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John White

John White in his Mayoral Robes
John White in his Mayoral Robes
John White was Mayor of Higham Ferrers for two years, including Coronation Year. In 1952 he was made a Freeman of the Borough and his portrait was hung in the Town Hall. The same portrait, in full Mayoral robes, was hung in Macy’s in New York, as part of a whole week of John White promotions.

He had begun his shoemaking trade at his father's side, and started his own working life as an eyletting boy. He worked at several factories in Irthlingborough, including John Shortland's Express Works, working his way up until he became a clicker. He had turned from his strict Baptist upbringinng, and joined the Wesleyan Methodist church at Park Road, Rushden, where he met his beloved Nancy. They married there in 1911, and he found work at Charles Horrell's factory as a clicker. In 1919 he decided to start trading for himself, and his business flourished. In 1936 he bought a factory in Higham Ferrers; it had belonged to Alderman Owen Parker, whose business had failed, and next door built some fine offices. That same year his eldest daughter was married, he had a bandstand built in the Hall Park, and he restored the Chantry Chapel. The following year the impressive Lime Street Factory was built.

The offices in Midland Road
The offices built in 1936 in Midland Road, with factory beyond

In 1954 there was a need to expand the closing facilities and he decided to go to Corby, a steel town where there was not much work available for women. He acquired a factory there and began by taking the girls to Rushden to be trained in the techniques of closing. They were keen to learn, and soon became very efficient.

When John retired in 1962, every member of the organisation, close to 2,000 people, subscribed to splendid present, together with a leather-bound book inscribed with the name, of every worker. His wife died and, to add to his sorrows, the company went through some bad times, but by 1969, the 50th year of the company, John White Ltd, were well back in profits, with a new team now setting the company on the road to expansion again. By the 1980s a decline began in the whole of the shoe trade in England, and by 1991 the company had ceased trading.

Another lasting reminder of John White is the complex of old-people's bungalows, which he had designed by Sir Albert Richardson, and built on the piece of land facing the headquarters.

John White Close
An advert
An advert listing the production units

Leather Frontal on High Altar  at St Mary The Virgin - Higham Ferrers
The altar frontal

The leather frontal was produced in local tanneries and presented by John White Footwear Ltd to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the business. The cutting was done by Peter Keep and the stitching by Mrs. Munns both of whom were employees of the company.

The design includes the figures of Saint Crispin and Saint Crispinian, patron saints of shoemakesr, hides, knives and shoes, oak leaves and water to indicate the process of tanning, together with symbols of the four evangelists and the crown and monogram of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The frontal was blessed by the Right Reverend Cyril Eastaugh, Bishop of Peterborough, on June 10th, 1970.

There is a brass plaque to commemorate this on the South wall of the chancel, just to the right of the priest's door.

Photograph courtesy of Rushden Museum

More about John White Footwear Ltd

If you have memories of working at the factory, that you'd share with us, plus contact us.

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