Calling themselves “the heart and sole of Stafford” this group wants to remember Stafford’s heritage in shoe-making. Andy Halden explains…
Yes, we have our ‘Stafford Shoes’, a group of local enthusiasts from the Stafford area who are keen to highlight and celebrate the shoe-making history of the county town!
The group was formed in September 2008 following a meeting that took place at the offices of the Community Council of Staffordshire where I gave a brief presentation about the significant part that boot and shoe making played in the history of Stafford.
There were just the two major manufacturers in the town, Lotus and Jen Shoes, but I unearthed, in carrying out some family history research, a vast amount of facts and figures about shoe making. This sparked me into action!
The group agreed with me, and we decided to form a group to take forward some of the exciting ideas that were thrown up at the first meeting.
Shoe making in Stafford is recorded as far back as 1476 and was very much as a small trade, based in homes in and around Stafford, but moved on in the late 1700s when the manufacturing process came along.
William Horton, probably the best-known shoemaker at the time was considered the father of shoemaking industry in Stafford and founded his business in 1767 when he was 17 years old.
This remarkable man went on to have the have the largest shoemaking business in Stafford and supplied shoes all over the world - and had many valuable contracts with the government, probably through his connections with local MP Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
Mechanisation came to the Stafford shoe making industry in 1855 when sowing machines were introduced (much to the dismay of the workers and the unions at the time).
Machines soon made it possible for workers to move out of their own homes and work each day in the factory.
Ninteenth Century Growth
Between 1813 and 1998 we know of approximately 146 companies involved in shoe making - with a further 40 in allied trades.
Some of the well-known names in Stafford have shoe making to thank for their success.
Henry Venables, the timber merchants, made the wooden crates to export the boots and shoes all over the world.
The National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives was formed in Stafford in 1873 following a dispute between traditional cordwainers and the new workers from the mechanised factories; and it was through union support that Stafford elected to Parliament one of the first two working class MPs in the country, Alexander MacDonald.
We owe so much to shoe making and yet have no recognition of it anywhere in Stafford - so now ‘Stafford Shoes’ will champion the cause and put Stafford on the map.
The group has ambition, enthusiasm and plenty of ideas to take forward.
We intend in the short term to capture memories from people in the town that were directly involved in the industry.
Then, we hope to move on to creating a heritage trail in the north end of the town to show off some of the lovely Victorian buildings that are still standing.
Ideas abound and there are thoughts of engaging with the local college and linking with the arts and fashion design students. Who knows, perhaps one day there will be some small starter business units for one or two students to set themselves up in business of making shoes in Stafford once again. Perhaps this is the ultimate goal!
What is tremendous is that we now have generous support too from the Community Council of Staffordshire.
Anyone interested in the group - whether this be in helping out or passing on some memories, or some Stafford shoe-related items - should make contact with the group by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org,
If you want to drop us a line, write to us : c/o Community Council of Staffordshire, Friars Mill, Friars Terrace, Stafford. ST17 4DX
Thanks – let’s do it for Stafford!
last updated: 28/11/2008 at 10:59