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An ex shoe worker
Boot and Shoe Trade from the 1950s

Photograph of Allebones Factory in Oakley Road
Allebones Factory Oakley Road

Picture of a woman working on a closing machine
A Closing Machine
I worked in the Boot and Shoe trade for forty years but have decided to write about when my career started in 1958 at the age of 15 when the Boot and Shoe trade was plentiful, having a shoe factory on most streets.

I left school at Christmas 1957 but for 6 months before I left school I attended the Boot & Shoe School in Victoria Road on a Wednesday evening for practical closing (i.e. closing - term for machining and other various jobs to form the upper of the shoe). I went to this class on a Wednesday evening from 1957 to 1961. Each year you would sit an exam and on passing you would receive a certificate.

I started work for A. Allebone and Son in Oakley Road, Rushden. I suppose it’s quite scary when you first start work, but looking back I now feel they were the happiest years.

In the early years you would sit on long benches in rows with people either side, with an electric pulley underneath, for the various machines. If the belt to your machine broke (at this time it was made of round leather with a hole punched in each end and joined by a metal clip), the motor would be switched off and the belt duly mended.

The foreperson and under foreperson would be responsible for giving the work out and managing the room, and any queries would be addressed to them.

The first jobs one would do was seaming the leather linings together, counters seamed. One row facing rows for the Oxford style shoes. Then as one progressed more intermediate work i.e. more fancy stitching, these are more skilled operations which I will list.

I was lucky and had the opportunity (paid by Mr Allebone) to attend a SATA Course held at the Boot and Shoe School; it was run by a lady called Mrs Tandy. It was a six week course and covered written and practical closing. At the time I didn’t imagine how useful all this training would become over the many years I worked in the shoe trade.

The hours of working in 1958 were 7.30am - 12 noon and 1pm – 5.30pm. I can still see a lady called Ada coming round with the tea urn in the morning and again in the afternoon. The smell still lingers, really strong and brewed (happy days).

The radio was on half an hour in the mornings and afternoons listening to Music While You Work. On a Friday afternoon each person who sat on your bench took in a bag of ‘’peps’’ and these were shared round. Sometimes things went wrong in machining but in them days everyone helped each other to put things right.

The early sixties machines were modernised, and you then had single motors and the machines improved. Then in the 70s, 80s and 90s piecework came more to the fore (i.e. piece work – the work one did was priced so your wages were paid on what you produced). This was hard work.

But to be honest in some ways this changed the atmosphere to the early days of factory work. But I guess this was progress. Time moved on and you had to move on to better yourself. Myself, I did Samples for many years which I really enjoyed. It was varied work but very interesting.

I too was very sad to see the decline of the Shoe Industry for my generation. 

Shoe Making Terms

Closing Colours:











½ sizes double colour

Skiving: Reduces the leather at the edges. Beaded edge – Underlay Raw Edge.

Whipping: Zig-Zag two edges together for back strip to be placed over.

Beading: Folding over top edge, mainly on the quarters, sometimes on caps.

Underedge: Machine linings to quarters to beaded edge using a knife to trim lining off.

Stain Edges: For professional finish.

Bench Work: Fitting linings, turning collars, sticking foam pads etc.

Sides and Oxford fronts: Sides, attach quarters to Vamps, Oxford Fronts, quarters are joined together and the vamps are machined onto the top of the quarters.

Eyeletting: Putting holes with eyelets into the quarters for the shoe laces when required.

Lacing: Done on a machine to hold shoe tight ready to put onto the last.

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