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Shoe Trade in Rushden & Raunds 1895

Northampton Herald, 23rd March 1895

A Visit to Rushden and Raunds

(By the "Daily Telegraph's" Special)

With regard to Rushden, it is a rising little town, nearer to Northampton than to Leicester, and equally distant from Wellingborough—where the best "uppers" in the Kingdom are made—and Kettering. Rushden and as a population of 10,000, and it is wholly dependent upon the boot and shoe trade, its weekly output destined for London and export being 50,000 pairs, as compared with 70,000 produced at Kettering. In its style of manufacture it resembles Kettering; and Northampton, for no ladies' boots are manufactured, but welted boots form a considerable proportion of the whole output. At Rushden nearly the whole of the manufacturers were Federated, but thirty-four out of thirty-eight broke away from the masters' organisation, leaving four only in the Federation. On Friday and Saturday the doors of most of the factories are expected to close, because the Union members are chiefly the rivetters and finishers, and when these are with­drawn the whole routine of the factory must break down. Messrs. John Cave and Sons, for example, have in their employ 220 non-Union workpeople, including women, and about 500 Unionists. The non-Unionists were invited to remain with the promise that the firm would protect them in every possible way. A meeting was held, and the workpeople resolved that for the sake of peace and quietness they had better not come to work, and, accordingly, when I went over the build­ing it was virtually closed.

The history of this particular establishment is interesting and instructive. Forty-five years ago the founder of the firm, who is still hale and hearty, set tip as a shoemaker in a thatched cottage, which stands today surrounded by imposing buildings, all of which are occupied by shoe manufacturers. Mr. John Cave had, when he started, but one rival. To-day there are probably fifty competitors. Between the firm and its employees the kindliest feelings subsist, but in Socialistic circles I note an entire indisposition to recognise the fact that success has been due to perseverance, industry, and enterprise, and the usual cry raised is that every employer, who once was a humble workman and is now well-to-do has no right to his wealth, but should divide it among his employees. This doctrine is held in Northamptonshire, not as a visionary ideal, but as an object to be fought for in the present battle. At Messrs. Cave and Sons' factory I found proof that the contention of Mr. Hornidge that the Americans send us only their cast-out machines is absolutely erroneous, for here, in Rushden, are put down not only the latest types of American machinery, but in addition machines which surpass even those which have been designed in Boston. For a new lock-stitch and a welting machine, invented by Mr. Paul Cave, the Americans have themselves offered £15,000; and another machine, invented by his brother, by which soles may be cut from leather at the rate of sixty per minute, has no counterpart in America. If employers were free from the harassing to outdo America on her own ground. Another point is that in this factory all the hands are day-workers, but the firm would have no objection to taking them back on a piecework statement provided that other Federated manufacturers could do the same; but this is out of the question, as many houses have little or no machinery. Yet no doubt whatever exists that during the past few weeks the output has been limited, and the bonuses which used to be paid have fallen off in consequence. Mr. Cave told me that he had made boots for Lobengula, which were 12in. long and 8in. wide. The Scotch have the biggest feet of any people, and the neatest-footed race are the French; but the South Americans are also smart, with a high-arched instep.

The firm employs hand labour as well as machinery, and, as nearly as possible, it is worked on the American "team" system, which means sub-division of labour. It is a fact that hand work on this system can compete with machinery, each man or lad in the group does one process only instead of undertaking several operations. The great advantage is that all the members of the team, must keep going at the pace of the fastest worker in the group. The men object to it as pace-making. If hand labour is to survive at all, it will be due to the team system.

I had singular confirmation of this at Raunds, where nearly all the Army and Navy boots are manufactured, not only for the War Office and Admiralty, but for Egypt and the Colonial agents. Raunds lies nearer Kettering. and to reach this little village I passed through the ancient and disfranchised borough of Higham Ferrers, which woke up a little too late to the importance of the shoe industry, and has allowed its neighbour, Rushden, to outstrip it completely. At Raunds, Mr. J. K. Smith informed me that the Government insisted upon the best materials, and the Army "high-lows,'' the Artillery Wellingtons, and the jack boots for Cavalrymen are all Hand-made on the system which machinery in other kinds of boots is superseding, Raunds has for half a century possessed expert shoemakers, many of whom work in their own homes entirely free of the Union, with which they will have nothing to do; but as these shoemakers die out none come forward to replace them, and the only way to make the retention of hand labour possible is to bring up lads to perform special operations. It used to take seven years to teach a shoemaker how to make a boot, but now-a-days, when every youth of twenty is reckoned a man, entitled to the minimum wage, no boy will be bound apprentice for so long. He has not patience to learn his trade throughout; but if he mastered one part of it only, by working in a team, he would make it possible for manufacturers to encourage hand labour, for it remains the fact that, excellent though a machine-sewn boot may be, there is nothing to equal the handiwork of a cordwainer.

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