From Kings and Queens, right the way down to Kinky Boots and shoes – Northamptonshire has made its name and fame with the boot and shoe industry.
As a proud manufacturer based in Northampton, we are celebrating Northamptonshire Week with a series of blogs about the county. In this blog we discuss Northamptonshire’s heritage in shoemaking.
Since the 17th Century the Northamptonshire has been in the business of making boots and shoes, an industry which expanded more so with the Industrial revolution.
A walk around Northampton’s ‘Boot and Shoe Quarter’ gives you a glimpse into this shoemaking history where you can see ex-factory sites that have been converted into flats or in some instances left idle, as well as the long rows of terrace houses surrounding these buildings where factory workers would have lived.
The county thrived on its ability to produce high-end footwear that has been worn in war, by royalty, and even James Bond.
At a glance it might be thought that the shoe sector lies dormant or left behind in the 1950s, but in reality Northamptonshire continues to hold a foot in the door to the global market of shoes from heritage to newer brands building on the shoe-town name.
But what about the processes behind the boot and shoe industry? Leather. Northamptonshire was also home to tanneries and leather works dating back over 900 years.
Excavations in 1983 at a Northampton site referred to under the historic name ‘The Green’ (what we recognise today as the area around the train station – Green Street to Castle Hill) found there were tanneries in the area from the 16th century onwards. Tanneries continued beyond the 16th century in neighbouring towns such as Wellingborough. Once these tanneries closed leather production was not halted here, and leather use in Northamptonshire for footwear and fashion continued. In the audio clip below, taken from this article, Ken Edwards describes how his father used to deliver crocodile skins tanned at the Invicta Leather Works in Salisbury to Northampton where they could be made into shoes and handbags.
Today Northampton remains an important location for leather history and education. The University of Northampton Leather has taught related courses since 1978, .is the base for the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT), allowing for the county’s leather history to be remembered, researched, and evolved for other industries including fashion, footwear, and the automotive sector.
Posters on education and leather in Northampton:
Further reading on the leather and shoe industry: