The makers discover how Northampton dominated the shoe industry for centuries, becoming the shoe capital of Britain and exporting fancy footwear all over the globe.
In this episode, our makers explore how Northampton became the shoe capital of Britain. From drag queens and kings to squaddies and style fans, they have all sported a pair of Northampton's finest. The town has dominated the world in shoemaking for centuries, exporting fancy footwear globally. Presenter Steph McGovern takes the makers through the ages, guided by master shoemaker Scott McKee. He has handmade shoes for dozens of high profile clients including Prince Charles and Daniel Craig.
Our makers start by recreating a 13th-century turn shoe. It is a shoe that set Northampton's shoemakers on a path to prosperity. Leatherworker Jason has never made shoes before and he is really looking forward to getting stuck in. The makers have to cut out the turn shoe sole and upper. But cutting out leather to precise measurements is harder than it looks. Charlton's work fails Scott's quality control inspection, so he has to start again from scratch. Next, they have to sew the two parts together using a boar bristle as a needle. But the bristle is brittle and Katie keeps breaking hers, and Claire declares her shoe is the worst thing she has ever made. Jason takes ages making his shoe - he is a complete perfectionist. Once finished, they all model their new medieval creations for Steph.
In the Victorian era, business is booming. Our makers become part of the production line for the heeled Oxford shoe. Rather than one person making the whole shoe, each worker specialises in a particular part of the process. After completing the fiddly 'clicking' phase where they have to cut out six different pieces of the shoe from leather, Claire has a go on the closing machine. Claire struggled with hand-sewing in the last make, but is much more at home using this Victorian invention powered by a foot pedal. Charlton is set to work shaping the shoe using a last, a foot-shaped mould used by shoemakers. He observes that very strong fingers are needed to pull it tight. The makers are exhausted: the process requires an enormous amount of concentration.
Next, they are making a WWII marching boot that kitted out the British army. Speed is of the essence and our makers will have to move quickly to meet the wartime demand using the latest technology. They discover one of the greatest inventions that would transform the Northampton shoe industry - the Goodyear welting machine. Claire now uses an electric sewing machine to connect the panels of the upper, and lasting is mechanised too. The makers observe it is so much quicker than when they made a turn shoe in medieval times.
But the makers discover that some of the process is still done by hand. Katie and Jason fill the bottom of the shoe with crushed cork before the sole is applied. If they are too slow, the cork will dry out completely. Katie has a great appreciation for the immense speed that shoe makers had to work at to power the British war machine. Finally in the 21st century, our makers work on modern leather brogue boots at Tricker's, a company that have been based in Northampton for the past 180 years. Today, Tricker's shoes are available in 43 countries and one of their biggest customers is Japan. The makers are surprised to learn that at least 87 different people take six weeks to make a single pair of Tricker's boots. For these intricately crafted shoes the finishing stage is key. Charlton has to fill in 150 individual holes in the brogue. Claire and Katie dye the outside edge of the sole and Jason uses an open flame to burn off any tiny pieces of cotton remaining on the leather. Scott declares their final product is absolutely perfect.
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
|Series Producer||Kim Maddever|
|Executive Producer||Jo Bishop|
|Series Producer||Dunk Barnes|
|Production Company||DSP TV|