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John White - Closing

Evening Telegraph, 27th November, 1990, transcribed by Jacky Lawrence

WHEN JOHN WHITE LOST ITS FOOTHOLD

·        THE demise of one of Rushden’s last shoe firms has saddened the whole town.

·         John White – founded in 1919 by an enterprising businessman  – is folding and bosses blame the closure on a steep fall-off in demand.

·        The company, which holds a Royal Warrant, has been one of Rushden’s biggest employers for years and its closure is a sign of the troubles facing the industry.

·        Evening Telegraph reporter NICK TITE investigates the run-down of the industry and talks to ex-workers and union officials about the town’s shoemaking heritage.

THE closure of the internationally-famous John White footwear company has shocked thousands of people who worked in its factories over the past 71 years.

The company was founded by the entrepreneur whose name it bears in a little shed in Rushden in 1919.

Mr White had already spent 20 years as a clicker and by the time he decided to set up his own business he had cut the uppers of some 650,000 pairs of shoes.

By the end of 1921 his company was producing 100,000 pairs of shoes a year but the firm really prospered in the 1930s when he launched nationally with a front page advertisement in the Daily Mail.

Front Page advert in The Daily Mail

During the 1930s the company sited its headquarters in Higham Ferrers and the impressive new factory in Lime Street, Rushden, was built.

When the Second World War broke out John White turned his attention to making shoes for the forces – more than eight million pairs of boots and shoes came off the production line.

The company was still thriving in the early 1970s and employed 2,500 workers making two and a half million pairs of shoes every year.

Factories in Wales and Corby sprung up and, just before Mr White’s death in June, 1974,  a £4 million merger was announced with Leicester firm George Ward.

Mr White was unhappy at suggestions the name of his company would change to Ward White Group and won the battle to retain the John White trademark – even though he had resigned from the company in 1962.

In July this year the latest parent company, UK Shoe Group, sold the firm to a new company to be known as John White Footwear Ltd.

Dennis Doidge was appointed chief executive but in August came the first wave of redundancies with 260 jobs being lost over three months.

Now the company is crippled by falling orders and will close though the plant at Atherstone in Warwickshire has been saved following a takeover by John Pick, a subsidiary of Wollaston company R Griggs and Co.            

The heartbreak of the workers

THE heartbroken nephew of John White has described the closure of the once-booming shoe firm as the end of an era.

George White watched the company expand from humble beginnings in the 1920s to a worldwide concern.

Mr. White, 80, right, who retired from the post of general manager in 1976, said he was stunned when he heard the news John White was closing down.

The former shoeworker, of Prospect Avenue, Rushden, was the first person to complete 50 years service at the firm.

He said.  “I saw the company built up until my retirement when six factories in Rushden made 65,000 pairs of shoes in a week and employed 15,000 people. When I heard of the closure I was so upset. I could see it happening when money became more important than people some years back. In its heyday there were queues stretching for yards – all of people wanting a job because White’s was the main place to work and offered good wages. It seems as if my whole life’s work has gone down the pan. Rushden just won’t be Rushden without John White.”

George White

Pensioners Hilda and Norman James also looked on the closure with deep sadness.

The couple, who live in Pightles Walk, Rushden, completed 71 years service at the firm between them.

Mrs James said. “It was a great place to work and was one of the biggest employers in the county.

“We are both really upset about the closure – a lot of people had some great times there and it’s sad to see it collapse.”

           


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