Boot and Shoe Making in Northants

The history of shoemaking in the county is long and as such this article can only give a much summarised account. (The image above is of Hand Clicking in Kettering).

Shoemaking pre-1770s
Even by the 16th century the county was well known for its footwear. In 1642 during the Civil War 13 shoemakers, led by Thomas Pendleton, obtained a contract for 600 pairs of boots and 4,000 pairs of shoes, followed in 1648 for another order of 2,500 boots. At this time a shoemaker would have worked by himself, using a room in his house or a small outbuilding.

The Northampton Shoemaker

1770s to 1857
The 1777 Militia lists for the county record 697 shoemakers, mostly in Northampton, Wellingborough, Irthingborough, Raunds, Earls Barton and Wollaston. Demand for military and naval boots during the American War of Independence (1775-83) and the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815) meant that manufacturers now set up businesses on a smaller scale in other towns. Large orders could only be met by being organised, the wholesale manufacturer employed shoemakers who continued to work in small groups or individually as outworkers in their own homes or workshops.

Advertisements in the Northampton Mercury show that the town was the dominant centre for shoe factors, leather merchants and wholesalers. Some examples:

  • 1778 William Cole, advertises his shop in Bridge Street, Northampton
  • 1792 Considerable number of journeymen shoemakers required, please contact C King, Leather Cutter, Bridge Street, Northampton.
  • 1795 Charles Broad, boot & shoemaker from London informs that he has opened a shop, adjoining the George Inn in Bridge St, Northampton.

The 1841 Census gives 1,821 shoeworkers in Northampton. In 1842 Bearn & Jeffs were offering boots, shoes and clogs for sale from their ‘fashionable shoe warehouse’ in the Parade, Northampton.

Other areas
In Daventry, the shoe trade was established between 1777 and 1797, later becoming important for footwear for the armed forces and for troops at the nearby Weedon Barracks. In Raunds the first shoe factory was founded by William Nichols in 1826 and several others opened later.

1857- 1914
Mechanisation began in 1857 with the Singer sewing machine being introduced from America for closing the uppers, then came presses for cutting leather followed by stitching machines. From the 1860s all processes began to be taken over by machinery, notably the Blake Sole Sewer introduced in 1859, Goodyear Welter and the standard Screw Machine. By the time of the Boer War nearly all the processes were mechanised.

Turner Brothers


In 1857 the first factory was built in Campbell Square by Isaac, Campbell and Company of London with Moses Manfield next door (demolished 1967). In 1861 Turner Brothers took over the buildings; they employed 400 in the factory and 1,600 off the premises. By 1864 there were 1,500 closing machines in the town, many distributed among a number of small employers who took outwork from the larger manufacturers. By 1865 Turners were producing 100,000 pairs of shoes a week using steam engines. With so many manufacturers, both large and small, there was much competition which kept wages low. From 1884-1914 over half of the Northampton manufacturers had gone out of business.

Other towns
By 1869, Wellingborough had factories using the new machinery and the population grew by a third between the 1861 and 1871 census, although the trade never quite reached the extent of Northampton. This was probably due to the large number of men employed in the ironstone industry.

From 1870 onwards expansion in the number of factories in other towns like Wollaston, Earls Barton, Rushden and Irthlingborough led to a rapid growth of housing as people migrated in from the villages to work. Between 1861-1901 Kettering rose in prominence (including Rothwell, Burton Latimer and Desborough), this partly coincided with the collapse of the silk weaving trade. In 1891, the newly formed Raunds Industrial and Distributed Co-operative Society bought out the factory owned shops. In 1849 in Rushden there were only 6 shoemakers but by 1898 this had increased dramatically. The largest earliest manufacturer was Cave & Sons. Names of the factories can be found in trade directories and on the Rushden Heritage website (

Post 1914
During the First World War, nearly 50 million pairs of footwear were produced for the Armed Forces and its allies in Northamptonshire. After the war, the industry went into a gradual decline. During the 1929 slump factories went on short time and wages were low. Cheaper imports from Europe brought the final death knell.

But this was not the end as Northamptonshire today still has many companies producing high quality handmade and machined shoes. The area around the Mounts in Northampton has been given ‘conservation status’ meaning many of the old factory buildings will be conserved even if the clicking of the shoemaker’s knives are now silent.

(Images © Northamptonshire Museums)


  • Saint Crispin’s Men: A History of Northamptonshire Shoemakers
  • Albert V Eason: Park Lane Publishing, 1994 ISBN 0 9523188 0 6
  • Shoemaking: June Swann, Shire Publications Ltd ISBN 0 85263 778 0 (NMAC/NLIS)
  • Built to Last? The Buildings of the Northamptonshire Boot and Shoe Industry
  • English Heritage, 2004 ISBN 1 873592 79 5 (NMAC/NLIS/all libraries)

There are many more and it is suggested that researchers check on the
Northamptonshire Libraries catalogue to see what is available.

AM 01/2024