|Mrs Jenny Burt - 22nd April 1985
J Burt - Thesis - Chapter 1
The Relationship between the growth of the Boot and Shoe Industry
General Survey of the Growth of Rushden Population and Expansion
Until the middle of the nineteenth century Rushden had been a small village in the Nene Valley area of East Northamptonshire on the fringe of its prestigious neighbour, the small market town of Higham Ferrers which had been awarded its first Charter in 1251 but whose growth had been relatively stagnant, by the 1871 Census, the pattern had begun to change and more particularly during the twenty years from 1881, Rushden could almost be compared to a Gold Rush town, the population increase having quadrupled by 1901.
Table 1 Total population as shown on the Census Returns
The table below (Table 2) shows the percentage population increase of the main shoemaking towns in Northamptonshire compared with Rushden:-
Table 2 Population percentage increase from previous decade
The percentage increase for 1871 to 1881 for England and Wales was 15.1% compared to Rushden's increase of 72%. The above figures show a general trend that Rushden was the fastest growing shoemaking village in the eastern part of the county. The Census Returns show that Rushden's period of growth began in the 1870's but I have no figures for that decade to show exactly when the population expanded. I suspect that as the shoe industry used more machinery and thus small factories in the town expanded together with their attendant outworkers, many agricultural labourers now forced out of work by the agricultural depression of 1875, were attracted to the village by the prospect of work. Appendix A is an analysis of one third of the 1881 Census for Rushden which, inter alia, gives the extent of immigrant workers. The population growth gained momentum during the 1880's and 90’s until by 1901 Rushden was a thriving Urban District.
Development of the boot and shoe industry
What then caused this somewhat explosive growth: The answer lies almost exclusively in the expansion of the main industry of the village, the manufacture of boots and shoes and the allied trades of leather and machinery.
The Victoria County History1 refers to records indicating that Northampton in the mid seventeenth century tended to specialize in footwear, and refers to the ‘Liber Custumarum’ of Northampton town, regulations governing tanning and bootmaking, and the 'Ars Allutariorium’ an ordinance made for the Craft of Cordwainers, both mid fifteenth century documents. The county town supplied vast numbers of boots and shoes for Cromwell's army, and the concentration on footwear spread to the surrounding villages, particularly to the East of the town and along the navigable River Nene.
The ‘Basketwork’ system was probably inauguarated around 1783, i.e. the leather was ready cut out, taken out to the villagers for closing (the uppers being stitched together) and further leather for the bottoming provided for the finishing processes. Wellingborough, some five miles from Rushden, became known by 1860 as a centre for outdoor closing, with a settled price per dozen pairs. The Industry was still very much domestic based with whole families joining in the process, the younger children cutting off ends, tying the products together, collecting the material and delivering the finished goods.
Machinery came relatively late to the shoe industry. For example, in the process of stitching sole to upper, a chain stitch machine, the Mackay Sole-sewing machine was introduced to the country in 1859, and later the Goodyear chain stitcher in 1872 which eventually superseded hand sewn and hand welted work. Machines for closing uppers were introduced in 1857.
As the processes of shoemaking became more specialised, the growing use of machinery tended to be centralised in expanding small factories and more employees were required to work indoors. However, a great deal of work was still carried out in the home, in 'shops' attached to the back of the house or one or two-storey structures at the end of the garden or yard where several members of the family worked together. (See Appendix B)
I examined 218 schedules of the 1881 Census for Rushden (approximately one third of the total) where the enumerator entered ‘factory’ after the occupation. This was the only enumerator to do so and I presume that where 'factory’ was omitted, those workers worked on a domestic basis. The results are as follows in Table 3.
Table 3 The 1881 Census Return for Rushden - Part
These results illustrate that the shoe industry was the largest single employer of labour and almost one third of the men so employed worked in the factories, the women mostly worked in domestic service if not in the shoe trade, but tended to work in the factories as machinists or fitters rather than at home if they were single.
The National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives in 1894 demanded that all work except for closing and hand-sewn work should no longer be done 'outside' but within the factory system. The demand was carried through without serious trouble, but as well as assisting in greater union control over members, it also meant that the workmen were subject to regular hours, instead of being able to work only when necessary or when they desired. It was common practice in the villages for shoemakers to work late into the night and garden in the middle of the day, and the notorious 'Saint Monday’ was frequently observed. The uppers were still often completed under the domestic system and, in fact, remnants of this remain to the present day, particularly for women at home with families.
As the industry changed from a domestic to a factory based manufacture, openings arose for the entrepreneur. The small 'shops' were linked to a clicker's shop, or a 'finishing' room until a small factory was acquired where perhaps only the closing process was still 'outwork', until that too was brought inside.
V.A. Hatley2 attributed the growth of Rushden between 1881-1901 as being largely based on John Cave and Son, and pointed out that by 1901 Rushden was one of the four principal shoe towns in the County with the highest proportions of its population engaged in the trade, 60% of males and 22% of females, aged 10 years and over.
John Cave is a good example of a Rushden entrepreneur, albeit one of the most successful. He commenced his business in a small 'shop' in 1850, moving to larger premises in 1860 in the High Street. The 1871 Census Returns showed that he employed 6 men and 4 boys in the factory. In 1877 the High Street factory caught fire and was destroyed, the damage estimated at £8,000. A new factory was built said to be one of the county's largest, and described in 1889 as employing about 600 workers and making 7-8,000 pairs of men's and boys' boots per week. This factory was gutted in a devastating fire in 1901 and again rebuilt.
A. Fox3 refers to Rushden in 1899 as a major centre for the shoe industry, outwork was still in practice as also were hand lasting and hand finishing. Still using growth comparisons, Kelly's Directories invariably say that the villagers were mostly engaged in boot and shoemaking, and gives the number of traders in the industry and allied trades as follows;-
There is some doubt as to the accuracy of these figures, as, of course, not all manufacturers, particularly the very small ones, advertised or were included in the Trade Directories, but, nevertheless, the figures show the industry to be generally expanding. Some companies listed may only be registered for a short time, and quite probably the small man or the semi-independent worker were not included.
Development of the Churches
The 1851 Census was the only religious census to attempt to measure church attendance and the distribution of denominational strength. Although its figures may be open to question in their evaluation of the situation, D.M. Thompson4 regards its main value to be 'its picture of religious practice.’ Horace Mann, the compiler of the Census in his Report said that church attendance in urban centres was worse than that in rural areas and 'it must be apparent that a sadly formidable portion of the English people are habitual neglecters of the public ordinances of religion5. 'There were, of course, regional differences and K.S. Inglis6 lists Northampton as having an index of attendance of 63.4 exceeding the index for England and Wales of 61. He goes on to say that there was a tendency for non-conformist worshippers to outnumber Church of England worshippers in large towns in chief manufacturing areas, but there were notable exceptions. He also comments on the dominance of Baptist attendances in Northampton over the other dissenting congregations.
In ‘The pattern of Rural Dissent'7, A. Everitt found that for the 1851 Census for Northamptonshire, the total number of Anglican sittings was 56% and Dissenters 44%. The comparable Rushden figures are Anglican 32.7% and Dissenters 67.2% the Baptists being 60.1% and the Independent Methodists 7.1%. These figures help to reinforce Everitt's statement that 'there were probably few counties where the Old Dissent as a whole was more powerful or more deeply entrenched than in Northamptonshire.
The following table (Table 4) illustrates the domination of nonconformity, particularly the Baptist denomination in Rushden.
Table 4 1851 Census, estimated number of attendants*
Using the criteria of K. Inglis for index of attendance, i.e. the total attendances at all specified places of worship within a given area expressed as a percentage of the population in the area, the index of attendance for Rushden is 106.5, way above the National or Northampton average. Whilst examining church records I found many people coming in from surrounding villages which would therefore reduce the index of attendance. Nevertheless, the figures appear to show that Rushden's church attendance was relatively high.
The following table (Table 5) shows the development of the churches in Rushden in the second part of the nineteenth century.
Table 5 Number of sittings in the churches and expressed as a percentage of the population of Rushden
In his discussion on the wide spectrum of types of settlement where rural dissent occurred, Everitt lists common elements, two of which fit the development of Rushden. With regard to the question of freedom, that is villages in which there were many smallholders or craftsmen self-employed, the Enclosure Map of the village, 1778 lists over fifty different persons holding land, with no large tracts. D. Hall8 suggests that the reason Rushden developed as a centre for the boot and shoe industry rather than Higham Ferrers was the difference in land tenure. Both centres were owned by the Duchy of Lancaster but ‘at Rushden it mattered little if a field with a low, nominal copy-hold rent was sold as building land, but at Higham there was resistance to loss of a high rent paid by a leaseholder’. Rushden, with its history of many small holders of land thus emphasises the tradition allowing growth of dissent. The second common element where dissent grew which Everitt puts forward was in the new industrial villages of the 18th and 19th Century, which category certainly applies to Rushden. Everitt further comments that growth of dissent in industrial villages was due to the emergence of a lower middle class rather than the expansion of the working class and that detailed chapel records could provide evidence of class categories. Unfortunately, most church records I have examined do not give occupations apart from those of some of the Trustees or on Conveyances, and although I have been able to match up some names appearing on church records with those of the 1881 Census I have not been able to produce a satisfactorily accurate breakdown of social classes attending particular churches.
Rushden has a long history of non-conformity and a precis of the development of the dissenting denominations is given below9.
In 1672 a Mr. 'Wuleston’ or Woolston of Rushden was granted a preaching license for his house, and it was believed that the Baptist 'cause’ originated there, it being a branch of the Stevington Church itself an offshoot of John Bunyan's church at Bedford, founded on the lines of open Communion, Independent Baptist. The Baptist Handbook records the formation of a church in Rushden in 1722 and the earliest Church Book dates from 1723. The church expanded, the first purpose built Meeting House was erected in 1796 seating 600 persons. Schoolrooms were added in 1860 and a new front erected in 1873. Further expansion necessitated a new schoolroom in 1884 and a new Church being built in 1901 with 800 sittings and able to accommodate one thousand worshippers, the largest church in the village. Sections of the Baptist community split from the main church, the Old Meeting, to form new 'causes' over the years, and also sub-divided ostensibly due to theological differences, but the Baptist as a whole remained the main dissenting denomination in the village.
Records suggest that a Methodist Class existed in the village in 1781 and a church existed in 1828. The small Chapel near the Village Green became too small and the congregation moved to a 'New Chapel’ in Backway, 1852 rented from Mr. B. Denton, shoe manufacturer. Further expansion entailed new church building and schoolrooms in the High Street in 1873, with the erection of further new schools in 1890 and a new church in 1900. A daughter Sunday School was set up in 1893 which developed into the Mission church whose new premises were opened in 1901. (See Appendix D) The Independent Wesleyans were invited to join with the Wesleyan Conference in 1887 but declined to do so by 17 votes to 15, a number abstaining. They informed the Wesleyan Methodists of their decision not to join but 'appreciate the brotherly feeling that has prompted the suggestion and should they see their way to form a church in this village our prayer is that God will bless their efforts and we shall be pleased to work shoulder to shoulder with them in their work’.
Consequently the Higham Ferrers Circuit Local Preachers Minute Book records in December, 1887 'Our entrance into Rushden was simply mentioned in the Local Preachers' meeting and in the General Meeting it was unanimously agreed to commence a cause there next Plan’. No time seems to have been lost as the first church was built in 1889, in Park Road, but this proved to be too small and a new church was erected next to it in 1901.
By 1889 the Primitive Methodists were strong enough to purchase a piece of land from the Fitzwilliam family to build their chapel in 1890. (See footnote) It was extended in 1894 eventually being sold to the British Legion in 1936. It is interesting to note that on the Conveyance, of the signatories on the part of the Primitive Methodists, seven were shoe workers, one was a dealer and one a labourer. This could be construed as evidence of the national claim of the Primitive Methodists to attract the working class. I could find no recognised shoe manufacturers connected with the church during the early part of its existence. When Chairmen were needed to preside over their public entertainments, teas, etc., invitations were extended to prominent leaders of the Independents, the Wesleyan Methodists or the Baptist churches.
The Salvation Army10
In March, 1883, the Wellingborough Corps of the Salvation Army 'made a grand attack’ on Rushden, and in June, 1883, the 'War Cry' reported that 'Rushden, during sixteen weeks had taken ninety-seven prisoners, has now eighty-six soldiers, sold thirty-four dozen 'War Crys' 1st week’. Colours were presented in October of that year and by 1888 the Army were laying the foundation stone for their Rushden barracks, after making use of the New Hall and the Temperance Hall during the intervening period. Mrs. Bramwell Booth addressed a Great Meeting at the opening ceremony when 'close upon 400 persons' attended.
The foregoing introduction shows the strength of non-conformity in Rushden, but at the same time it should be noticed that the Anglican church also expanded by the provision of the additional Parish Church of St. Peter to serve the development of the north west side of the village. The Episcopal Visitations of 1878 and 1882 record the Rev. Barker of St. Mary's Parish Church estimating that the probable number of dissenters is two thirds of the population. He further comments on the cohesion among the Dissenters and their hostility to the Anglican church on political grounds, the Baptists in 1882 being the prevailing denomination with 'strong political sentiment’. His remedy was 'only patient countenance’ in 1828, but by 1882 he thought that 'perhaps an appeal to the Bishop to the upper classes might do something', having complained of the 'indifference and indolence among church people especially in the middle and upper classes contrasting painfully with the artisans'. However, aside from the political issues which split the religious community, i.e. the education question and the church rate struggle, I found that there was much co-operation between the churches, particularly with regard to the temperance issue.
During the twenty year period of this study, a great deal of church building was undertaken to serve the fast growing population, which reflects the sense of entrepreneurship of a practical people used to running their own affairs and making decisions, a manifestation of the non-conformist spirit and the small-master type of business.