The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Shoe and boot making

 

The making of leather shoes and boots, including hand-cutting and hand-sewing.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Leather
Historic area of significance  Northamptonshire
Area currently practised  UK
Origin in the UK
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  21-50
Current no. of trainees  See ‘Other information’ for further details
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  21-50?
Current total no. of craftspeople  21-50?

 

History

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.

 

Techniques

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

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.

 

Support organisations

Craftspeople currently known

Other information

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).

 

References