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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Northants

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Myths and Legends
James Gribble
© Courtesy of J R Betts - Raunds & District History Society
Boots on the march

Daniel Defoe wrote that an Englishman's shoes were "from Northampton for all; the poorest countryman and the master". The town's once great claim that it made footwear for the world, came about for a number of reasons.

In medieval times, Northampton had major political importance, a prosperous market and good communications. The River Nene, that runs virtually the length of the county, provided water and lush meadows for grazing cattle for leather but, most important of all, the county had a long tradition of tanning.

Hides were readily available and the vast areas of oak woods provided bark. There was also a willing and capable workforce. By the 1580s, shoemaking had emerged as Northampton’s main trade.

Then, in the mid-17th Century, Northampton’s boot industry was boosted immeasurably by warfare. The demand for sturdy leather boots, for marching troops, meant that orders were flooding in to the town and, as Charles I raised his standard in 1642, he was also, unwittingly, raising the profile of Northampton’s leather trade and confirming the town as a Parliamentarian stronghold.

Six hundred pairs of boots and 4,000 pairs of shoes were ordered for the Irish campaign in 1642 and all these were made largely within the town of Northampton itself.

Words: David Saint

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