Shoe and boot making
The making of leather shoes and boots, including hand-cutting and hand-sewing.
|Historic area of significance||Northamptonshire|
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||21-50?|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||See ‘Other information’ for further details|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required||21-50|
By the mid-eighteenth century shoes were no longer sold only in the shoemakers’ own shops, but could also be bought in many towns from warehouses, which stocked shoes from a range of sources. In towns most shoes were made by outworkers working at home. Manufacturers such as William Horton in Stafford or William Dixon in Stone employed a large number of workers and stored completed boots and shoes in warehouses.
The huge numbers of boots and shoes made to supply the army during the Napoleonic Wars not only saw a great growth in the shoe trade, but also encouraged the development of methods of mass-production. In 1810 M I Brunel patented a sole-riveting machine. It faded from view after the end of the war in 1815, but the onset of the Crimean War in 1853 saw Tomas Crick of Leicester patent a riveting method.
Meanwhile, in America, Samuel Preston patented a pegging machine in 1833, which used wooden pegs to attach the sole, rather than iron rivets. Another American invention, the sewing machine, was adapted to sew leather. The first machines were introduced to Britain by Edwin Bostock in Stafford in October 1855. Although quickly abandoned following workers’ unrest, it was soon introduced in Northampton and London, and the first recognisably modern factories followed in 1857. These early machines were only for closing the uppers, traditionally women’s work, so other processes were still carried out in the shoemaker’s home. Over the next decades a series of further inventions ensured all processes could take place in a factory system. The Blake sole stitcher was perfected around 1864, and introduced to Stafford and Stone by 1871. Pegging and riveting machines were adopted in Britain during the 1860s. Finishing was the last process to be mechanised, but by the 1890s mechanisation was complete.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
Training issues: The cost of training an apprentice is prohibitive (cost of wages, national insurance, trainer’s time, holidays, materials etc.)
Training issues: There aren’t any technical colleges which train ‘makers’ as opposed to ‘designers’ and there is no support for those wanting to learn one-to-one at the bench or with a ‘hands-on’ approach.
Training issues: Very few younger people want to take on a ‘creative career’, with the rise of technology and mass consumerism. Schools also have a role to play here.
Market issues: The cost of bespoke handmade shoes is prohibitive to many, often upwards of £3000 per pair.
Market issues: Availability of cheap shoes.
Business issues: Marketing, overheads, cashflow, bookkeeping, visibility, finding customers.
Lack of awareness: A general lack of awareness of the craft, and customers not understanding the quality of handmade shoes.
Shortage of raw materials: A large problem is the lack of raw materials and tool makers available in the UK due to the great rise of manufacturing overseas.
Shortage of tools: A large problem is the lack of raw materials and tool makers available in the UK due to the great rise of manufacturing overseas. An allied challenge is a shortage of people who know how to service old Singer sewing machines often used in shoe manufacture.
Craftspeople currently known
- Foster & Son
- Gaziano Girling
- George Cleverly
- Mariano Crespo
- Peter Prince
- Tony Slinger
- Jadd Freidman, Suffolk Shoes
- Louis Smith
- Horrace Batten Boots
- Bill Bird
- Georgina Goodman
- Caroline Groves
- Philip Taylor, The Cordwainer
CarréDucker runs a shoemaking school. There are several institutions running courses in footwear, both design and manufacture, including the London College of Fashion (which offers numerous ranging from short courses to masters degrees), Leicester College, Tresham College in Wellingborough (which offers a one year diploma).