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From the Souvenir Programme at Rushden Museum
John White - Reunion Dinner 1963

Souvenir portrait
The Celebration Menu
From a painting by Frank O. Salisbury

Our Historic Reunion

A Message from John White

I am happy indeed to meet again the loyal and devoted fellow workers who helped me in the early days of my endeavour and all through the course of my business career—a time of continued rapid growth and unparalleled success—to make history in the shoe trade.

You are the men and women who pioneered with me in the great enterprise which carried my name, and took part in the most far-reaching shoe trade revolution of our generation. Together we overcame the bad slumps and every other difficulty, providing constant and full-time work, inventing new methods and techniques, creating new opportunities and precedents, winning new markets, reaching new records, attaining higher standards, making my productions world-famous and my name a household word wherever British boots and shoes are sold.

Those were great days and I was fortunate in having wonderful people to work with, then and all through from 1919 to 1962.

I am doubly fortunate in being able to meet so many of you again at this our Reunion Dinner today.

John White

A Heritage  of Traditional  Craftsmanship

In 1794, the Register of the Parish Church of St.  Mary, Higham Ferrers, recorded the marriage of John White, Cordwainer, of that Parish. (The craft of Cordwainer is defined in the dictionary as "a worker in cordwain leather; a shoemaker").

The John White, Cordwainer, of that period, is mentioned also in other archives of Higham Ferrers, particularly in  the records of the Fitzwilliam Estate, where his regular quarterly payments of rental are recorded, of which the original ink entries are still clear, despite their age.

Further research into the later history of Higham Ferrers shows that the descendants of John White, Cordwainer (born 1767) were George White (born  1797), John White (born 1824) and George White (born 1845), father of the present John White, founder of the world-famous John White footwear organisation.

Higham Ferrers gave its recognition to John White by electing him as Honorary Freeman in 1950, for outstanding services; and this was followed by the further honour of being specially co-opted Mayor of Higham Ferrers for the important Coronation Years of 1952—53.

John White


7.00 p.m.  Reception of Guests by Mr. and Mrs. John White
7.30 p.m. Dinner
Toasts :

"The Queen"

Proposed by 
Mr. John White
"The Founder"
Proposed by 
Mr. Cyril Skeeles
Response by  
Mr. John White
"The Guests"
Proposed by  
Mr. John White
Response by 
The Worshipful Mayor of Higham Ferrers
Councillor Mrs. G. Woodley, J.P. and
The Chairman of Rushden Urban District Council
Councillor R. R. Griffiths, J.P.
"Absent Friends"
Proposed by
Mr. John White
9.15p.m. Down Memory Lane
Songs by Joseph Storer
9.30 p.m. Archie Tear
a name to conjure with, and entertainer of distinction, presents Magic, Mirth and Mystery
10.00 p.m.  Old Time Dancing
with the Richardson Players Dance Band
Leader : Cissie Richardson
10.45 p.m. The Songs We Love to Sing
By Joseph Storer
11.00 p.m. Dancing until midnight, with the Richardson Players


Hors d'Oeuvre Varies

Mixed Hors d'Oeuvre

Consomme Croutes-au-Pot
Clear Beef Soup garnished with stockpot vegetables and very thinly cut pieces of toasted bread

Scampi Meuniere Sauce Tartare
Scampi fried in butter

Poulet de Grain Grand Mere
Spring Chicken cooked in cocotte, garnished with croutons and dice of mushrooms

Pommes Chateau,
Pommes Puree
Roast and Creamed Potatoes

Brocoli Milanaise
Broccoli placed on buttered dish, sprinkled with cheese, little butter poured round edges, gratinated and some nut brown butter then poured over top

Petits Pois a l'anglaise
Garden Peas

Pouding Glace
Vanilla ice cream mixed with crumbled sponge and various fruits and liqueurs

Fromage et Biscuits
Cheese and Biscuits


The Shoe Trade Revolution

Of Our Time

By A Cordwainer Historian

Northamptonshire and the Shoe Trade have been fortunate in each successive age of development in producing a manufacturer who has been representative of the spirit of that age, who has introduced  revolutionary ideas and methods, bringing it and keeping it up-to-date, and so maintaining Britain's leadership in the world shoe markets.

In 1919, immediately after the first world war, it was the lot of John White, after 20 years at the bench as a craftsman clicker, gaining the necessary knowledge and skill for the task ahead. The way was not a smooth or easy one; in John White's own words :

The little workshop where the business began
The first workshop - 1919
"I started my business in 1919 in a small workshop for which I paid 3/6d a week. The limited amount of money I possessed would not have enabled me to have much in the way of machinery, even if it had been available at that time. As it was I had at the beginning no mechanical power at all in my workshop. The manufacture of my shoes by hand was possible at that time because abundant labour was available from the older group of craftsman shoemakers. The initial production, although small in quantity, was outstanding in workman­ship and quality, and for this reason I obtained repeat orders rapidly from the very start and soon had to arrange additional production to meet increased demand.

"My first employee was a demobilised soldier from the first world war. A number of the many operations in shoemaking were done by workers in their own homes in those days. For the first twelve months I worked entirely alone during the day, cutting by hand the uppers for all my production, and my early training and exceptional  knowledge of this key operation in the making of shoes, together with my determination, must have been responsible for my immediate and future success.

"Eventually I was able to obtain a treadle sole press, which I operated in my evening hours, a heavy and arduous task, making a daily total of 16 hours of continuous, strenuous effort.

"The first few years were a period of constant struggle and many disappointments, sometimes almost of despair. Older people will remember the frightful slump of the early 1920's. It was during those bitter days that we learned the lesson of the vital importance of building up the export trade, until my organisation became the greatest exporter of British boots and shoes to the United States and Canada and exported in all to no fewer than 72 other countries.

5 factories
The latest Lime Street, Rushden, factory, was designed by Professor Sir Alfred Richardson, exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition, and greatly admired for its most attractive facade.
On the outbreak of war, because of its remarkable visibility, even at a distance of over 50 miles, it was completely covered with camouflage, but was restored to its original striking design when hostilities ceased.

"The payroll of my organisation, with 11 great factories, the latest being Lime Street, Rushden — probably the best-planned shoe factory in the world — grew to over 2,000 operatives. I have always tried to keep a close and intimate personal association with those who worked with me, from the first demobilised man I engaged in 1919 to the vast staff of later years.

"I know what hard times can be and I endeavoured throughout to pay the highest wages and to improve working conditions, often a difficult task in face of severe national and international competition.

"Conditions now are incomparably better than during the years I spent at the bench with long hours and very low wages, and I like to feel that we have made some contribution to this progress.

"John White has always been and remains first and foremost a shoe man and a Northamptonshire shoe man. It is significant that his enterprise began, grew and flourished in the Higham Ferrers and Rushden area, in his own trade and among his own people. Taking it all in all. I believe that John White and all who worked with him can be justifiably proud of what they achieved together shoe men and shoe women of Northamptonshire.

The John White Head Office
Head Office

On the occasion of the opening of the Head Office in 1936 by Alderman H. R. Patenall, J.P., The Mayor of Higham Ferrers, John White was presented with a beautiful bronze plaque bearing these words:

These Buildings were erected in the year 1936, and were declared open by His Worship The Mayor of Higham Ferrers H. R. Patenall, J.P., on November 23rd 1936, a blessing being pronounced by the Rev. Philip Kirk. A.K.C., the Vicar of St. Mary's Church, Higham Ferrers.

Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us, establish thou the work of our hands upon yea the work of our hands establish thou it. — Psalm xc. 17.

The plaque, with its noble and inspiring text from the Psalms, now occupies an honoured place in the Head Office entrance hall.

John White Benefactions : The many John White benefactions include the White Close memorial homes, part of which are illustrated below. These comprise 9 dwellings, designed by Sir A. E. Richardson, R.A., grouped round spacious lawns.

John White Close

They are administered by the John White Homes War Memorial Trust and were officially opened by Mrs. John White on June 2nd 1951, the opening ceremony forming part of the celebration ot the 700th anniversary of Higham Ferrers' incorporation as a Borough and of the Festival of Britain. Another notable benefaction was the gift to Rushden of the Bandstand, also designed by Sir A. E. Richardson, R.A., to harmonise with the beautiful Hall and gardens.

From a Souvenir Programme at Rushden Museum
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