” Do you fancy writing a blog piece about the history of men’s shoes?” – this was the challenge laid down to me by T.M. Lewin.
Hell yes!…..hmmmm, but how do I write a “brief history” and make it enjoyable to read? I hope I have achieved it…read on, comment and feel free to update me with information on other British Shoe manufacturers.
This blog piece is very much a work in progress.
The British Shoe empire started with a simple mediterranean sandal. By the 15th century, the humble shoe became a very pointed shoe indeed (some points were 4 inches or 10cm long). Charles the 1st, introduced flamboyant boots…a french fashion that breached the channel. By the 17th and 18th Century, a wide sturdy heel, followed by the Wellington Boot, the Brogue, Derby to the 20th century fashions of winkle pickers, Dr Martens and the ultimate icon of the sneaker/trainer.
Northamptonshire has been the home of British footwear manufacturing. The 1930’s depression and World Wars didn’t knock Northampton’s footwear pedigree status. By the 1980’s, due to many factors including globalisation and greater supply of cheaper shoes, finally saw many manufacturers close. Today, a handful remain and with the increase in demand for “British Made” tailoring, there has been an increase in newer entrants. Long may it continue.
History of British Menswear
History of British Footwear
For a quick synopsis of the history of footwear, I created this board of images. Click on the image and read about the British company for the corresponding shoe.
Otherwise, have a gander through this (by the way if any of my readers are great at info graphs, please feel free to contact me)
1675 Church’s – Now owned by Prada group, however some of their shoes are still made in Britain. Their heritage is the godfather of British Shoes. One of the (or perhaps the oldest) shoe manufacturers in the UK, established in 1675 by Stone Church. 1881, won the gold award at the Great Exhibition because the introduced “adaptable models” where you could chose the leather, width and even half sizes for the first time. A brand that shows if you have heritage,
you can survive anything.
1829 Trickers – Trickers established in 1829 by Joseph Tricker, is known for heavy country boots and shoes. Worn by farmers, estate owners and gentry for centuries. It was the son-in-law (Walter Barltrop) who at the tender age of 7 created the waterproofing technique that was marvelled at for so many years.
1829 John Lobb – John Lobb started his company in 1829. He was a farm boy who went on to gain a Royal Warrant for his bookmaking skills. Each customer have their own last, and therefore their shoes are made to measure and fit like a glove. John Lobb was another favourite of Prince Edward of Wales – man of style.
1880 Loake – Loake a shoe producers since 1880. Established in Kettering, Northamptonshire by three brothers. From 1939 – 1945, Loake supplied the forces with shoes and boots and were officially recognised as a brand in 1945. In 2007, they were granted the Royal Warrant. Heritage with a Royal seal of approval. However not all their shoes are made in the UK, they do still use the Northamptonshire factory for welting their shoes.
1880 Barker – To commemorate 135 years of Barker Shoes brand, the Wordsworth was created for the Anniversary Collection. This shoe is made to measure and takes 6-8 weeks, it is cut from a high quality natural Crust calf leather which has been tanned but not finished, then hand dyed and polish to a unique patina which takes many hours to complete. Arthur Barker personally made boots or shoes as a hand sewn man, but in 1880 he founded a Company and went onto become a family run business but not any more.
1881 NPS – NPS has seen a big revival under the stewardship of Ivor Tilley since 2006. You may well be wearing a pair of their shoes, if you have bought rom John Lewis, ASOS, Jack Wills and Joules to name but a few brands they make shoes for. NPS started in 1881 as a co-operative of five men from Wollaston. These men were know as “The Duffers”. Their empire was secured by winning a contract to supply Army Boots. In 1959, NPS provided a sample boot which then went on to become one of the most iconic British Footwear brands, it was the 8 hole ‘Dr Martens’ boot.
1886 Cheaneys – Joseph Cheaney started his company in 1886. With help from family, the Cheaney brand survived when many other brands in Northamptonshire didn’t. In 2009, cousins Jonathon and William Church launched a successful management buyout. This year marks the third time that Cheaneys has been awarded the Queens Award for Enterprise in International Trade.
1890 Edward Green – Edward Green has a longstanding reputation of style and craftsmanship. Founded in 1890 – associated to English Goodyear Welted footwear. The DUKE loafer 137 last — mink suede with slim rubber soles – need after the Edward, Duke of Windsor. The style icon who made best dressed lists all around the world. Very much known for his two toned penny loafers.
1898 Ducker & Son – Founded in 1898 by Edward Ducker, this is one of the very few shop outside of London (based in Oxford) that still does hand-sewn shoes. Famous people who have worn Ducker & Son include: J.R.R Tolkien, Bowes-Lyon, Matthew Pinsent and Eddie Jordan to name a few.
1899 Alfred Sargent – Alfred Sargent established his first factory in 1899 with his sons, they moved to their current premises in 1915. Portland Road was the first factory with electricity in Rushden, Northamptonshire. Alfred Sargent Handgrade Miller The balmoral boot, which was the number one ankle boot in the mid 19th Century in the United Kingdom. This was because post world war there were increased sales of shoes, and therefore a greater appreciation of fashion.
1901 Griggs – 1460’s Made in England 8 holed boot first made in 1960 after Bill Griggs bought exclusive rights to the air cushion sole germane design. The birth of “Air Wair” and the beginning of an icon. The Griggs family started making boots in 1901 in Wollaston Northamptonshire. Their status has grown over the years due to the boot coming fashionable in the 1960’s when the ska loving skinheads used it as a mark of “British Working Class Style”. By 1970 it was a boot of self-expression and today a boot of pretty much wear it whatever way you want.
1905 Gola – I remember this iconic sneaker from my university days in the 1990’s. Brit pop bands such as Oasis, helped re-establish Gola mens Harrier Brown trainer as a fashion brand. Hola started in 1905 and was famous for football boots and running with the Harrier launch in 1968.
1960 Dr Marten – 1460’s Made in England 8 holed boot first made in 1960 after Bill Griggs bought exclusive rights to the air cushion sole germane design. The birth of “Air Wair” and the beginning of an icon. (second entry on the time line – first entry under the Griggs)
1961 Norman Walsh – Norman Walsh was an acclaimed master craftsman and highly recognised by elite athletes. He went alone and set up his own shoe manufacturing in 1961. One of his most famous shoes was the ‘Fosters De Luxe’ a track shoe with spikes, most probably used in the London Olympics as Norman Walsh made a lot of the shoes.
1977 Conker – Devon based shoemaker Conker was formed. Their customers rave on about the comfort and durability of the had sewn shoes.
1982 New Balance – Made in factories in Cumbria in the UK. 1906, inspired by the problem of chicken feet, William Riley (founder) created the arch support for problem feet. 1972, on the day of the Boston Marathon Jim Davis bought New Balance and it has remained private and family owned. Their mission statement is to “Move the World” through responsible management and innovation.
1987 Jeffrey West – Founded by two school friends in 1987. Mark Jeffrey and Guy West were in their 20’s when the bank manager gave them the loan that secured their dream to continue creating flamboyant and imaginative quality shoes for men. The pair have been making shoes since they were 16. Their inspiration is from a list of “heroes” past and present. So you have John Lennon, Keith Richards, Jarvis Cocker, Michael Caine etc. With over 6 shops worldwide, they have created a following and it’s easy to see why.
2004 Carre Ducker – bespoke shoe for haute couture is how owners Deborah Carre and James Ducker describe their style. Business owners and shoe makers, have opened a school in London and New York. I would love to do the 12 day intensive hand sewn shoe making course in London for £1990.
2009 Mr Hare – Founder Marc Hare has brought stylish back to footwear. His penchant for luxury and music is reflected in his shoes which he makes so that a man can ““Work and play, slow and fast, indoors and outdoors, one person, every situation”| Mr Hare AW14
2013 J Fitzpatrick – Founder Justin FitzPatrick, grew up in Seattle, USA but turned to Italy to learn the craft of shoemaking and chose Britain to further his shoe making skills and build his brand. He shared his story, knowledge and hard graft in his blog “The Shoe Snob”.
Future for shoes
The future evolves around technology pushing boundaries (laser printed shoes), to providing capsule wardrobes for the busy man. Britain will remain at the core of the footwear trends thanks to our ongoing love of shoes and amazing colleges such as London College of Fashion UAL and De Montfort University.
For footwear businesses, I feel we will see more collaborations between Bespoke suit makers and shoe makers. Provide an all in one capsule wardrobe service. The bundle idea is seeing the success behind and is T.M. Lewins leading source of traffic from their website, see for yourself and get suited and booted the easy way: Shop T.M. Lewins by clicking here
I really want to thank T.M. Lewins for collaborating with me on this blog post. My research was so much fun and as always, deepened my love and knowledge of men’s shoes. Thank you to the blog “UK Made” who provided the basis of my information of footwear brands made in Britain, please note that the post was written in 2013 (although it has been updated throughout the years), and therefore the accuracy of my content may be out of date. Let me know what your thoughts are #TMSGents and #TMSLadies….contribute if you have more to say on this subject….Share on every social media going……it’s all for the love of shoes and fashion
The History of Shoes By Northampton Borough Council.
History of Men’s Shoes – By Love to Know.com
Made in Britain – by British Footwear Association
Footwear Design: Aki Choklat: Laurence King Publishing: ISBN 978-1-85669-745-3
Shoes, A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More: O’Keeffe: Workman Publishing: ISBN 0-7611-0114-4