“Well-Shod in Stoney Middleton”

(An Account of the Boot-Making Industry in the Village)

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper on 26th July 2004 (p13), reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, a writer named Ethel Carleton Williams spent many happy days in the Peak, gathering memories to be published in 1948 as Companion into Derbyshire. She had the knack of finding something of interest wherever she went, and her description of Stoney Middleton takes us back almost 60 years.

At that time the village still had a flourishing boot-making industry with six factories, one more than 100 years old. Ethel asked a small boy, playing with a motor tyre, which one she should visit. He pointed up the hill: ‘Yon's best. If you take boots there, they come back better than new.’

Taking his recommendation, the visitor found a room crowded with work benches where men were making massively heavy hob-nailed boots, solid enough to last a lifetime and guaranteed to keep out the wet ‘even in floodtime’. The noise in the factory was a constant subdued roar, what with the clang of machines driving in rivets, the whirr of industrial, sewing machines and the friction of emery wheels. At the cutting table a man with a sharp knife and keen eye was carving uppers and tongues from a large sheet of leather, cutting round patterns in such a way that not a scrap of leather was wasted.

Stoney Middleton, 'Arriving Home'
‘Arriving Home’

Meanwhile, young women were stitching the leather sides together as easily as if they were made of fine cloth, while another girl was pressing the backs in a machine and a third was working a foot pedal to insert the eyelets, which poured down a tube to be fastened into place. Leather soles were being cut out by another machine, ready to be joined to the uppers by young boys who knocked in the nails.

Further deafening activity continued on the lower floor, where yet more heavy machinery finished off the boots: “Two elderly workmen, veterans in their craft, were knocking iron ‘tackets’ into the soles in neat rows, a more difficult art than anyone would suspect by watching them. Then came the last stage of all, when the leather was smoothed with an emery wheel, and any fragments rounded off with a sharp knife.” The finished boots were piled up by the door ready for despatch.

Ethel concluded that Stoney Middleton had every right to be proud of its industry, for its products were sent to all parts of the world. It has not been possible to locate the rights holder to our illustration, ‘Arriving Home at Stoney Middleton’. The photograph was taken by E.W. Tattersall and published by Methuen along with Ethel's story.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 26th July 2004.

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