Click here to return to the main site entry page
Click here to return to the previous page
From an interview with Reg Bird by Rae Drage April 2007. Transcribed by Jacky Lawrence
Reg Bird - Working in the Shoe Trade

Yes, well I started work at John White's 1939 and I done three year and then I went into the army and then from there I had three year. And I come home, I didn't go back to White's because I didn't like it. It were a very hard firm, it was piece work and it were, you kinda got what you done at a speed, you'd got to keep up with the others. So after the war I come back, I went to Borough Shoes, Higham, where it was a different setup. It was a nice little factory, it's turned into flats now. There was a family, there were two Sudboroughs, anyhow they split up. They sold out and then from there we had two or three different people come in. We had Loakes' from Kettering, then before Loakes come in we had a fire and that put us off for about twelve months and I went to Walker and Gunns which is a housing estate now.

I was in the lasting room. That means putting the shoe onto the last to form it and it was piece work and you had a go to keep up with the others. But anyhow I finished, I done that and then at night time, we didn't have television and that and I used to go to the Technical School along Victoria Road. I learnt one or two jobs there. I done hand sewing, I can make a shoe pretty well through on the hand soled and last. That were quite interesting, I made quite a few pair for myself. I used to sit at night in the kitchen probably, do, put the welts in and that and they were a lovely shoe although I say it myself. When you made a hand lasted shoe from the start it didn't need no breaking in, they were like slippers. They were a lovely shoe, I made some, they were white buckskin tops, they were real buckskin and I made them up and me mother's brother, he came from Canada and he spotted them, hadn't been worn. 'Cor,' he said. 'I should love, I should love them.' Well, I couldn't refuse I said, 'You take them then.' And he took them back to Canada and they all fell in love with them 'cos they were real. Not because I made them but because they was hand made preferably to machinery.

The best shoe factory I worked at was Walker and Gunns. They made the best shoes, they was the ladies and they were beautiful shoes and they were called Gypsy Queen. They were lovely, the best leather and we used to have a lunch break. At half past nine we'd have a sandwich or whatever, you'd got to eat and used to have a break for the simple reason that the leather was so delicate, you know, that they didn't want butter fingers all on the leather uppers. So we'd have five minutes, the man used to blow his whistle and we used to start again. No, they were lovely shoes they were and he was, Walker and Gunns, he was a nice man, he were. He were Mayor at Higham once or twice I think, yes but I think when the father died it just, they didn't seem to be interested, the son you know, which in a lot of cases happens don't it in different trades but they done alright, yes.

Up at Higham, Windmill Banks. I went to work on my pushbike, I always had a pushbike and I used to take my lunch and we'd have a meal when I got home 'cos from here down to the Walnut tree, Walker and Gunns, it was a good old ride, you know, them days. Specially if the bloody wind was blowing 'cos it was uphill from Windmill Banks but I was alright. I was there nearly two year 'til Borough Shoes got back after the fire and then I went back to Borough Shoes and I finished my time up there. I retired what did I do, must have done about thirty year there in Borough Shoes.

It carried on for a few year and then it sold up but I forget what the end were now I wasn't interested, after I finished work. I don't think it lasted long after I left, like a lot of them weren't it, but well we, as I say, it changed a lot, the shoe trade and then it just all folded up nearly. These different shoes come in, didn't they. These trainers and all that and that affected the shoe trade. I think people weren't buying proper shoes they were, got these trainers and that. They were more or less put together like, I don't know. There was no work in them and they just sewed them together and just stuck the sole on them, as easy as that, you know.

I retired when I was sixty five and I'm eighty three, eighteen years ago. Yes, yes, them years have just gone you, I mean even at my age now the time seems to slip by, you know you. I stopped in the lasting room all the time. And I was on piece work pretty well all the time.

The factory had a cricket team, what they called a knockout and one of the firms what took us over, they were a London firm, Normans they were, and they used to come down and we used to play cricket. Just used to turn off and go into Souldrop in a field there and that were fun. We had a few matches and the old boss he used to love it, he brought a cup down and we won the cup. And, you know, it used to be a good night out 'cos, as I say, there was nothing else much was there? You know, you'd got to make your own entertainment, like, where today they've got computers, they got television. Everything's put in their hands.

I worked eight hours a day, eight hours and Saturday mornings when I first started, yes, we had a job which we had to go in on Saturday morning. Yes, I mean that were only a few pence but you were glad on it. No, it's just a different life today, I don't know whether it's better or not.

Yes, we used to make football boots but these here they couldn't play in them today. They've got hard toes and that, no, it's a different game of football today to what we used to make the football boots. But I mean the ball's different. I mean that was all leather but now it's like a, I don't know, it's very light and they kick it from one end to the other. But to kick that football when it were wet, with these boots, and there were, dad, he played and he used to say if it hit you on the head you'd know alright, you'd know it were real.

I wouldn't go in a shoe factory today. No, no, 'cos today you've got more opportunity, we hadn't. I mean it was all shoes weren't it, there was nothing else. I mean, well, were a good few shoe factories in Rushden. I mean just here about eight or nine, eight or nine factories around this little square and they were all turned into flats. One up the park, one down Crabb Street, along Park Road and up and down and well it's all different.

I met my wife in the shoe factory. She worked in the Co-op in Rushden. Course when that shut it was dramatic, no doubt about that. They just called them all in to one big room and they just said we're finished, like that. Hadn't got an inkling that it were coming, it just went. Course you see I think everything were done from Manchester, that were the headquarters of the CWS. But they made some good shoes there at the Co-op, it were even Reg Dickson's, the organist, they used to make. They used to make him two pair every year. Yes, I remember the wife saying. She was in the closing room and she retired at sixty. But no, that were a big firm, the Co-op. There were a lot of people put out of work when that, but when you're on your own it's well, there's hundreds like it and it's a long, I look at the good times we had and make it last you know.

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