the consequence that future plans cannot be realised.

''In my view, and the view of the majority of the board, it would be

tragic to turn down a good offer now if we are only to revert to the old

arguments and conceivably more public debate,'' he said.

Rebel director Lance Clark maintained that he and two other opposing

directors were committed to the flotation. He maintained: ''It is an

idiotic time to sell.''

He was loudly applauded when he urged the shareholders to reject the

bid and keep Clark in private hands.

The historic vote was taken in the Pavilion, which is normally the

venue for cattle shows in the centrepiece showroom of the showground.

The showground is only 11 miles away from Street, the town founded on

the early business initiative of the Quaker brothers. Street prospered

under the benevolent Quaker tradition and the business has grown to an

international concern employing 18,000 people worldwide.

After the vote Clark said that because of the closeness of the vote it

was necessary for the board to give very careful and detailed

consideration to how the company should proceed.

Mr Dickson added: ''The board will now work towards achieving

agreement on how best to take advantage of the great strength of its

brands and people in the best interests of our shareholders and


When asked about his own position he said: ''I will cross that bridge

when we come to it.''

Mr Bowkett said he was ''saddened'' by the result but added that

Berisford was looking at other possible acquisitions.

Shares in Berisford, which were suspended last month because of the

Clark bid, will be traded again on Monday.