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Sally Cooper 1994
Sally Cooper - A Level Study - Chapter 1

This work was done by Sally Cooper as her A Level History ''Personal Study''. Sally entitled her project
'' The growth of the shoe industry and its effect on the growth of Rushden''.

THE HISTORY of Boot and Shoe Making in Rushden

It can be considered to be the Roman invasion which saw the real birth of the shoe industry in Britain. Previously shoemakers had worked alone, but with the growth of the towns during Roman times, meant that often shoemakers would work together to serve the community. It has also been suggested that the Romans brought with them improved tanning methods "As practically no pre-Roman shoes survive, it may be assumed the Romans also brought improved tanning methods".(1)

Tanning techniques are one of the principal factors which determine the location of the shoe and leather industry. Tanning is the process by which the cattle hides are preserved. The actual act of tanning involves the hides being soaked in lime pits to loosen hair which is then scraped off.  The skin was then soaked again in limestone and scraped again. The second stage of the process involved cleansing and opening the structure of the skin, this was either done with an alkaline or acid process. This pre-tanning stage took up to six months before the actual tanning process was then carried out. Firstly the hides were placed in pits containing spent tanning liquors and were moved up and down for about a month with tongs and hooks. The hides were then placed between layers of oak bark for a further 9 to 18 months. The tanned hides were then rinsed and smoothed. As this brief description of the tanning process shows, a perpetual supply of cattle, limestone, oak bark and water were needed. All of which could be found in plentiful supply in Northamptonshire. (2)

Northamptonshire can be considered to be a County of woodland, as the map contained in the article by J. M. Steane entitled "The Forests of Northamptonshire in the Early Middle Ages published in Northamptonshire Past and Present Vol. V No 1, shows very well, in the 13th Century. See map attached. (3) At around this time a Street of Cordwainers was recorded in Northampton, which therefore suggests a plentiful supply of oak for the tanning process, this helped to determine the location of the shoe industry in the area.

There was also a great number of cattle as R. J. Colyer says in an article in the same publication as above, "the supreme pasture lands of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire have long been renowned for their ability to fatten cattle". (4)

This therefore means that there would have been a good many hides for use in the shoe and leather industry.

Limestone was another natural resource which was in plentiful supply in the County and again suggests a reason for the establishment of the shoe and leather industry in the area.

Finally there was also a plentiful supply of water from the River Nene running through most of the County as well as many smaller brooks and streams.

Another point about the location of the shoe and leather industry is made by P.J. Harris "without any exception the tanneries are on a stream and none were more than 4 miles to the nearest market". (5)

Therefore Northamptonshire was the perfect area for the shoe making industry to develop.

The growth of the shoe industry followed a similar path to that of the rest of British industry, however it can be said that shoemakers began manufacturing in workshops before many other trades.

As a result of the growth of the shoemaking trade, a Guild of Shoemakers was formed in Northampton in 1401 and by the time of the Civil War in the 1640's, the town had 13 shoemakers (6) This time also gave the town the opportunity to prove itself worthy of producing military shoes as there are records of an order for 600 pairs of boots and 4000 pairs of shoes. Ever since this time war has been one of the important factors concerning the growth of the shoe trade. (7)

By the 18th Century Northampton was beginning to gain a good reputation as a town of shoemakers but the shoe industry was changing and expanding.

Notes and References.

Swann, June, Shoemaking, Shire Album 155 (Shire Publications Ltd. 1986) p4.
Grimes, Dorothy A. Like Dew Before The Sun. Life and Language in Northamptonshire. (Northamptonshire, 1991) p45-49.
 Steane. J. M. "The Forests of Northamptonshire in the Early Middle Ages", Northamptonshire Past and Present Journal of the Northamptonshire Record Society Vol V No 1.

Colyer. R.J. "Some Aspects of Cattle Production in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire", Northamptonshire Past and Present. Journal of the Northamptonshire Record Society. Vol V No 1.

Harris. P.J. Distribution and Functions of Urban Settlements in the South East Midlands. (London 1940) p46.
Swan. Op. cit p8

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