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Article by Jacky Lawrence
A Century in the Shoetrade
The shop in Milton Place The shop in Rectory Road
(above) The shop in Milton Place - later it was the coal office for the Co-op
(right) The shop in Rectory Road

Norman Shortland in his shop at the back of his house
Norman Shortland in his shop
My great grandfather, John Shortland, was born in Little Harrowden in 1853 and was on the 1871 census as a labourer. He came to Rushden sometime between 1871 and 1873 and married Mary Jane Sears in Rushden in 1874; on the marriage certificate he was shown as a shoemaker. In 1876 he started his business as 'Sewing, Stitching, Screwing, Studding & Slugging for the Boot Trade'. In the 1881 census he was down as a master shoe machinist in Lion Terrace and in 1891 as a shoe machinist in the High Street. In 1898 he had two houses built in Portland Road, numbers 24 and 26 and moved with his family into 24. His eldest son, my grandfather, Fred Shortland married Fanny Wheeler in 1898 and moved into number 26. John & Fred ran the business until John Shortland died in 1915 when Fred ran it on his own until his son, Norman, my uncle, was old enough to start.

In 1945 Fred Shortland died and Norman took over. I remember the shop/workshop from the early 1950s when it was in Milton Place, one of the small places that ran between Rectory Road and the High Street (where the two car parks are now). Sometime, I think about 1951/2, he moved from there near to the corner of Queen Street and Rectory Road and by this time was trading as a shoe mender as well as stitching etc. for the factories. I remember my cousin and I helping with the move by carting all the small stuff on a large flat-bed trolley - we thought it was great fun but I'm not sure how much actual help we were! We would have a great time in the shop during the school holidays, one of our favourite pastimes was dropping all the different sized nails on the floor, picking them up with a large magnet, and sorting them out again into the right boxes!! We often got into trouble for doing this.

My uncle was well known in the town and when a modern 'heel bar' opened in the High Street it soon closed again as most people agreed that no one did as good a job mending their shoes as Mr. Shortland. I can clearly see him now using his different machines and how fascinating it was to watch him stitching and sewing and mending the shoes.

Eventually the shop was pulled down to make way for new building and my uncle had a workshop built in his back garden. He was supposed to be semi-retired but was in as much demand as ever and carried on mending shoes until ill health forced him to give up in 1983. He died, aged 80, in 1984 and sadly the business, which John Shortland started in 1876, died with him.

Copy of an invoice showing stock held by the business in 1933
An invoice showing stock held in 1933
Norman with the machine behind Ron Jones
In 1980 Norman's widow sold the machine to Ron Jones. Ron says: "I used to live in Rushden and Higham Ferrers. I had shoe repair shop in Bedford Road in Rushden for a couple of years before moving to Wales for 8 years taking all the equipment with me as I was still working then. We returned to this area to live in Raunds in 1997 (bringing all the machinery back with me!) I've been retired for 5 years so I only repair my wife's shoes, and mine of course!
Norman with the machine behind him (see white arrow)
Ron Jones operating the same machine


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