History of Shoemaking in Britain – Tudors and Stuarts

Tudors and Stuarts

The 16th century saw the development of a new type of shoe, the welted shoe. Here, the upper is attached to the insole and welt, with a second row of stiches through the welt to attach the sole. This made shoes much more flexible and comfortable. As the wool trade, Britain’s staple trade of the middle ages, declined, tons specialising in other trades emerged; Northampton and Stafford’s speciality came to be shoemaking.

As heels became popular during the 17th century, the shoemaking process became more difficult , and ‘straights’ were introduced – lasts and shoes made to fit either foot, not shaped left or right. This practice continued until the early 19th century. By the time of the Civil War orders for army boots and shoes were given to shoemakers in towns for delivery to London. Northampton was very successful in meeting these contracts, as were shoemakers in London. Other regional centres were successful too; Oxford in the 17th century; York, Bristol, Norwich, Stafford and Stone in the 18th century. Norwich’s shoe trade may have developed due to the arrival of refugee workers from the continent. The slipper industry of the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire derives from its traditional staple trade of feltmaking. Later still, Leicester emerged as a shoemaking centre around 1830, and Street in Somerset and Kendal in Cumbria even later.

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