|Sally Cooper 1994
Sally Cooper - A Level Study - Chapter 6
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''.
If the First World War was a time of prosperity for the shoe industry, the opposite can be said for the time after this. Nationally there can be seen a downward trend in manufacture and employment within the shoe trade. In 1924, 148,145 people were employed in the industry by 1935 this figure had dropped to 116,567. This can be attributed to greatly by the fact that many small shoe companies closed due to the decreased demand for army boots.
The National trend of decline was also felt in Rushden as is described by local author HE. Bates.
"In the mid twenties all was not well. The slump lay on the County and most severely on one trade towns such as Rushden like a dark disease. Dole queues were long, three on three off was almost a blessing compared to the long weeks of shut down, sometimes bankruptcy. The quick wartime fortunes were everywhere dissipating."
Similar evidence for the hard times which befell the shoe industry in the late 1910's and early 1920's can again be shown by John White's experience of setting up his shoe company. One wholesaler is reported to have told him "Do you mean to say you're going to start shoe manufacturing ?....you deserve a Victoria Cross."
The Tecnic boot company also went through a difficult period during the 1920's. During the boom period of the war the company felt that they had enough money to expand their business. However as the company history reports "In 1920 there was a slump in trade and the new factory had been put on hold". This is yet another example of the way in which the shoe industry faced decline in Rushden, after the war.
However, the slump in the 1920's did not mark the real decline of the industry. The shoe manufacturers who had survived the slump had changed production back to the manufacture of fashion and everyday shoes, and by the 1930's it began to appear that the industry was stable again, although the number of manufacturers had decreased greatly from the peak in 1898 of 61 factories to only 30 in 1935. Companies such as The Tecnic were seeing prosperous times again and in 1938 they extended their factory in Bedford Road and were making profits of about £10,000 per year.
A similar upturn can be seen in the development of John White's company which had been established in 1919, by 1935 the company was making £7000 profit a week and employed 2000 people by the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
The Spanish Civil War was another factor which contributed to the rise in trade after the First World War. John White recalls supplying boots for both sides: "I know that we took an order for 100,000 pairs from the Franco side, then came another order through a London agency for a further 100,000 pairs, these we learnt later were distributed to the Republican troops.".
Mrs. Phyllis Wyatt a former employee of the C.W.S which was situated in Rectory Road Rushden, also remembered a slump followed by an upturn in trade during the time she worked for the Company from 1922-1941. During the mid to late 1920's she was only working a 4 day week, but by the 1930's this "had been increased to a full working week, as the company went into the manufacture of mens’ everyday shoes.
The Second World War again brought further prosperity to the industry. The number of manufacturers grew as people took advantage of the money to be made from army orders which is shown by the way in which the number of factories increased again, as in 1939 only 20 manufacturers existed in Rushden but by 1940 this had increased to 29. Again the influence that the war had upon the industry can be supported by the memories of John White.
"By 1941 I had a staff of nearly 2000 and we were producing 3 million pairs of boots and shoes a year. We concentrated on making shoes for the services and produced in all more than 8 million pairs, one ninth of the footwear supplied to the British Forces."
After the war John White also saw an upturn in trade, as between 1945 and 1951 his profits rose from £50,000 to £100,000 which was partially due to the fact that in 1951 John White was sending 400,000 pairs of shoes a year to America which was 90 per cent of the shoes exported from this Country.
However the 1950's were not as prosperous for other manufacturers, as this marked the time during which the first rubber moulding machines were introduced. Often it became difficult for small firms to keep up with the new techniques and many Rushden manufacturers went out of business. However it was not really until the 1960's that the industry went into decline, as a result of cheap foreign imports. By 1979 there were less than 20 manufacturers left in Rushden.
The findings of this investigation appear to point to the fact that the shoe and leather industry did have a great impact upon the town of Rushden and its growth between 1850 and 1950.
As the shoe industry expanded in the area, principally as a result of mechanisation of traditional skills, evidence was soon found that Rushden's population grew and a great deal of building work was carried out between 1850 and the early 1900's, These two factors also considered with the dramatic rise in the numbers of people employed in the shoe and leather industry, this study has shown that the town only really grew when times were good for the shoe trade.