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Article by Paul Roberts for the Risdene Echo transcribed by Jacky Lawrence
The Invention of Riveting

A riveting or loose nailing machine circa late 19th century
A riveting or loose nailing machine

I was very interested in the reproduction of an article ‘Rushden Veterans’ and a remarkable photograph taken from an article in the Rushden Echo, Friday April 20th 1906 in the current issue of the Newsletter. In that issue a picture of several old men appears, one is Daniel Sharpe.  It records that Daniel claims to have introduced the riveting method of shoemaking to Rushden; it was a cheaper method of lasting than the hand sewn method which was total labour intensive. Riveting is also claimed to have been invented by Thomas Crick of Leicester in the 1860’s.  In the Risdene Echo June 2002 (the Quarterly issue of the Rushden & District History Society) is an article about Daniel Sharpe and his family written by his Great grandson Graham Sharpe of Market Harborough.  Several years ago the Heritage Centre had an exhibition of footwear.  A well known Rushden person and his wife exhibited the Roman method of shoemaking – they riveted the boots? When a newer process reached a boot and shoe town it was always claimed to have been invented there.

It seems that the riveting method spread up and down the A6 towns from Leicester to Rushden.  This would be the route of distribution of cheaper footwear to the markets of London and to the industrial cities and towns of the north.  Remember PX and Valentine transport firms having maps on the side of their vehicles showing those locations?  Careful reading of the Census returns often reveals information about past industrial processes and development.  The 1891 Census shows many men in the new parts of Rushden of Portland Road/Cromwell Road area describing their occupation as riveter.  This is the area of the old Co-operative Boot Company. 

Those that can remember Charlie Chaplin’s film ‘The Gold Rush’ will recall the scene when Charlie and his companion are snow bound in the Alaskan hut.  Charlie cooks a boot.  He carefully fillets the sole extracting the welt.  The welt was like a fish bone – it was a riveted boot, the bones were nails.

My Grandfather Charles Watts was born at Lavendon and came to Rushden, living at no. 96 Cromwell Road.  He worked in the ‘shop’ at the bottom of his garden and lists his occupation as ‘riveter’.  His father William John Watts of Lavendon was also a riveter, as was his father John and grandfather Thomas Watts.  All were riveters when Thomas Crick claims to have invented the riveting method, or did Thomas Crick bring an old method into the industrial age.  The history of Riveting is all very hazy.  Great great grandfather John Watts by coincidence married Mary Tutt of Hitchin in the Old Street Chapel at Hitchin – it was a small world.  The boot work also came out as ‘basket work’ from Northampton i.e. the cheaper part of the market was farmed out to the county villages.  Recently I received as Query Secretary of the NFHS a request for information about a Northampton firm.  Northampton made boots for the Southern Armies in the American War between the states.

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