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Shoemaking in Northampton – Why it’s Integral to British Footwear

Updated: Jul 14, 2021

What makes Northampton such a special place within the shoe industry? Explore the history of the town and discover why it should always be your first place to go shoe shopping.

When you pick up a pair of shoes in a shop or add some to your online basket, how often do you check where they’re made? Shoemaking in Northampton has a long history of quality and style. We've taken the time to understand why the place is as important as the product. Finding out where your shoes are made may feel like an unnecessary action to take at first, it can actually save you a lot of money in the long-run. Here’s how. The quality is in the history

As a county, shoemaking in Northampton is renowned. Many of its villages and towns home to first-class shoemakers, leather merchants, designers, and tanneries. Dating back to the 13th century, Northampton was a great place to manufacture shoes as the area was rich in large quantities of oak bark, leather from cattle markets and was close to water. Geographically, Northampton’s central location made transportation up and down the country simple as well. However, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century when the town established itself as a sign of true quality shoemaking. The adoption of the Goodyear welt process signaled a new era of long-lasting footwear. Elegant in design and beautifully constructed, leather shoes and boots had a true home for large-scale factories. From traditional family shoemakers such as Crockett & Jones, Church’s and Edward Green to the birth of Dr. Martens in Wollaston, the list is endless.

Further afield, Joseph Cheaney & Sons have reached a record £10 million sales turnover via exports from their factory in Desborough, while classic English brands like Loake and Barker are just down the road in Kettering. One of the most significant moves was made in 1881 when five men from Wollaston created the Northampton Productive Society (NPS). In less than 20 years, NPS employed 80 people and moved to a large purpose-built factory on South Street. To this very day, they still operate in the same building. NPS is regarded as one of the best manufacturers of shoes in the world, which is why we picked them to make our Percy Stride collection! The future of shoemaking in Northampton While shoemaking in Northampton might not be as prominent as they once were, its rich history is still celebrated at the world-renowned shoe museum. Nonetheless, exports to Japan from Northamptonshire-based manufacturers are still worth £20 million every year. Among the biggest contributors nowadays are classic brands such as John Lobb, Crockett & Jones, plus contemporary ones like Jeffery West and Gaziano & Girling. The art of quality shoemaking is integral to putting a stop to the “bin it” attitude plagued within our society today. Taking a look at where your shoes are made and understanding the importance of Goodyear welt construction can give you a lifetime of wear out of your footwear. In turn, you’ll pay more initially, but you’ll save thousands in the long run. If we haven't convinced you that Buying British is the way forward, check out our blog Why Buy British? or do you want to learn more about Northampton’s history of shoemaking?

Then sign up for a tour at the NPS factory here. Or if you fancy delving into the world of Dr. Martens, you can read more about the history of the brand or visit the factory shop (NN29 7QE) between 10am and 5pm, Monday to Sunday.

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