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Shoe & Leather News - Supplement 3rd April 1958
Shoe Manufacturers Association
Rushden Branch - History

The cover for the supplement

BOOTS and shoes and Rushden are synonymous. The growth and development of the town are due primarily to the shoemen of the past who said (and meant it): 'Here is where my fortune lies'.

In the other towns and villages where are located the headquarters of the Rushden Association's constituent firms the industry plays a major part, and throughout this area where this overall capacity for giving employment and achieving prosperity is so dominant.

From the prime grades that warm the heart of the producer with the sheer joy of achievement to styles and ranges dictated by customers hit by credit restrictions, Rushden and district firms rise to the occasion. They are as well-equipped as any in the industry; take new developments in their stride; and are always on the alert to secure advantage of any change which will redound to their credit and the reputation of the industry as a whole.

Perhaps the best example of Rushden's wholeheartednesss is in production. In 1913 output from 63 firms in the area was 7,278,380 pairs. Now just over 11,000 produce approximately 13 million pairs annually—one of the highest totals in Federation groupings.

Another side of Rushden work is its contribution to the working of the Federation. In the important Labour and Industrial Committee, for example, Rushden has a strong trio led by Mr. George Marriott and also embracing Mr. Frank Brown, president of the Association, and Mr. J. Marshall Bailey.

FORMED 50 years ago, the Rushden Association is not one of the oldest, but lack of years is outweighed by vigour and enterprise and it is worth recalling that there was an earlier association of manufacturers which began in 1890.

In those early years the trade was busy threshing out its labour problems with a vigour not always guided by the good sense which has been a dominating feature of relationships in the past half century and the first organisation finally foundered in 1895. The main factor in this was the general lock­out which became a matter for national concern and which caused the resignation of the majority of the members.

The inaugural meeting of the Rushden and District Association of Boot and Shoe Upper Manufacturers (the association's first name) was held on March 23, 1908, at the British Women's Temperance Association hall and 31 businesses were represented. Mr. G. H. Groome took the chair and he was later to become president—a post he held for five years.

At that meeting a small committee was appointed to wait on manufacturers who were absent with a view to persuading them to join and one of the first decisions made was that union officials should be informed that an association had been formed for Rushden, Higham Ferrers and Irthlingborough.

A committee meeting was held early the following month and it was decided to write to the associations at Leeds, Leicester, Norwich, Bristol and Northampton, asking them to favour Rushden with a copy of their rules.

Three Rushden presidents who have also been Federation presidents

(left to right)

Mr. C. W. Horrell (Rushden, 1914-26; Federation, 1925-28)

Mr. G. H. Denton (Rushden, 1947-48; Federation, 1950-51)

Mr. G. W. Marriott (Rushden, 1949-50; Federation, 1953-54)

Wages were very soon on the agenda and at a later meeting Mr. J. Shortland is recorded as saying that a claim had been put forward by the workmen's section on an arbitration board for a minimum wage of 30s. for all male operatives in the clicking departments. A move at the manufacturers' meeting to offer 26s. found no seconder and it was then carried unanimously that the manufacturers' offer should be 27s. per week.

It was at this meeting that Mr. Groome brought up the question of Wellingborough manufacturers. He mentioned that he had unofficially approached them regarding the steps they were taking about the various claims made upon them by the union. He said that he had found them willing, if opportunity offered, to join the Association and it was then agreed to invite Wellingborough manufacturers, exclusive of upper manufacturers, to become members.

A deputation led by Mr. C. W. Horrell (vice-president) then visited the Welling­borough manufacturers who were found to be willing to amalgamate provided they had representation on the arbitration board. Some of the Wellingborough members attended the last meeting (December) of that first year, when it was resolved that the representatives on the arbitration board, in conjunction with the trades union representatives, should have full power to deal with and settle all questions relating to hours, wages and quantity statements for the different departments in the trade.

Three Past presidents of the Association

(left to right)

Mr. G. H. Groome (1908-13)

Mr. F. J. Sharwood (1927-31)

Mr. W. C. Tarry (1932-34 & 1938-1942)

The success of this decision was shown the following year at the April meeting when the president reported on the settlement arrived at by the board respecting minimum wages for clickers, testers, finishers and roughstuff men. At this meeting, also, rules for the Association were considered at some length. One concerned the need for entering into a bond to ensure observance of arbitration awards and decisions and for the trades union to become party to the bond.

It was not until September, 1912, that the bond question was settled and it was in May the following year that it was signed. But thereafter the question of the bond drops out of considerations and there is no such rule in force today.

Before this, however, the question of hours of work had been prominent and at a special meeting in May, 1910, a motion was carried with enthusiasm (only one dissentient) that the 52½-hour week should come into force on July 1, 1911. But in the event of this not being acceptable, it was stated, the Association should be disbanded and each manufacturer act for himself; the 1s. per week increase due in July should not be paid; and all awards and agreements should be held to be void.

It was during this period that Rushden showed how it was prepared to face rising prices. In 1912 the Federation was asked that Rushden's name should be one of those agreeing that 'it is imperative that the selling prices of all classes of boots and shoes should be advanced in proportion to the increased cost of materials and production. As there is no prospect of any diminution in the cost of materials, but on the contrary there is every indication of still higher values, the members of the above associations unanimously beg to give notice that all quotations are withdrawn and prices or values will be adjusted . . .'

It was explained that it was the intention of the Federation to advertise in trade papers and to send copies of the resolution to all multiple shopkeepers and large factors.

Some Association Personalities

(left to right)

Mr. John White, Former president of the Association (1943-46)

Mr. Owen Parker, former Federation President (1913-20)

Mr. J. S. Kirk, Present secretary of the Association

In 1913 Mr. C. W. Horrell became chairman of the Association and the following year, with the outbreak of the 1914-18 war, there was a big demand for boots which could not be met immediately, although Rushden responded willingly to the need to gear itself for the nation's requirements. The initial shortage was such that an ordnance officer requisitioned thousands of pairs booked for the civilian trade.

When he was asked what customers were to be told he made the emphatic reply: 'Refer them to Lord Kitchener'.

Two interesting 'war stories' of this period relate to the late Mr. Frank Sharwood, one of the founders of the Association. The first, which he was fond of telling, described how with Mr. G. H. Groome and Mr. C. W. Horrell he was appointed to go to Paris to negotiate with the French Government. They arranged a contract and when it was completed they went to Paris again when the Germans were very close to the capital.

The second story tells how towards the end of 1917 a contract with British makers was made by the Danzig Government, which attempted to repudiate it as the war ended. Mr. Sharwood was one of three manufacturers who went to Danzig to check the goods as they arrived.

As each instalment of payment was received they went to an English bank and drew English notes. Every night the boots were being sold on the nearest market place and the authorities were trying to bribe the deputation with £1,000 to leave and not check the goods.

Afterwards Mr. Sharwood related: 'Eventually, I came across Germany with £86,000 in English notes in my pocket. I was thundering glad to see the bank at Rushden'.

The year 1916 saw the setting up of a County Federation, the main reason behind this being a desire to achieve uniformity in the production and costs of army boots.

Three recent past Presidents

(left to right)

Mr. H. L. Shortland (1951)

Mr. J. Marshall Bailey, M.B.E. (1952-53)

Mr. A. H. Minney (1954-55)

These were the days when there was no holiday pay for employees and 'members spoke strongly against the demand' (made by the union). Later when one member was reported for paying his operatives, he was asked to appear before the executive and give an explanation.

In 1918—the year the Federation was reconstituted—the manufacturers at Wollaston, Bozeat and Earls Barton linked up with Rushden. In the following year there crops up in correspondence the name of Mr. Frederick J. Marquis (now Lord Woolton), who was Federation secretary for a period after the war. Not long afterwards Rushden were the hosts for the first time for the Federation annual meeting—a privilege to be repeated on future occasions.

In March, 1919, the 48-hour week was introduced and the holiday payment scheme which came in during August was under fire on many subsequent occasions. The chief difficulty was non-payment by outside firms.

In 1920 the minimum rates for day workers went from 56s. to 68s. for men and 30s. to 40s. for women under the national agreement and at the meeting to which this was reported members were asked to begin piecework in as many departments as possible.

The Association reached the conclusion in 1922 that the County Boot Manufacturers' Federation had served its purpose and there was no need for the organisation apart from arbitration purposes, while in 1924 Rushden responded to the claim for recognition being made by the Research Association.

In 1926 the general strike had its inevitable repercussions. Several meetings were held and the members agreed to adopt half-time working in their factories to prolong employment

Rushden has always been fully aware of the value of technical education and this was crystallised in 1927 with the founding of the Rushden Boot and Shoe School—instruction classes had been going on since 1892—and it was a monetary gift from the Association towards establishment and equipment which was a primary factor in the development. The school was extended some 10 years later.

Until 1933 Rushden and district had been under the wing of the Northamptonshire County Arbitration Board which met at Kettering, but this sometimes produced practical difficulties and the Rushden manufacturers—there were then 49 in association membership—brought matters to a head by resigning. The result was that in that year the Rushden manufacturers and the Union formed their own arbitration board.

This freshly constituted board was immediately faced with problems which went to arbitration. At a meeting in April, 1935, the terms of reference were: The Union demand for the application of Northamptonshire County statements for making and finishing, the manufacturers maintaining that the County statement did not cover the different classes of work in the district. The award of the umpire led to the introduction of fresh making and finishing piecework statements.

The year 1938 saw the return to the fold of some Wellingborough and Earls Barton firms which had formed a breakaway association in 1932. At about this time, too, the coverage of the area by the Association was further solidified by the decision of Finedon manufacturers to become federated through the Association. The annual report for 1938 recorded a membership of 50 firms.

The outbreak of war in 1939 was immediately followed by calls for ankle boots which were in turn followed by demands for a variety of specialised footwear for the Services.

In 1940 events came thick and fast: the first steps towards limiting civilian production were taken; leather was rationed; purchase tax reared its head; and it is worth noting that at the annual meeting in 1941, Mr. Walter C. Tarry (then president) said that it (purchase tax) had come to stay for a very long time.

Then came concentration—approached with many misgivings and questions for the authorities. Some remarks which were made by Mr. Tarry at the time are worth recalling: 'It is possible without any danger to health to wear patched shirts, darned socks, and old clothes, but when it comes to boots and shoes and in the climate which we have for so many months, then I say that boots and shoes of the class this area is making are a national necessity'.

With the ending of the war the process of unravelling began. Utility footwear and coupons disappeared; rebuilding and expansion were in the air; and efforts were lent to achieving the stability without which progress is not possible.

A fine example of this is shown in Rushden and district's consistently good record in the matter of exports. Since 1951, one-fifth of the total volume of leather footwear going overseas from the U.K. has been made in this area.

Future Presidents

(left to right)

Mr. H.Pinnock - immediate 'president elect' of the Association

Mr. H. H. Measom - 'elect president-elect' of Rushden & District

Now the Common Market and Free Trade Area have come as a challenge to the industry and there is no doubt that Rushden Association members will be in the van of the struggle. Their interests will be well served by Mr. Hubert Pinnock, the president-elect, and Mr. F. G. Deane, who are members of the Federation's export committee.

Rushden's record shows that in all fields of development which will enhance the reputation of the industry and the footwear it produces this Association will maintain the keenest interest. Perhaps the most recent evidence of the wide scope of this interest is the Association's fostering of the Northants Shoemakers' Society.

Transcribed by Kay Collins 2008
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