|The Rushden Echo and Argus, 14th January 1955, transcribed by Jim Hollis
Part of the ‘Spotlight on Rushden’ series
This is The Town For Hard Work
Any rugged individualist who extols the virtues of hard work will find Rushden a town after his own heart.
Rushden people regard theirs as the hardest-working town in the district, and they cannot be far wrong.
Out of a population of 16,000, over 11,000 people go to work every day within the urban boundary.
When you deduct the babies, the schoolchildren, the old folk and the invalids from the 5,000 remaining, you can see that there are very few people who don’t make some contribution to Rushden’s evident prosperity.
And if anyone tries to dim Rushden’s reputation by saying that lots of people travel into town each morning to swell the total of workers, Rushden has an answer.
“Busloads of our people go out of the town to work,” they say, “so we give as much as we receive.”
Not only does Rushden work hard (“You don’t see any characters loafing about the town here, like you do in other places”) but it would work harder if it could.
Most days there are jobs vacant at the Employment Exchange for 100 men and 30 women, and the floating population of unemployed is generally only about five of either sex.
Most Women Work
Needless to say, such a high figure for the working population means that most women work, whether married or single.
In the shoe trade alone there are 3,500 women, who with 4,500 men make up the total labour force of 8,000. Another 500 to 600 women have jobs in other trades.
In the shoe industry skilled women workers are in such demand that manufacturers arrange easy hours so that they can work and look after the home.
“Many mothers go to the factories after they have sent the children to school, return about eleven to get dinner, and start their afternoon shoemaking about two,” was one description of a Rushden shoe-worker-housewife’s day.
How much do shoe operatives earn? Anything between £6 15s and £12 to £13 a week for men, and between £3 15s and £5 to £6 for women, according to their degree of skill, are the elastic figures that will cover most shoe wages.
They add up to a high standard of living for most families.
Rushden is virtually a one-industry town. It has about 50 factories in one way or another contributing to the production of boots and shoes, and claims the most intensive development of the stable trade of any place in the county.
Back in the ‘80s, when it really began to grow it was a boom town. In 1881 the population was 3,657, but then the great period of expansion began and by 1891 it was 7,442 and in 1911 13,354.
“Rushden grew so fast that they didn’t have time to make streets to serve the houses,” says one bright-eyed old lady.
“I came here as a young married woman seventy years ago, and one of my chief memories is the mud. I used to wheel my baby in her pram down the entry, and when I reached the street the pram wheels used to sink several inches in the mud.
It is a story borne out by other older residents who remember wearing patterns to keep their feet out of the Rushden mud.
At Neighbour’s Expence
The story of Rushden’s growth at the expense of Higham is an old one. Higham, though a borough, was largely owned by the Fitzwilliams, who did not care to sell sites for industry.
On the other hand, land at Rushden was in the hands of a number of families who were not averse to an industrial invasion, and so the tide of 19th century building began.
In its early days as a shoe town, Rushden had no railway the line to Wellingborough was not built until 1893 but it had the twin advantages of building land and trained labour.
Down the years Rushden families had been making shoes in their back garden shops, for Wellingborough and Higham manufacturers, and for local firms after 1840 when the pioneer concern of B. Denton and Son was started.
Consequently people with the “know how” were available to increase the number of firms as opportunity offered, and by 1890 there were ten local manufacturers.
The growth of the town gathered impetus when, with more and more factories demanding labour, people from Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire even Northampton itself moved into Rushden.
Forced To Leave The Land
In many cases they had been forced to leave the land by the agricultural depression.
As with many manufacturing towns, a large section of Rushden population had strong Liberal and Nonconformist views.
It seems strange today to hear pillars of Rushden respectability recall:
“When I was a schoolboy and elections came around, we youngsters always used to gather in the streets to boo Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke, who symbolised the Tories.”
“Politics was the only enjoyment in those days,” say some of the old folks. “We really got some fun out of it.”
Rushden is still split fairly definitely into political and religious camps among which there is rivalry as witness the battle of wits on the Urban Council since Labour and the other parties dead-heated recently.
There’s No Snobbery
But there’s no rancour, said an official who has lived in Rushden thirty years: “The people here are very friendly together. Politics don’t bother them, and there’s certainly no snobbery.
“Newcomers to the town find that they are accepted as ‘one of us’ after six moths, and once they get to know a few people at social functions they are in with everybody.”
Rushden is considered to be a very democratic town, in the sense that “all men are equal” despite differing social spheres. The manufacturers for example, live in the town, and large and small houses are cheek by jowl.
Masters and men have grown up together, and visitors are often astonished to hear employees call employers by their nicknames, and equally so when employers address men at the bench by their Christian names.
The same atmosphere prevails in round-table conferences to discuss trade matters.
The friendliness of Rushden comes out in many ways, but perhaps the most striking was when a bouquet of narcissi and roses was sent to the steeplejacks who repaired the spire. The flowers were labelled “With thanks from the people of Rushden.”
The Beautiful Church
The church, of course, is a beautiful one. Its praises have often been sung, especially of the delicate strainer arch across the nave which is one of only three in the country.
People of all denominations contributed towards the spire repair fund, which raised £3,500 in a hundred days.
And what else must we mention in this attempt to sum up the character of Rushden? Certainly its musical prowess exemplified by its five bands St. Cecilia Singers, and the Operatic Society, to name a few organisations.
The clubs too no fewer than seven of them are a pillar of Rushden life, and the Windmill with its outsize hall is famous in three counties.
But Rushden must do without some things. It has no police court, no county court, no income tax office, and its G.P.O. is only a sub-office.
Apart from a connection with John of Gaunt, it has very little history, but it makes up for the omission with legends.
One story is that Cromwell tethered his horse outside a Rushden pawnshop. Nobody knows what he pawned unless, of course, it was the Mace.
But there is no pawnshop in Rushden nowadays. Its people are too prosperous for that.
More of 'Spotlight on Rushden 1955'