A brief history of English shoemaking

The history of the English shoe deserves a short re-telling. The modern English shoe first emerged in the early 1800s, probably from a variety of shoe types that were then prevalent in Europe and England. At that time shoe-making was primarily a craft industry, with the bulk of the industry based in Northamptonshire, in the north of England. Northamptonshire was then a rural area, and provided both high quality leather and the oak and charcoal that were necessary for the tanning of the shoe leathers.

As industrialisation progressed and the population of England grew, so the original craft shops became large industrial factories in their own right. Out of these beginnings came the classic English brands that we have today, such as Grenson, Crockett and Jones, Sanders and Sanders, Trickers and Loakes etc.

Goodyear welting revolutionised English shoemaking. Welting is the practice of stitching a strip of leather to the insole and upper of the shoe and then stitching it in turn to the sole (in America it is called the outsole). This made the shoes stronger, more durable, and more flexible. It also meant that shoes could be resoled, extending their life.

This process really took off when Christian Dancel, a German immigrant to America, invented a machine which could stitch welted shoes. The Goodyear company bought process in 1864 and it came to England in the 1870′s. All quality English shoemakers now use Goodyear welting and it has become the distinctive feature of English shoes. Shoes became artefacts that could be made on a production line and from those beginnings we got the historic shoe brands that we have today.

There is no denying that English shoe-making had a rough ride in the 20th century. As industrial processes for making shoes became simpler and cheap shoes multiplied, quality shoe-makers found it hard to compete and a number of great brands simply went under. The sixties saw the influx of cheap poor quality shoes from Eastern Europe. Oddly enough, there was a tradition of quality shoemaking in Czechoslovakia and Hungary but communism virtually killed it. This was followed more recently by cheap shoes from China, which also cut into the market.

However in the last twenty years the market for English shoes has grown and there are two factors that have had a considerable influence on the market for English shoes.

The first of these is that London has become the foremost financial market in the world. English bankers have always dressed well and there are now more of them and they all need good shoes. The great shoe makers have grown on the back of their support.

The second factor has been the increase in American visitors to England and American men’s sophisticated appetite for quality luxury goods. Brands like Barkers and Church’s have become synonymous with good taste and luxury.

Visit the Bradshaw and Lloyd website: www.bradshawandlloyd.com to view the huge range of shoes from:

Loake shoes
Sanders shoes
Trickers shoes
Sebago shoes
Bradshaw and Lloyd shoes

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