Category: sharedstories
Manfield Factory Boots Shoes

Family connections to the Northampton shoe industry

My grandmother told me, literally on her death bed, “I used to make boots, you know.” No, I didn’t know. I knew that the vast majority of my family for several generations had been involved in the shoe industry but I was unaware that my grandmother had also counted among that number. Apparently it was only “during the war,” one of her favourite phrases.

Her husband, my grandfather, was a shoe designer and talented amateur artist. He died at the age of sixty one, leaving my grandmother to live on her own for nigh on forty years. It wasn’t until we were clearing her house that we found an elaborate certificate detailing his involvement as President of the Northampton & District Boot & Shoe & Allied Trades Managers’ & Foremen’s Association in 1961-1962.

His brother, my great uncle Jack, was a real character. He lost an eye at the age of three and therefore escaped the fate of many of his contemporaries in the war. He was employed by Church’s shoes for nearly all his career, although his precise role was apparently something of a mystery to his coworkers. Allegedly one was heard to remark something along the lines of, “Whatever job John Brown does, I’d like it.”

Again it was not until clearing uncle Jack’s house, when his wife moved into a home, that I heard about my great grandfather Jubilee John Brown (or John Brown senior, as he dropped the “Jubilee”, apparently a common epithet bestowed to those born in Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee year of 1887). There is a rather grand photo of him as a moderately young man, dressed incredibly smartly and soberly in a suit among others similarly attired, which I am told is a portrait of the investors in G.T.Hawkins, presumably when it became a limited company in 1916, where he became a director. Apparently Jubilee John had been loaned the money by his more well-to-do father.

Moving back down the family tree both my mother and her sister worked at the Manfield’s factory, part of the British Shoe Corporation, with their father. My mum worked in the offices and her sister as a machinist.

My father worked his way up from the factory floor to shoe factory manager at Barry Road, also owned by the British Shoe Corporation, where he was in charge of over three hundred workers. He then set up a shoe closing firm (ie. sewing the elements of a shoes together before the sole is attached) which morphed into the local factory shoe shop “R & F Closers” when the making work dried up due to cheap labour abroad.

My mother and father met through the British Shoe Corporation’s float at the Northampton carnival. That year the theme was pirates and mermaids. My mum claims she wasn’t pretty enough to join the mermaids on the float and so had to walk beside it as a pirate. My dad and his brother were also pirates and they were carrying a treasure chest, on which they offered her a lift when she got tired.

On my dad’s side of the family his mother, stepfather and older brother also worked in the industry. His mother as a machinist, his stepfather as a sole edge trimmer, both at Crockett and Jones, and his brother as a foreman at Manfield’s .

I suppose you could also argue that my sister and I worked in the shoe industry too; our first earnings were from helping out with piecework; attaching metal trims or tassels or weaving leather strips across the aprons of men’s shoes, work brought home for us to help out with when the factory was too busy. Our young, slender fingers meant we could undertake these tasks with speed and with practise our efficiency led to a decent rate of pay, particularly for teenagers who were still at school. I chose the shoe industry in Northampton as the theme of my O level Geography project and felt proud to be taken on a tour round the factory of which my dad was the manager.

Although times have changed and many of the factories have been closed and converted into flats and luxury apartments, it is heartening to know that Northampton is still remembered as a shoe making town, through the remaining mainly high-end shoe brands still based here including both Church’s and Crockett and Jones and, probably more famously, through the success of the film and subsequent musical Kinky Boots which is set in Northampton (although the true story that inspired it was about a firm in Earls Barton, a village situated about nine miles away).

By Beverley Webster

Northampton All Saints Church

A perspective on Northampton

My first knowing visit to Northampton took place when I was a student in London and I wanted to use my new railcard. I have a distinct memory of walking to All Saints’ Church from the station on a rather dull day…
Litlle did I know at the time that my career would bring me back to Northamptonshire and that I would settle there.
Although I don’t live in Northampton, it has always been my preferred destination for shopping, as well as for leisure. I’m also still discovering its fascinating history. Over the many years some things have certainly changed for the better, such as the Cultural Quarter, with the Derngate, not even built when I started living in Northamptonshire.
It’s been sad, however, to see Abington Street metamorphose over the years, with the loss of individual shops with character, such as Gordon Scott, who shod all my children. Beatties and BHS were always handy for a meal or cup of tea, too. Beyond that, Lawrence’s Cafe in St Giles’s Street, always a cosy refuge on shopping trips, has closed, the Chronicle and Echo building has also gone, leaving an empty site, as has the old bus station (which I didn’t have particularly strong feelings about, unlike many).
Perhaps what’s happening with the County Council epitomises the wider evolution; does Northampton know where it’s going, or even where it wants to go – I hope

Rushden Library Northamptonshire Northants

Northants born & bred

I was born at Kettering General and raised in Rushden, East Northamptonshire and whilst I’ve lived in the South West for a few years and the North West for over a decade, Northants holds a special place in my heart. All (well most) of my firsts happened here – drinking, parties, going out, studying etc. Skipping school in Rushden, youth theatre in Wellingborough, clubbing in Kettering, dating in Corby! Northamptonshire is one of those ‘in between’ places – there’s not necessarily a recognised accent or identity that goes along with place and as I’ve established myself up North I’ve noticed people find it hard to place me or know where I fit – am I a Southerner? Posh? A Brummie? You really have to have lived there to get it. Growing up in small town Northants it often felt too restrictive – I was dying to live in a city. Now I do I appreciate visiting family and friends in Northants even more. I think how much Rushden in particular has changed and pulled itself up by the bootstraps really impressive – for a small town it’s holding its own. Wellingborough too is starting to benefit from London commuter overspill. These towns felt quite neglected and forgotten when I was growing up and with small towns struggling around the country it’s great to see some investment in the local economy (The Lakes etc). I really hope local councils see the need to invest and protect services – I remember finishing Uni and being back at my parents. Their pc was knackered and I couldn’t afford a new laptop. I sent all my job applications and CVs around the country from the warmth of the Rushden library. It would be really awful to lose more essential services which are so so valuable to the communities they serve.

by Amber

Northampton Monkey Charlie Chimp Gordon Scott's Scott shoe shop

Then and now

My parents moved to Hunsbury in the eighties when it was still a building site, and I’ve grown up in the town. I remember trips to the Oven Door bakery in the Grosvenor centre to buy iced buns and sausage rolls, and staring at the swinging monkey in the shoe shop window on Abington Street.

Even though I’ve stayed living in Northampton my relationship with the town centre has become more distant and I rarely go in anymore. I work in Milton Keynes so if I shop it tends be there. Having said that though, in recent years it’s become obvious that despite its woes of losing a lot of big name shops from its high street, Northampton’s strength is in its independent shops and cafe’s. If the town centre has a reason to visit anymore after losing the likes of BHS, M&S (no doubt Debenhams will follow sooner or later), it’s these shops and they need every bit of support to stop Northampton turning into a total ghost town.

Royal & Derngate Safety Curtain

Crash Course in the Theatre!

I never knew much about Northampton apart from the Royal and Derngate theatre being there. It’s one of those places you don’t hear much about if you live further afield. The show 60 Miles by Road or Rail was an entertaining insight into the rich history of the place. I can image you could take one section and make a whole branching off story about how the various developments of the town affected individuals and their families. It did make me wonder why I’d never heard any of those stories before. It did make me more curious about exploring the town.

Sylvia

Northampton Woolworths Abington Street

Then and Now

I feel a bit sad when I see Northampton town centre now compared to how I remember it from when I was a child. I don’t know if it’s just a growing up thing but it used to feel like a really exciting destination (to be fair, I lived in a village at the time) and it would be a ‘proper day out’. Now I tend to avoid the town centre – there’s so many shops shutting and it feels like anything independent and original doesn’t last. There’s not much I’m really interested in coming in for. Just the theatre and maybe the some of the quirky shops on St Giles. Things seem to move in cycles though, so maybe at some point people will start coming back to the town centre and it will get regenerated into the place to be again.

Northampton Lift Tower Express Lighthouse Sunset

Returning home

I have recently returned home from years of studying (years and years) and how much has changed! The town centre feels like a shell of what it once was but the people are just the same (in a great way).

I have met so many young creatives, new businesses and interesting people – I just wish the centre was more welcoming and exciting.

Can’t believe the council… what a sham. Let’s make this wonderful town better because we deserve better!

Northampton Development Corporation Green Sign NDC

Acidic Lime Signs

The main thing I can remember about the Northampton Development Corporation was their bright green logo everywhere, like acidic lime colour. They had huge billboards all over the eastern side of town, and offices set up in the market square too.

by Johnathan T

Saturday Shopping

My main memory of Northampton is as a kid going into town shopping on a Saturday with my mum and brother and sister. Getting the bus into Greyfriars and spending a few hours in the Grosvenor centre and diving on the huge pile of cuddly toys in the Disney store. We’d get pick n mix from Woolworths and spend ages going around all the market stalls. Since growing up I don’t really go into town to shop anymore, and my mum certainly doesn’t. It’s just not the same.

By Harrison

Northampton Great Fire

My Love of History

My name is David  and I was born and raised in  Northampton, one of my passions is the history of Northamptonshire as a county and it’s links to the most important war ever to take place in England. I would like to share that history with as many other people as possible.

I have a love of history in general and a particular interest in the English civil war period which has shaped to a large extent the country of my birth.

It’s my belief that not enough visitors to our shores know about the county and what it can offer in terms of the beauty of the countryside and the number and variety of historic houses it has within it’s boundaries.

London, personally I love to visit the city, outside of York it’s probably my favourite English city and its a magnet to visitors from abroad and it’s easy to see why, rich in history, fantastic venues to eat and see shows, world class museums, glorious parks, a melting pot of people, it’s got the lot.
And if your time in the UK is limited a lot people make the decision to see London and not venture elsewhere, which given what I’ve pointed out above is understandable.

London’s success as a place to visit means other less well known destinations lose out and that’s a shame not only for the alternative destination but also the visitor because they are missing the opportunity to experience something equally interesting and stimulating without the hectic pace.

Take my own county Northamptonshire, it’s only an hours travel from London but you could very well be in another world, fantastic countryside, oodles of history ranging from the time of the Saxons, we even had our own great fire in 1675, great architecture such as intriguing follies and historic houses with beautiful gardens, old village pubs (some very old) offering some great beers, forget the image of weak and warm British beer, those days are long gone.

Northamptonshire has produced many talented people who have left an indelible mark on our country and the wider world, Poets, Composers, Scientists, Writers,  even a Prime Minister of England, the only one to be assassinated.

http://www.new-model-tours.com/

by David Nicholls

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