I’ve been making shoes for well over 30 years. As a boy in Great Holland, a sea-side village in Essex, we lived next door to a cobbler. I would spend hours in his workshop – fascinated by the whirring machinery and the smells and sounds of his industry. He would even let me ‘help’ with some of the work but I never imagined that one day I would be earning my living with shoes and boots of my own making.
On leaving school at 17 I joined the Army in 1960 and served, mostly in the UK, for 25 years. This was a time of relative peace and there was plenty of opportunity for what was then known as Adventurous Training. I gained qualifications in mountaineering and canoeing – activities in which I still indulge when time permits.
Having planned to leave the Army in 1984, I tried my hand at various skills before discovering the fascination of shoemaking. I was given the chance of a month’s attachment at Poole’s in Leeds, where I was introduced to the skills of pattern-making, clicking and closing (cutting out and sewing), skiving and hand-welting. In 1985 I set about modifying the old coach house at the bottom of our garden in Harrogate which has since become my workshop. This is where I made my first pair of shoes.
This was a time when shoemaking in the UK was facing a tough time due to overseas competition. Many well-established UK factories were closing down. At various auctions around the country I was able to buy hundreds of pairs of wooden lasts which formed the basis of my own industry. As I gradually learned the basic skills – making shoes for friends and family – I learned of the existence of other shoemakers, both in my own area and further afield.
Over the years we have become a family of artisans – holding annual conferences attended by shoemakers from all parts of the world from USA to Mongolia. We also welcome students from many countries who come and study the skills of boot and shoe making in our workshops. Long may we Last.