Shoe making in the Hope Valley
Why the Hope Valley ?
The Hope Valley was an ideal area for shoe manufacture as it benefited from:
• A ready supply of good quality cattle from the local farms.
• Good water supplies from the free flowing rivers of the Derwent River.
• A plentiful supply of lime for the leather tanning process.
• A nearby tannery at Grindleford behind Goatscliffe Cottages and others in the Hope Valley
• Availability of cheap but skilled workforce.
In the 1830’s there were tanneries in Grindleford, Hathersage, Eyam, Calver, Tideswell, Stoney Middleton and Peak Forest. Most of the tanneries were small concerns supplying local needs, every village and town had boot makers.
By 1910 all but Grindleford tannery had gone, they had expanded to supply the whole area with a superior quality leather, especially suitable for the heavy working boots being made. It is unclear if the leather for the ladies shoes and slippers also came form Grindleford or whether these skins were bought in from the midlands.
The Years 1870 – 1895
• Early use of simple shoemaking machinery made it possible to do more work in less space allowing family members to work together and create more jobs for the villagers.
• By 1891 around one in three of the population of Eyam above the age of thirteen were employed in the factories or working from home.
The Years 1895 – 1910
• In 1895 there were seven factories in Eyam and a further five in Stoney Middleton and Calver.
• In many cases the men would have to bring their children to work to make up for the breadline wages in the factories.
• The wages paid were less than £1 per week for a 59 hour week, half that of their equivalent works elsewhere.
• The working hours were 6am to 6pm with unpaid breaks for breakfast and dinner, and then 6am till 1pm on Saturdays.
• There were no unions to protect workers rights and workers could be sacked without notice for the slightest misdemeanours.
• Skilled workers risked losing their jobs if they did not bring their children to work for them, children were paid around a quarter of the full wage and women around half the full wage, both often had to work full time in order to earn enough to live on.
• Increased mechanisation allowed the larger businesses to work more efficiently, this put more pressure on smaller family businesses to compete for the work.
• Several smaller factories were forced out of business by the expanding industry in Norwich, Northampton and Leicester. This was despite the better wages paid in all those areas.
• By 1910 there were only three factories left in Eyam and three in Stoney Middleton, now only one remains today, William Lennon in Stoney Middleton.
The strike years 1918-1920
In December 1917 John Buckle, an officer for (NUBSO) the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives was appointed to help the local factory workers. In January 1918 the Eyam branch of the union was formed with 43 male and 46 female members. No workers from Stoney Middleton joined the union. Over the next few weeks few joined as a result of the intimidation from the factory owners.
John Buckle described the situation thus: “They work 59 hours per week, no bonus paid, and wages were near the bone. The worst I have seen. Can something be done for them? God help them all”. On 12th January Mr William Slater, the Eyam Branch secretary was given 1 weeks notice by his employer’s Ridgeway Brothers who stated “he would have no dictation from the union”. Mr Tom Barber the Branch President is also sacked by E. West and Son. The sackings continued. Upon being told there would be no dispensation from joining the army, most factories were now making army boots. (It is said that the factories in thee Hope Valley made around 1 million pairs of army boots during the First World War).
The strike for better pay and conditions started almost immediately, many factories were closed altogether. At the time of the strike there was: No National Health Service to look after sick families. No Unemployment Benefit, only a small amount of union strike pay. No Old Age pension. Workers could be sacked immediately. Workers could be evicted from their tied homes immediately.
Local officials would put pressure on land owners to help evict workers; these would be easily replaced by soldiers returning from the First World War, this further added to the availability of cheap labour. By the early months of 1919 enough money had been raised by the Union and by donations from Sheffield munitions workers to open a factory for female workers to take them off strike pay.
In August that year the new factory opened at Union rates, placing added pressure on the factory owners to settle. In Stoney Middleton, factory owner Mr Hehinbotham settle paying £2 7/- (£2.35) for 50 hours, but non union workers were paid a higher rate of £2 10/- (£2.50). Many of the factories still resisted the changes and their workers were forced into accepting lower paid work.
A struggling industry
Despite improved terms and conditions, the unions were still unwelcome in many of the factories. The industry would never the same again.
During the years after the war the industry underwent major changes as the quality and affordability of shoe manufacturing machinery meant vastly higher production capabilities.
Many of the factories in the Hope Valley were to struggle to compete with the factories in the midlands and lost orders as a result.
By the 1930’s the industry throughout the UK was in decline, and this was the case also in the Hope valley as only a few factories remained.
An estimated 1 in 10 people of working age were now employed in the shoe factories , as against 1 in 3 only 30 years earlier.
In the 1930’s a new process known as “vulcanisation” was patented in Barcelona, the process soon reaching the factories of the midlands.
The “Vulcanisation” process meant that the soles of the shoes were pre -moulded, ready to be attached in one piece to the shoe.
Within twenty years most of the footwear made in the UK was made using this process. The process was improved in the 1950’s when machinery was devised to mould the sole directly onto the sole without adhesives.
This was the signal for the end of the industry in the Hope Valley.
And now ?
William Lennon is the only remaining boot factory in the Hope Valley.
They have been making heavy boots for agriculture and industry in the same factory since 1904. Now into their fourth generation, the family company was established in 1899 to service the then burgeoning local quarrying and lead mining industries with quality work boots.
In 2010 The Cordwainer became the first new shoemaking business in the Hope Valley for 100 years.