Click here to return to the main site entry page
Click here to return to the previous page
From the booklet 'A History of Progress' by W.E. Sargent
Walter Sargent & Co Ltd

Walter Sargent, founder of the company
Walter Sargent

To our many good business friends and especially those over-seas we send this little souvenir of the history of our firm which we hope they will find interesting.
W. E. Sargent
Photograph of a young W E Sargent
A young W E Sargent


It was about 1870 that our business was started in Rushden by the late Walter Sargent (father of the present Managing Director) a man with foresight and courage greatly in excess of his capital, which made his early efforts a hard struggle for some years until the first factory in College Street, little more than a row of cottages, was acquired in 1880.

Increasing business compelled larger premises in 1887 when a four-storey factory was erected in Crabb Street.

The first factory in College Street The second factory in Crabb Street
The College Street factory
The Crabb Street factory

Up to about 1890 very little manufacturing was actually done in the factory, only upper leather and bottom stock, cutting, cleaning and packing being handled. All other operations such as closing, making and finishing were done at workpeoples' homes.

Wellingborough News, 19th December 1890, transcribed by Kay Collins

SHOE FACTORY—During the past week the foundations have been laid for a new shoe factory. The building is being erected by Mr. E. Orlebar for Mr. Sargent, boot and shoe manufacturer, of Rushden and will be completed about the middle of January 1891.

When we came to the stage when machinery was gradually replacing handwork we were one of the first firms in the district to install it, and as time went on our business continued to expand by dint of sheer hard work and close personal attention to our customers' requirements.

About 1925 it was decided that specialisation was essential to meet increasing competition, so we reorganised to make Goodyear Welted shoes only. The change over not only improved the quality of the goods but reduced production costs.

Wholesale buyers were so quick to appreciate the excellent value we offered that it was impossible to cope with the demand for several years.

Photograph of the inside of the factory in Glassbrook Road
Inside the Glassbrook Road Factory
Although extensions were made from time to time at the Crabb Street factory, it was realised at the end of 1931 that still larger and more up-to-date works were imperative, so a factory in Glassbrook Road was purchased with 28,000 square feet of floor space at ground level. This was equipped with the latest Singer and British United Shoe Machinery and output was quickly increased.

Around 1937 we commenced the manufacture of ladies' shoes, now considerably expanded since Mr. R. E. B. Sargent (grandson of the Founder) re-joined us in 1946 after serving with distinction throughout the war in the R.A.F.

When our factory was requisitioned by the Ministry of Aircraft from 1941—1946 we were compelled to carry on in a small factory loaned by another manufacturer, but, on regaining possession of the Glassbrook Road premises opportunity was taken to completely reorganise.

The latest heating and lighting systems were installed, and wherever possible old plant was replaced by new and every machine fitted with individual electric motors. We now have an up-to-date canteen for the use of our workpeople and their welfare is studied in many other ways. In our modern premises we claim to have one of the most efficient factories in this district for making ladies' and men's best quality footwear.

In addition to a first-class connection with the leading wholesale and multiple houses in Gt. Britain and Northern Ireland, a considerable export business is done to Canada, Australia, Malta, West Indies, etc.

Notes: The first factory at the corner of College Street and Duck Street was probably built around 1880, with house adjoining. By 1887 Walter Sargent needed larger premises and moved to Crabb Street. The little factory he left behind was used by:

George Warner from about 1903 - 1908 (moved to Harborough Rd)
Thomas Robinson 1908 - 1914
Perkins Brothers
Horace Wills & Cyril Johnson - Sound Engineering Co. (by 1939) moved to Hove Road
Reliable Tap Washer Manufacturing Co. - Reg Norman well-known locally as the creator of "Air Ada".

Demolished 1980

Click here to return to the main index of features
Click here to return to the Shoe Trade index
Click here to e-mail us