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The Decline - 1960s and beyond

The Rushden Echo, 1st February 1963, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Little Hope for the Out-Of-Work

With 1963 only four weeks old Rushden shoe trade workers are facing the bleak prospect of unemployment and dole queues. Indications are that there is little or no hope for the majority of those sacked in the past fortnight – and to some a return of the trade slump of the 1920’s seems just around the corner.

Unemployment figures for Rushden and Higham Ferrers are comparatively higher than any other town in the mid-Northamptonshire area. In fact, they are the highest since 1947.

When the January totals were released it was revealed that 331 people were out of work in the two towns. To this figure one must now add the 75 still jobless after the sackings at John White’s a fortnight ago, and the 220 local employees of Bignell’s Ltd, who were among the 400 declared redundant by the company on Friday.

It is unfortunate that these mass dismissals should come at a time when the building trade is more or less at a standstill. The weather has hit builders and contractors hard and, consequently, work on various projects has come to a halt.

All unemployment figures for other local towns have risen above the previous month’s total but most of the increase is accounted for by the building trade lay-off.

At Rushden and Higham the unemployment total is almost equal to the figures of Corby and Wellingborough – two towns twice the size of Rushden and Higham Ferrers in population.

Mr. D. Stratton, manager of Rushden Employment Exchange, has been unable to hold out very much hope for the local unemployed. There are virtually no vacancies in the footwear industry, he says, except for a few which occur from day to day.

Some local footwear manufacturers were asked if they could absorb any of the unemployed, but they were unable to help.

Mr. Stratton remarked that the employment exchange now had to deal with the largest number of unemployed for many years.

Comments by the Trade

Rushden manufactures and union officials are obviously concerned about the state of the footwear industry in the town. They suggested several factors which have led to the present slump – purchase tax on shoes, the introduction of new machinery, government policies, and even that old scapegoat, the weather.

Mr Allebone
Mr Allebone
Mr. A. A. Allebone, president of Rushden Shoe Trade Manufacturers’ Association, could see no improvement in the present recession until after Easter. He blamed the weather for the current slump.

“The retail multiples say quite openly that because people just cannot get out into the streets, no one is buying shoes. This is supported by the fact that mail-order people are doing well.”

Money Short

He added that the generally high rates of unemployment throughout the country meant there was little money for spending on fashion, particularly shoes.

Mr. R. Bazeley, Rushden NUBSO president, told the “Echo” that there seemed to be little hope of the workers sacked over the past fortnight finding jobs in the footwear industry.

Asked about the cause of the redundancy, he explained: “It has been obvious for a long time that the introduction of new machinery and techniques would reduce labour forces.”

Mr. Bazeley said he felt the government was partly responsible for the recession – through the pay pause and the consequent deflationary measures last year, and the purchase tax increase on shoes in the last Budget.

The government he claimed should stimulate the trade by reducing this tax – something which had been done recently for other commodities such as cosmetics. “This would perhaps make things a little better for reinvestment,” he said.

C. W. Horrell Ltd, Fitzwilliam Street, seem to be one of the exceptions to the general rule; it is understood that recently operatives at the factory have been working overtime.


But director Mr. John Horrell was surprisingly reticent about any success the firm might be having with orders while others in the town were struggling.

He said: “I don’t want to take advantage of a bad situation. We are very fortunate to be working full-time at the moment. I would not like to comment on the reasons for it – it would be very difficult. We only set out to offer what the trade wants.

The Rushden Echo, 8th February 1963

Unemployment Position

Rushden’s unemployment situation has not improved during the past week. More than six hundred people are unemployed. By this evening another forty workers will be unemployed, due to cuts in the labour force at three of the Eaton Group factories, and at Dilks and Martin, Victoria Road.

Eaton’s however, hope to reinstate some of these workers when trade improves. During the week a spokesman for Rushden Employment Exchange said that only “one or two” vacancies in industry in the area had been notified to the exchange.

The Rushden Echo, 15th February 1963, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Total of jobless shoeworkers now 494

Rushden’s total number of unemployed shoe workers now stands at 494. The figure rose at the weekend, when two Higham Ferrers firms, Walker and Gunn, Ltd., and Borough Shoes, Ltd., gave twenty part-time operatives a week’s notice – it takes effect tonight – and a further 24 were dismissed from the CWS factory at Rushden.

The 44 men and women sacked, mainly part-time workers, will get their jobs back if trade picks up again, spokesmen for the three firms said.

Notice To 220

During the past four weeks, there have been sackings from many local firms: Bignells Ltd., which is closing down, gave notice to 220 – a week after John White’s laid off 184 workers – and forty have been dismissed by the Eaton Group.

A spokesman for the Rushden Heel Company said the firm, in Windmill Road, had just enough work to keep employees on full-time. The 120 workers at Knight and Lawrence Ltd. are also on full-time, it was stated.

Four-Day Week

Mr. W. Hawkes, of Fred Hawkes (Engineers) Ltd, Portland Road, told us there was some reflection from the trade recession on the firm – although there was no short-time working. However, the effect was not being felt very much as fifty per cent of Hawkes’ commodities were sold abroad.

G. Selwood and Company reported that some workers had been working a four-day week for about a month. About a dozen clickers from the firm’s labour force of 125 were affected.

Jaques and Clark Ltd were working to full capacity “in the main.”

A spokesman for Walter Sargent and Co, Ltd said that a departmental adjustment had meant a few employees were not working full-time.


Normal production is in operation at Sanders and Sanders, and at International Safety Products Ltd, the position is much the same.

P. Collins and Co. (Rushden) Ltd., heel manufacturers, are reasonably busy at the moment, but a spokesman said business was not as rushed as it had been.

Mr. F. E. Brown, for B. Denton and Son Ltd, said the general recession in the footwear industry was not affecting the firm and all employees were working full time. Orders were not coming in particularly fast, but there was no hint of redundancy within the foreseeable future.

B. Ladds Ltd., Moor Road, have had no difficulties with trade recently. A director said that the factory had been working on Saturday mornings and until six o’clock at night during the week.

“We have had a 22 per cent increase on the first 10 months of the current financial year,” he said.


Denbros (Boots) Ltd, Rectory Road, who employ about a hundred workers, have been busier this year than last. The factory hasn’t been losing time recently.

William Green and Son (Grenson) Ltd, have for the most part, been working full time. Some days have been lost, but at times employees have been working overtime. A spokesman said that as the weather improved more orders would probably be received.

Mr. Gus Allebone, of Allebone and Sons Ltd, Oakley Road, said: “The weather is everything; we have found that no one had been buying much since Christmas.”

He said that the clickers department at the factory had lost time recently, but the prospects were more promising now.

Ashford and Campion Ltd, heel manufacturers, Higham Ferrers, are “busy, but not taking on any extra workers.” The firm was not happy about the state of trade in general, but the factory had not been considerably affected.

Clarke and Co. Rushden, said: “We have been working short time – the same as lots of firms.”

Most of the sixty employees have been working fewer hours than usual.

Cox and Wright, the engineers, who make machinery for the shoe trade, have been very busy and not affected by the recession. “We’ve been working at full capacity on track systems,” a spokesman said.

The Rushden Echo, 29th October 1965, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Shoe Trade Won’t Die
Local manufacturers reject BSC chief’s prophecy

There are eight thousand shoe trade workers in the area covered by the Rushden labour exchange. If a prophecy made at the BBSI conference last week came true these eight thousand jobs would be non-existent in fifty years’ time.

Mr. I. H. Levison, managing director of the British Shoe Corporation, said at the conference that it was possible the British footwear industry would no longer exist in fifty years’ time. He thought that slowly the industry was moving towards more and more amalgamations, perhaps “even country wide amalgamations.”

The effect of the demise of the shoe industry in the Rushden area is obvious unless another industry takes its place.

Mr. Peter Wilson, the chairman and joint managing director of John White Footwear, Ltd, said he thought it unlikely that Mr. Levison’s prophecy would come true. “I think we will still be making shoes in this manufacturing area,” he said.


However, he did think there would be an increasing tendency in the shoe trade to form larger units, with the possible amalgamation of smaller firms. This would be inevitable, he thought, if manufacturers were to protect themselves against the buying powers of larger retail organisations.

“If firms are to exist they will have to get bigger or spread their wings,” he said.

Mr. Levison stated at the conference that he thought the move towards amalgamations might even take on a countrywide aspect, with individual country’s becoming the producers of one particular type of goods.

He followed this up by saying. “I do not think Britain is going to be one of the great shoemakers of the world.”

Mr. Wilson was in sympathy with this suggestion, mainly because he thought wage rates in this country may possibly price Britain out of the world market.

If we are to retain our position as one of the leading shoe manufacturing countries we would have to find a workable prices and income policy, said Mr. Wilson.

He thought it quite possible to find a workable prices and incomes policy.

He thought it quite possible that many of the shoe firms which exist in the area today would not be manufacturing shoes in fifty years’ time. They would either have diversified their interests, probably by investments in other companies, or would have closed down.

Miss M. J. Mutimer, manageress of the Rushden Labour Exchange, said she thought that manufacturers in Rushden were “pretty forward looking” and would be able to adjust themselves, as they had done in the past, to changes in conditions.

If the situation in the shoe industry did get bad, Miss Mutimer said “I think they would turn to making something else. I do not think it would adversely affect this area.”

Mr. K. W. Hall, of Tebbutt and Hall, Raunds, who was chairman of the BBSI conference, said on Saturday that the “golden age of shoe making was just round the corner.”

The Rushden Echo, 19th May 1967, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Shoe industry situation set problem
A Role for Rushden in The Future

Rushden appears to be at the crossroads, denied overspill and associated industrial development the pattern of future development is uncertain.

I grew up to appreciate the dangers of a one industry town. Since 1840 three generations of my family have been in this area serving in various ways the cause of boot making.

They watched the industry rise and my father saw the early unrest and suffered the problems of the 1930s and had I not got out then I would doubtless be facing the trials of the 1960s.

There have only been two really good times for the Rushden boot industry, the two wars, when our ability to make good boots for the services was unquestioned. In my lifetime there seems to have been more downs than ups, a few closures, and short-time an ever increasing feature of local employment.

The traditionalists among us shunned the cheap fashion shoe market with the philosophy that there would always be a need for the middle price range of footwear in leather. Little regard was taken, until it was almost too late, of the automation that could handle these materials.

More Machines

We also trusted in holding the industrial boot field in industries using fewer men and more machines. Few can deny the impact of the Continental shoe on the British market and going into Europe leaves a big question mark relative to local production.

A radical overhaul of the town’s boot industry seems inevitable and one well qualified to speak on the matter proposed a solution, by the development of some form of consortium, in these pages a few weeks ago.

If the local shoe trade dies or reseeds still further then Rushden may well set itself out to become a good dormitory town. Already a few of us commute to London; many look to Bedford, Kettering, Corby, Wellingborough and Northampton for work. We have some good civil engineers and we have spread a generation of graduates around the globe and we shall doubtless breed a few more.


With the overspill expansion of Northampton and the new Milton Keynes virtually on our doorstep it is likely that Rushden will be forced automatically into a dormitory role in the same way as hundreds of other small towns of similar type became dormitory towns for London, Manchester and the other major cities.

Dormitory towns by their very nature tend to become pricy but we have at least enough light industry to cushion the changes and other industry may develop by chance rather than design.

Let us not bemoan our dying shoe era: rather rejoice that the Victorian sweat shops have a chance of being destroyed and that our children have opportunities before them other than the clank of presses, the chatter of stitchers and the monotony of routine work that a well-trained machine will be able to do just as well.

Other towns are finding a wider variety of jobs – and will find more, better by far that we concentrate on making Rushden a place worth living in so that in the natural course of development we attract the overspill of the overspill. Concentrate on social factors that give a town quality, good schools, hospital facilities, civic amenities and so on, put a roof on the baths, or better still build a more realistic baths in the Hall Park and restore the Hall to some civic use, a Town Hall if you like, and use the existing council building as a library extension. Restore the tip and give the lads their rugby pitch, encourage the ski club and Santa Pod and other private ventures that give a town that something extra that most people now expect out of life.

We don’t want to build Rushden in the type of sweat used by our fore-fathers but we should not be afraid of paying in cash via the rates and supporting any private ventures if they help to produce a live community for the 21st century.

There will never be enough money to do it all but that is no excuse for doing nothing and I for one hope that the new council is prepared to take a few risks with our money in the same way as some of their notable predecessors took risks by being men of vision.

My problem is to help solve the problem of feeding the world’s population by the year 2000; yours, members of the council, is a far simpler task.

249, Bedford Road,

Overview - In the 1970s the continuing decline was really beginning to take hold. Redundancies started, and closures followed. By the 1980s it was high fashion footwear; something not known in Rushden. Manufacture in the early years had concentrated on Army contract boots and shoes, and when that was gone after WWI, work was always concentrated on men's and youths boots and shoes, with some children's school shoes.

The only company involved in fashion at that time, was Strong & Fisher who were providing the new coloured leathers for fashion trade. Leather coats, ladies boots in small numbers. Some began importing fashion shoes, like John White's who began trading with Italian makers.

During the 1980s many companies folded, leaving unemployment high. The next 20 years saw a dramatic change in the town's industrial trades. Building trade was good for a time, until the recession when prices rose rapidly, causing negative equity for many. Some moved away to seek work elsewhere, some began new trades as self-employed, and some failed to find work at all, mostly the older workers. There was an air of depression amongst the population for a number of years.

In the 21st century there is little shoe trade left. Three factories have survived the depression of the late 20th century, Sanders and Sanders, Alfred Sargents, and Grenson. Some trade still exists at Denbros, but much of their trade is now retail. The machinery trades also suffered greatly.

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