The Boot and Shoe Trades Journal, January 23,1891.
Rushden - One of the most striking instances of the development of the boot and shoe industry, and its effect upon the rural constituencies of Northamptonshire, is afforded by a brief visit to the now rapidly-advancing town of Rushden, which is situated about a mile from "Ye Ancient Borough of Higham Ferrers"—a description which is justifiably claimed, inasmuch as a large portion of the envelopes which, of necessity, pass through the hands of the officials of the G.P.O., state that Rushden is near Higham Ferrers; a description, however, which many Rushdenites resent, and with just grounds, for here is a larger population, and factories are more numerous—a condition which has been created, as stated in the description recently given of Higham Ferrers, chiefly through the inability to obtain suitable land in Higham.
Access is had at present to Rushden by the Midland Railway, whose station at Irchester is more than a mile distant. Also by the London and North-Western Railway, where visitors alight at Higham Station, quite three miles away. But the iron horse follows enterprise, and Rushden will very shortly be able to boast of a station, inasmuch as a loop line is in course of construction, which will afford advantages and facilities for further increase of trade. The majority of visitants to Rushden surmise that the town is of comparatively recent origin. This is an error, for at the time of the Domesday Survey, Risdene, as it was then called, was included in the Manor of Higham, and, with Higham, reverted to the Crown as a part of the Duchy of Lancaster, in the person of Henry IV. At the beginning of this century it had a population of 818, and in 1871 the inhabitants numbered 2,122, but at the recent census these had increased to upwards of 7,000.
The town is long and straggling and there is no attempt at uniformity in the architecture of the dwellings of the inhabitants. The thoroughfares are circuitous and hilly the result of its natural situation and in some places the pavements on one side of the street are elevated several feet from the roadway, while the opposite side is practically on a level with the road.
Rushden is one of the most enterprising towns in the county, and its inhabitants take a keen interest in the questions of the day, religious, musical, temperance, and political. The Local Board has been engrossed recently in providing a more efficient water supply, and in considering the advisability of purchasing the gasworks for the town. The latter scheme has inadvisably been rejected and the former has yet to be disposed of.
But the trade of the town is of more interest to the readers of the journal, and without any attempt to classify or desire to be invidious, mention must be made of some of the firms whose enterprise has conduced to the growth and prosperity of the town. The most prominent building in the town, with the exception of the Church of the Blessed Virgin, is one built of white brick and Bath stone—the factory of Messrs. John Cave and Sons—and which is admitted to rank prominently amongst the six largest factories in the county. Space will not permit of a thorough and minute description of this veritable hive of industry and the varied processes of boot manufacture carried on within its walls. Hundreds of the inhabitants find employment through this firm, either indoor or outdoors and more machinery is to be found within its wall, than in any other factory at present fitted up in the county. Their specialties are familiar to our readers, one, the "Climax Flexible," without nails or tacks, being constantly on evidence in our columns. From a very small beginning, with the combined assistance of Mr. John Cave and his four sons, this business has assumed colossal proportions, the turn out each week amounting to thousands of pairs; the growth of this firm is a history in itself.
Just over the way is the factory of Messrs. Denton and Sons, and here, too, another instance is afforded of what perseverance and diligence in business will accomplish. This firm has a large connection amongst army and other buyers of foot-gear. Machinery here is accepted as a friend, and put to profitable use.
In Park-road is to be found the factory of Mr. Fred. Knight, one of the oldest-established firms in the town. His factory is replete with modern improvements for the comfort of his employees, and the manufacture of his specialty, the "Promenade."
The firm of Messrs. Wm. Claridge and Son was amongst the first to introduce the trade into this village, and its growth and reputation has, for a considerable period, beep of a high-character. Mr. Wm. Claridge died last year, and the business is now carried on by two of his sons under the same title, and another son, Mr. Wm. Claridge, is a manufacturer in Northampton.
Mr. Ebenezer Claridge's factory is to be found in close proximity to Messrs. Cave and Denton's, and although this firm was not amongst the first pioneers of the trade, it has a prominent part in the development of the town.
Mr. Charles Saunders has a well-appointed factory and large connection, while amongst the younger firms must be mentioned that of Mr. Amos Wright, whose industry and attention to business bid fair to ensure considerable success. Limitation of space forbids any greater dissertation upon the individual firms, who are almost legion, and of equal merit. Leather merchants, too, find it advantageous to have branch warehouses here, chief amongst, whom are Messrs. Lilley and Skinner and J. Newman and Sons, of Kettering.
During the last two or three years a rapid advance has-been made in the quality of goods manufactured in the town. Skilled labour and management has been imported with success, and to-day Rushden can hold its own for the quality of its productions.
It has its Manufacturers' Association and a Branch of the National Union of Boot Operatives, with their contingent, an Arbitration Board, which has worked fairly satisfactory since the lock-out of 1890 there.
One other characteristic of Rushden shall be unnamed, but all visitants to the town on a wet day must admit to having, come away with a sample of that unnamed commodity.