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Article by Margaret Goodwin, Australia, 2010
Memories of Jaques & Clarke

In my pre-school years, deliveries to & from the factory were made by horse & cart, & I would hear the horses hooves clattering over the cobbled entrance to the factory yard. The bales of leather were hoisted up to the 3rd level by chains & pulleys. We had a large black hut in our back yard where Dad kept his fishing & gardening gear, & also mended all our shoes, and from the top steps of the hut I liked to watch the man precariously leaning out of the doorway guiding the bales upwards, accompanied by the noise of the clanking chains. Lorries took over the leather deliveries soon after I started school.

In this photo, taken about 1957 in our back yard, it looks as if boxes of shoes were ready on the second floor to be let down for dispatch.

Jaques & Clark hoist

In Summer, the factory windows would be open. Those at the higher end of the building in Midland Rd. were at ground level & I would look through the wire mesh that covered the open windows to see the workers lower than street level and breathe in the warm smell of ‘solution’ (the glue used in shoemaking) mixed with leather that wafted out of these windows.

When the siren went at 12 noon, & 5 30pm, workers would pour out of the door at bottom of the hill & up Midland or Station Roads, often still putting on coats, caps & scarves in Winter. They had only an hour to be home for dinner & back again between morning & afternoon shifts. Just before the siren at 1pm, Dad & my aunt would pop a Fox’s glacier mint in their mouth (to help digestion of their lunch!), & head off back to work.

Outdoor closing

Eric Clarke & Tommy Thacker would carry reddish brown skips (crates) of the cut leather pieces from the factory, past the vacant block used as an allotment for growing vegetables next door to it, to our house 2 doors up from the vacant block. Working originally I think on a Singer treadle machine, Mum would machine the pieces together, to make complete uppers ready for the next stage of manufacture back in the factory. Depending on the shoe style, she’d sew in linings, tongues & toecaps. A back seam would join the two sides of the shoe together & sometimes she’d sew backstrips over the seam. Mum would keep sewing non stop & I’d watch the stream of joined uppers fall over the edge of the machine like a waterfall. I’d sometimes help by cutting the thread joining all the finished uppers together & I’d then stack them on top of each other in sizes which were marked by colours on the cut edge of the leather. They’d then be stacked back into the skip ready to be collected by Eric or Tommy when they brought up the next skip. The carpet was soon covered in bits of cotton.

The Evening Telegraph Saturday, January 7, 1984

Plans to Axe Landmark
ONE of Rushden's most unusual land­marks is falling under the demolition man's hammer — possibly to make way for flats.

The V shaped, four-storey Victorian building (pictured) used to house the Jaques and Clark shoe factory — one of the town's leading manufacturers in its heyday.                    

But the firm closed down in 1980 and plans are soon to go before East Northants Council for permission to build 27 flats with car parking facilities at the site at the junction of Midland Road and Station Road.

The scheme, submitted by Bedford architects on behalf of a Kempston builder, is likely to be considered on February 1.

Mr Tom Thacker, who worked at the factory for 52 years and became a co-director, said: "It is certainly a unique type of building. In the days when you could travel by train from Rushden to Wellingborough the factory was a very imposing building seen from the carriages."

A spokesman for the architects said the new building would retain the dis­tinctive V shape outline. The flats would provide one and two bedroom accommodation.

When Mum was outdoor closing, I remember our weekly ‘expedition’ on Friday afternoons to collect her week’s pay. We’d enter the door of ‘the tower’ at the bottom of Station & Midland Roads, & climb up the spiralling bare wooden stairs. It seemed a long climb - were the offices on the third floor? The small brown paper envelope she collected over the counter, contained pound notes & coins and seemed to be sealed with the same sticky, stretchy ‘solution’ used to glue soles on shoes!

Mum gave up the work as I grew up & went to school, but she was a good closer & after my father died she was asked to resume her outdoor closing, making samples for potential commercial buyers. She was now given an industrial electric machine which she used in the front room. Later, she was invited to become forewoman of the closing room which she did for a short time.

More terms for the shoemaking glossary:-

Backstrip - covering for seam join at the back of the shoe

Blind eyelet - no metal shown on top of the shoe

Glacé kid - soft, smooth, highly polished leather used for expensive shoes.

Pullover - a machine which helped stretch the leather of the upper over the last & applied pressure to join the upper to the insole of the shoe (bottoming). [My Dad worked this at Denton’s before he became an examiner, & apparently it was hard work.]

“Like a hungry beast this machine receives its prey—in the form of last and upper—seizes it with iron talons, and in two seconds has drawn the yielding upper over the last, driving in its teeth-like tacks, and then disgorges the captive. This operation, carried out by the hand workman would have taken at least fifteen minutes.”  

The Life of a ShoeHYPERLINK "http://name-409565.html/" The Life of a Shoe

(By Bernard J. McAuliffe.) in The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 8 (December 1, 1933)

Stiffener (Heel) - inserted between lining & leather to support the back of the shoe

Toe puff - insert in the toe area to support the toecap of the shoe

Vegetable or chrome tanned - the glass-like grain finish is obtained, according to the type of leather, by glazing, plating, ironing, or polishing.


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