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From an interview with Jim Matthews by Rae Drage. Transcribed by Jacky Lawrence
Jim Matthews - A Life in the Shoe Trade

Photograph of Grensons Factory Queen Street
Grensons

I started my first job in 1956, when I was 16, with a firm called F. Nortons and sons in Irthlingborough. My father, mother and sister all worked there in different departments and I worked mainly in the lasting and making room until at such time as I was conscripted into the Army. I had been going to The Boot & Shoe Night School in Rushden which was along Rectory Road and as soon as the firm knew I had to go into the Army they stopped encouraging me to learn. So that was that for two years; I did my National Service and when I came back, of course they’re forced to give you your job back, which they did and they had the idea of, they’d got new management in the meantime, and they said,' Would you like to train as a foreman?'

Picture of Horrells Fitzwilliam Street
Horrells
I said well I was coming up to being married in the near future so it will be an opportunity to get a better job so I did and at that time I was living in Irthlingborough. Then I married and moved to Rushden but the foreman’s job didn’t work out, it was more hassle, more problems than what it were worth and I stuck it for a while. Then, I gave the job and I got a job at C. W Horrells in Fitzwilliam Street. I was there for eight years, mainly in the lasting and making, and I was a sort of, my job was a sort of utility man which being a bit versatile I picked things up quite easily. I was asked to do various jobs when people were away, I had to fill in for them and so I moved round quite frequently, I didn’t get awful bored. I mean shoe making can be very boring, it’s very repetitious and I moved around the factory so I didn’t get, I didn’t get too bored. I was there for eight years and then we had a very awkward manager at the time and he put me on jobs that I didn’t really like and it was, you know I felt a bit cheesed off.

So I thought, well I’ll look for something else, so in 1970 I went down to Totectors in Station Road and I was there for three years and they were a good firm. I mean they did look after the people and they got a good social club and I went on quite a few outings dinners and things and I was there until 1973. But the job I had for the last two years there was on injection moulding which was shift work and having a young family well it was very disruptive to family life. But the pay was good, it was the best, the best pay I’ve ever had and that’s the reason I stuck it for so long.

Listen to Jim Matthews tell how he came to move to Grensons


Picture of Totectors factory
Totectors
Picture of a clicker cutting leather by hand
A clicker at work
As I could do being a utility person I was put in the making room and for various years I worked in the making room and then I had to go and ask if I got to go in the clicking room for they were short of staff. They wanted somebody on sorting but I never done sorting before although I knew shoes quite well. Worked in the shoe room before and so I went on sorting. If people knew what sorting be, sort the leather when the leather’s cut, and I was sorting for four years but unfortunately the skilled labour was in great demand and people kept leaving and so I knew it was the case I was called back into the lasting room. I used to do toe lasting on the old number, the old bed laster, and I use to have to keep popping back and helping them out for a few weeks and then going back into the clicking room and it went like that and I was in there for four years, five years practically. I was on sorting and that was a good room to work for and was quite a good friendship, quite close in the clicking room, quite a good bunch of guys there and then when I’d got about four years before I retired they asked me to go back in, into the lasting room on quality control because the guy there was, he was retiring. He’d worked for the firm for fifty two years he’d gone over his retirement age. So I was on quality control for four years and yes, I mean Grensons they do make a very good shoe and the things we had to reject is amazing, the things we used to throw out it was, it was quite amazing the quality they demanded.

Short time working is something that has been the bane of the shoe industry for the whole of my life. I hadn’t been at Grensons long and we were going through a sticky patch. The trade was down and we got down to working two days a week and we were being subsidised by a Government scheme which paid part of your wage and then we thought, well we’re going to be another shoe factory gone to the wall. Then Mr. Green was in contact with Mr Pursloe who worked for the Guinness company and this man he came into the firm. He put money into the firm and he was a younger man, he came in with new ideas and the firm regenerated. He had a sacking session where he cleared a lot of people out right across the board from management right down to the caretaker and he rebuilt the firm. It’s been going strong ever since, we’ve got a lot to thank him for.

I know I can remember if you ever had a chance to work overtime you grabbed it with both hands. Because I was a young fellow, three children to look after you didn’t turn overtime down.

Listen to Jim Matthews tell how he worked over Christmas on one occasion - in order to install a new track

A picture of Eatons Factory in College Street
Eatons in College Street

At one time there was a lady, Margaret Scott, she worked in the closing room, she was very good at organising and Margaret Lewis and they all organised a social club and we used to have outings and dinners and excursions and that was quite good. Raffles and all the rest of it yes, and then a few years before I retired Peggy, Peggy who was in the office, we’re both committed Christians, and they decided to have like a carol service, the girls, like a carol service and so the day we broke up for Christmas we had a local preacher come some various denominations and we'd shut the factory down, and go into the closing room and we had a carol service round the Christmas tree.

Grensons was the only shoe factory that did close on Good Friday when all the other shoe factories were open because Mr Hayden’s father, was a Christian man and they adhered to the proper Christian holiday which was Good Friday and Easter Monday.      

     


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