The City of Leicester: Footwear manufacture

A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.

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'The City of Leicester: Footwear manufacture', A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester, (London, 1958), pp. 314-326. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

. "The City of Leicester: Footwear manufacture", in A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester, (London, 1958) 314-326. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

. "The City of Leicester: Footwear manufacture", A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester, (London, 1958). 314-326. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,


Before the end of the 18th century Leicester had only as many boot- and shoemakers as served to supply the needs of the town. From about 1793 their numbers increased, owing to the demand for standardized boots for the army, but for the next 50 years the trade remained a small one. (fn. 1) In 1794 some shoemakers of the town, together with four masters accused of aiding them, were prosecuted for striking and 'combining to secure an advance in wages'. (fn. 2) In 1806 comes an isolated example of what was later to become a common feature of the trade, the wholesale boot and shoe warehouse. William Morton advertised that 'master shoemakers may be supplied with any quantity on as good terms as at any manufactory in the kingdom'. (fn. 3) The impetus given to the trade by the war seems to mark the transition from purely bespoke work to the making of shoes for stock, both in Leicester and in other towns. The bulk of the nation's demand for shoes was still, however, satisfied by the many bespoke shoemakers, by clogand patten-makers, or by individual makeshift attempts to cover the feet. Bare feet were of course not unknown. Even in 1831 Leicester was not really a shoemaking town, although a higher proportion of workers engaged in making shoes per thousand of the population than in many other towns is noticeable. In 1831 Leicester had 425 boot- and shoemakers, a proportion of 21 per thousand of the population. The corresponding figures for Northampton, by then an established centre of the boot and shoe industry, were 1,322 and 88. Newcastle upon Tyne, a purely industrial town, had 14 boot- and shoemakers per thousand of its population. (fn. 4)

About this time, some of the town's shoemakers began to make, for the country trade, children's strap or ankle-band slippers and boots, which were known as 'cacks' and were made of brightly coloured morocco or black roan leather. (fn. 5) In 1835 119 shoemakers were listed in the directory as against 58 in 1828, (fn. 6) and this increase can probably be explained, at least in part, by the making of these new cheap shoes. There were apparently no wholesale shoe makers in 1828, but by 1835 there were at least two, and thereafter they increased steadily in number. The two men mentioned in 1835 were both pioneers of the boot industry in Leicester. One was Thomas Crick of Peacock Lane, known locally as the father of the industry, who in addition to running a warehouse was also engaged in bootmaking and in leather-currying and straining. He abandoned the latter activity when he became a large-scale manufacturer of shoes. (fn. 7) The other was J. Dilkes of Loseby Lane, who was also a hosiery manufacturer and who later concentrated on children's shoes. (fn. 8) Of the other early shoemakers, James Knott advertised himself in 1842 as a 'Fashionable Boot and Shoe Manufacturer', who supplied the trade as well as private customers and executed shipping orders. (fn. 9) He continued to appear with his son, Thomas, in the lists of boot and shoe manufacturers until 1850. Other shoemakers mentioned as early as 1835 lived into the factory age and obtained a position in the industry: Samuel Cowling and the various members of the Staines family are particularly to be noted here. By 1843 36 of the shoemakers had 'show shops' for the sale of ready-made boots. (fn. 10) In 1846, out of 200 shoemakers working in the town, only Thomas Crick is described as a wholesaler. (fn. 11) In 1848 three firms called themselves wholesale manufacturers: W. Odames of Victoria Parade, J. Preston & Co. who were also hosiery manufacturers, and Preston & Charlesworth of Conduit Street. (fn. 12) No record or accounts are known to have survived from the period before 1850 in Leicester from which any idea of the scale of operations of these early shoemakers could be obtained. The unit of production was in most cases presumably the family, with perhaps an apprentice or two. The making of shoes was performed entirely by the traditional hand-sewing method. Even the so-called manufacturers had neither machines nor power in their factories. The industry was probably organized in the same way as in Northampton, where the factories were little more than central shops, operating on a putting-out basis. (fn. 13)

In the mid-1850's in Leicester Thomas Crick was using rolling-machines for hardening leather and cutting-machines, both types being driven by steam. (fn. 14) The date at which the leather-sewing machine, imported from America from about 1855, (fn. 15) was first used in Leicester is not known. W. F. Thomas's machine for closing the boot upper was regularly advertised for sale in the Leicester newspapers in the years immediately before 1860. (fn. 16) In Leicester the impetus for development came from the introduction in 1853 by Thomas and Throne Crick of the system of riveting the sole to the upper by machine, 'a very important step towards factory production'. (fn. 17) This process, though known and used early in the 19th century, had apparently been forgotten after the Napoleonic wars. (fn. 18) Crick, probably inspired by the Northampton practice (fn. 19) of using wooden pegs to fasten the sole, attached an iron plate to the sole of the wooden last, which helped to force iron rivets, instead of wooden pegs, through the sole. (fn. 20) This allowed an increased and cheaper rate of production. It is related that shoes made in this way were not at first acceptable to the usual retailers, and that Crick had to dispose of his first products through a chimney sweep who kept a weekly market stall in a neighbouring town. (fn. 21)

Even more important, perhaps, than Crick's riveting process, was the Blake sole-sewing machine, invented in 1858. (fn. 22) This machine sewed the inner sole, already attached to the upper, to the outer sole. It was known in England before the American Civil War, and British machine-makers, mainly in Leicester, sometimes improved upon it. (fn. 23) The Blake sewer was not sold, but leased to the manufacturer, a distinctive feature of the industry which will be mentioned again. It is said that the machine was first introduced into Leicester by Stead & Simpson about 1858. (fn. 24) The footwear industry was also stimulated in these early days by the development of elastic web as a method of fastening boots and by the consequent popularity of the elastic-sided boot. (fn. 25)

These technological developments were unfavourably regarded by labour in the traditional centres of the industry, and strikes at Northampton and Stafford are said to have been one of the causes of the industry's growth at Leicester. These reasons are still open to discussion. No doubt the existence of a labour supply experienced in a tradition of homeworking methods attracted employers from outside the town. Stead & Simpson extended their activities from Leeds, where they were finding difficulties in obtaining workers, first to Daventry and then to Leicester about 1853. (fn. 26) The traditional explanations for the location of the industry in the Midlands are that the large tracts of grazing land provided the raw material of the industry and the remains of former forests yielded suitable bark for tanning. By 1850 the importance of the latter factor for Leicester is doubtful, although the grazing country in the county no doubt supported some of the cattle for the industry. Only thirteen people were, however, employed in the leather trade in Leicester in 1861. (fn. 27)

Between 1851 and 1861 the number of people employed in shoemaking in Great Britain fell from 274,000 to 250,000, while in Leicester the number rose from 1,393 to 2,741. In 1861 40 per thousand of the population of Leicester were employed in the industry, compared with 152 per thousand in Northampton. (fn. 28) It is possible that the 1861 figures underestimate the number of women and children engaged in the trade. By 1863 one leading manufacturer, after remarking that 'the wholesale boot and shoe trade in Leicester may be said to have come into existence within the last five years: up to that date there were only two or three wholesale manufacturers in the town', estimated there were then between two and three thousand women employed, chiefly in the large factories. 'I arrive at that number', he continued, 'by reckoning the number of sewing machines, which is tolerably well known, at over 800, and taking a proportion of two fitters to each machinist, with a margin for those who are otherwise employed.' (fn. 29) The introduction of the sewing machine is no doubt reflected in the increase in the number of women under the age of twenty reported to be employed in the censuses of 1851 and 1861. (fn. 30) The number of apprentices, journeymen, and others in the employment of the 405 boot- and shoemakers listed in the directory of 1863, (fn. 31) or of the repairers—snobs, as they were and still are known in the trade—are not separately classified in either the local directories or the census returns.

That the industry was growing rapidly, contemporaries were aware. It was to this that they attributed much of the overcrowding and bad conditions in factory, workshop, and garret. (fn. 32) In 1863 it was reported that there was a 'scarcity . . . of operatives in the shoe manufactories of Leicester (which is now becoming a very important branch of business)'. (fn. 33) Local directories, which by this time are fairly reliable, show the increase in the number of wholesale shoe manufacturers. There were 23 manufacturers in 1861, 80 in 1864, 117 in 1870, and 193 in 1877. (fn. 34) These figures do not, however, include some of the very smallest businesses nor the repairers.

It is not possible to assess the increase in output during these years. These figures are hidden in the records of family businesses or public companies, many of which have gone out of business or have been absorbed. Even where a firm has continued in business, the location of its records is frequently unknown. The available facts are scattered and vague. For example, during one week in 1863, 5,496 pairs of women's military heel boots were made by Crick, the largest employer in the town. (fn. 35) This tells us nothing of value. In 1878 it was observed that the growth in the number of firms 'does not represent the real ratio of the increase of trade . . . in as much as twenty of the largest manufacturers of the day turn out more than the whole of the boot and shoe manufacturers of 1864'. (fn. 36) By 1871 the total number of workers employed in the industry at Leicester was about 11,000, exceeding the number at Northampton by about 1,000. The Leicester figure remained higher than that at Northampton until at least 1931. In 1871 63 per thousand of Leicester's population were employed in the industry, compared with 130 at Northampton. (fn. 37)

The origins of the early factory masters in Leicester are varied. Some were boot- and shoemakers with long experience as craftsmen, safely reinvesting their savings in a few machines, housed in a small building or garret. Such a man was Isaac Townsend. Connected with the trade from the period of the cack, as late as 1891 he was still employing hand labour, except for workers on treadle-type cutting and sewing machines. He confined himself to the manufacture of women's and children's shoes for the home market. (fn. 38) Others were members of one family or men who went into the business together with or without the help of capital. Samuel Lennard, who gained his experience as a boy with Walker & Kempson, left to set up in partnership with his brothers. Later this partnership was dissolved but Lennard carried on in the business alone, eventually becoming the President of the National Federation of Boot and Shoe Manufacturers. In 1900 he became Mayor of Leicester. (fn. 39) Richard Hallam, who left school at the age of 12 and entered the shoe trade as a clicker, went into partnership with T. B. Howard when he was 24. (fn. 40) Thomas Crick's first manager, J. Thornton, set up on his own in 1866, and by 1891 had a modest establishment of 150 employees, and was 'favoured by well known wholesalers who draw upon him'. (fn. 41) Others began in different trades or different branches of the leather trade. G. Green is an example of the former: his firm is still among the leading manufacturers. Born in Market Harborough in 1816, he was apprenticed to a printer in Leicester, but left to enter the corn business in his home town. In 1859 he ventured as a boot and shoe manufacturer in Leicester, and became mayor in 1894. (fn. 42) T. Hilton, on the other hand, served his apprenticeship in leather-dressing and in 1869 commenced business in that line. Seven years later he began making boots and shoes and by 1891 he was 'one of the most enterprising and most prosperous men in the trade' and 'the only large manufacturer in Leicester who retails the whole of his productions'. He owned at that date 40 retail shops throughout the country, drawing his supplies from producers in Northampton, Kettering, and Bristol. (fn. 43)

One firm of leading manufacturers, Stead & Simpson Ltd., began as curriers and leather dealers in Leeds in 1834. After a time they took up shoe manufacturing, 'disposing of their productions wholesale to the shopkeepers and dealers who were trading with them at that time in leather and bootmakers' requisites'. (fn. 44) About 1844 they set up a branch factory in Daventry and began work in Leicester, as curriers, in 1853. They were foremost in introducing the Blake sewer into Leicester. By 1863 both branches were flourishing and to deal with the management and organization of the firm each of the partners brought in a nephew—H. Simpson Gee to control the branches and R. Fawcett to act as salesman and traveller. In 1863 they employed 120 women at Leicester.

Other firms were already established in the hosiery industry when the boot and shoe business began to be a promising sideline. J. Biggs & Son, J. Langham & Sons, and Pool & Lorimer tried boot manufacturing as a subsidiary to their main concerns. (fn. 45) Others in time turned over to it completely: J. Preston & Sons and Walker & Kempson are typical of this movement. W. Kempson came to Leicester as a boy and entered the hosiery business belonging to his uncle, T. Stokes. Later he went into partnership with W. H. Walker and in 1859 they entered into an agreement with W. Dicks, who had secured a patent, and opened a factory together. In 1863 they employed about 300 female workers at two factories. (fn. 46)

The leading manufacturer of this first generation of factory masters was undoubtedly Thomas Crick. Beginning as a master craftsman he achieved a place of national importance in the industry. He had been engaged in the wholesale boot and shoe trade from its earliest days in the town: 'Mr. Crick was the first to introduce the wholesale boot and shoe manufacture into Leicester; that was 30 years ago', stated a witness in 1863: 'there are now many others, but none employs so many on their own premises as he does.' (fn. 47) Crick's total number of employees at this time was about 420 women, mostly between the ages of 15 and 23, and about 300 men and boys. (fn. 48) Crick's factory was the only one in the country at this time in which steam power had been applied to the sewing machines. 'At Mr. Crick's factory in Leicester steam power is used, not only for rolling leather and cutting or stamping out the soles, as it is the case elsewhere, but also for pressing the nails into the heels, for pricking the holes in the soles, and for cutting the metal spriggs or nails used in rivetting.' Crick was soon to be the first man with 1,000 employees. Adult male labour was used mainly on the heavier machines, while women of various ages operated the sewing machines, including a few girls as young as 12 years. (fn. 49)

Throughout the second half of the 19th century the organization of the industry was such that those with only small amounts of capital—'men of straw', as a witness to a later commission called them— could easily set up as manufacturers. Little machinery needed to be bought outright, other than sewing machines; sometimes not even these need be bought, but could be hired from the manufacturer to whom the workshop manager supplied his products. The expanding economy was able to absorb all those who wished to venture, even if some did fall out in times of depression. As a result the industry grew up in Leicester with many family firms, very few of which became public or private companies before the First World War. No real family fortunes were made in the industry, but some modest, comfortable sums were accumulated.

Until well after 1880 'factory boot making was far from being a complete power industry'. There was, in 1871, a total of only 335 horse-power in 139 factories in this country. (fn. 50) 'Though the gas engine was coming into use during the next decade, steam remained the obvious power: few machines at this stage could be made really automatic: and new light ones for the various sub-processes were constantly being experimented with. So only the heaviest and most permanent machines, such as those for cutting butts or doing very stiff sewing, were, as yet, regularly power driven. The rest, as shewn in contemporary designs, all have handles or treadles.' (fn. 51)

In such factories, clicking, the most skilled operation, was carried out almost entirely by men, together with the cutting of linings, which was the task of juniors in training. Clicking demands skill and a knowledge of the differences in thickness, shade, markings, and quality of leather. Women and girls were employed in large numbers, both in and outside the factory in the next process, the closing of the uppers by sewing machines. Some witnesses in the 1860's believed that such machine work was being done more in the homes of the workers and the garrets of the small masters than in factories. (fn. 52) But leading manufacturers in the town did employ many women in their factories, some of whom in one factory were girls from a neighbouring village, learning to use the machines. When proficient they were able to do their work at home. (fn. 53) This work, as well as the making and finishing which was given out to the country districts, was known as 'basket work'. (fn. 54) Trade union agitation against it became strong in the late 1880's and early 1890's, (fn. 55) but the system was advantageous to the manufacturers in that it enabled them to obtain the necessary labour more cheaply because of its lack of organization.

The machines used by the women in the town and in the country villages were hired from the employer, just as stocking frames were hired. In 1864 the rents were said to vary from 1s. to 2s. 6d. a week, according to the value of the machine. (fn. 56) Thomas Crick was not in favour of this system, but a man called Stanyon, who at one time had as many as 120 machinists on his premises, preferred to give his work out. He retained only about 20 women on the premises in case of any sudden order or emergency. He explained his position by saying, 'I would not go back to the old system, for I get a better class of girls, whose parents would not like them to work in the factory.' His machines were let out at a rate of 1s. a week, sometimes in two and threes. 'The cost of a machine', he continued, 'is £11 or £12, and reckoning that they get knocked to pieces in 2 or 3 years, it answers my purpose.' Occasionally he allowed the machinist to buy the machine at the end of a year, with an allowance made for rent already paid. Walker & Kempson and Stead & Simpson also hired out machines. (fn. 57)

Whether the uppers were closed in factories or homes, they were collected together at the factory warehouse to be given out again with an appropriate number of soles and a certain amount of rivets and thread. Even until after 1890 the bulk of the actual 'making' was done outside the factory in small workshops. (fn. 58) Where the soles were attached to the uppers by wax-thread sewing, a class of men grew up, who were known as 'sewers to the trade'. The Blake machines upon which they worked were hired out upon a royalty basis, on the number of shoes made. (fn. 59) The royalty system was, it was said, established for three reasons; first, because of the fear that if too many of the first type of machine were installed, outlets for improved versions would be limited; secondly, as an incentive to energetic men of small capital; and thirdly, in the belief that a sure, steady, if smaller revenue was better than an uncertain but immediately larger amount. There is no doubt that this policy of leasing machinery did make entry into the industry easier.

The other method of 'making' was that of riveting, which was cheaper, but produced an inferior shoe. (fn. 60) It catered for a more extensive, though more fluctuating demand than that for sewn shoes, and it was this system which to a very great extent supplanted in Leicester the use of the awl and waxed thread of the craftsman shoemaker. Usually '6 or 8 men will hire a room together and have 3 or 4 "sweaters" lads helping them by scraping off bottoms and rasping the heads off'. (fn. 61) An assistant employment commissioner visited several of these finishers' and makers' workshops in Leicester in 1862: 'In one of the former, 13 men were working, and in another, 10; in each case there were children of 11 or 12 years old.' In a third, he found 'as many as 20 were working in two rooms, 7 or 8 being boys of about 12'. One room was 'tolerably ventilated and not very dirty', but 'the other three were in all respects detestable; the ceiling and walls black with gas soot; the faces of the workpeople, men and boys alike, colourless and grimy: the children literally in rags of the dirtiest description, the heat of the atmosphere almost unbearable'. (fn. 62) The homes of the men who let out benches to different journeymen were described as 'miserable hovels' and their workrooms as 'dreadful places, underground kitchens', though the generic term, garret masters, was applied to them all. When several riveters worked together, the room was fitted with long narrow tables, like shop-counters, divided up into compartments called benches, each large enough to allow a man and a boy to stand at it side by side. To each bench were fitted two iron rods upon which movable lasts were placed. Iron lasts replaced the iron-plated variety in 1865 and an upright last with a universal joint so that the boot could be turned in any direction was also introduced. A man who lived at this time maintained that because the iron lasts were too heavy to be carried to and from the workers' homes, another impetus was given to the factory and workshop system. When the laster had lasted up, or fitted the material over one of his lasts, lightly tacking the sole to the upper, he then passed it on to his boy, who drove the nails into the holes which he made by a light pricking machine, which was usually operated by hand or foot though steam was used in a few factories. One member of the handsewn school described this work as being more like carpentering than bootmaking. (fn. 63) A man working by himself would last up and rivet a dozen pairs of shoes in a day of 10 hours and 1½ dozen if he had a boy to nail for him, whereas the Blake sewer worked by a treadle could turn out 200 pairs in a 10-hour day and 300 if it was worked by steam. (fn. 64) In America it is said to have reduced the cost of sewing on soles from 75 to 3 cents a pair, that is by about 96 per cent. (fn. 65)

On completion of the 'making' process, the boots or shoes were then finished. The conditions in which this process was carried out were known throughout the trade to be exceptionally bad and unhealthy. 'They are packed as close as they can sit, on each side of a low table, on which are several broad gas flames, always burning to heat their burnishing and other irons', and the finishers were described in 1863 as amongst the 'most degraded of the working population'. (fn. 66)

Thus at this primary stage in the division of labour, specialized workmen, each with their distinctive occupational names, were appearing, and their organization was to become even more complex in the modern factory system. As more and more operations came to be performed by machines there was no longer any need for the apprentice who learnt to make a shoe from beginning to end. Apprenticeship began to decline from the first expansion of the industry, although in the years after 1860 some forms of quasi-apprenticeship reappeared. Machinists could be apprenticed at the age of 14 or 15 years for 2 or 3 years, receiving between 5s. and 9s. weekly. Others paid a small sum to an adult for the use of a machine. Occasionally some were bound to foremen but in general the apprentices either learnt from the machinist or worked without payment in a factory for a few months. (fn. 67) The sewing machines were in general worked by girls, while bootmaking work was more suitable for boys, for whom there was seldom any formal apprenticeship, except in the bespoke trade, usually only to small masters. (fn. 68) In the wholesale factories, boys were taken on under a form of apprenticeship to learn clicking. They earned between 10s. and 20s. a week but lived in their own homes. Journeymen in the sewn trade sometimes took learners under agreement for 2 or 3 years, 'but for rivetting, so little teaching is required, that they are said to pick their boys out of the street'. Finishers also took boys under agreement for a short period. The riveters' boys earned between 2s. 6d. and 5s. a week at 'chamber work', but in the factories sums of 8s. or 9s. were not unknown and conditions of work for these young clickers were fairly good. (fn. 69)

'The introduction of the sewing machine seems to have considerably affected the employment of children in the boot trade by enabling two or three machinists of 14 or 16 years old, with the aid of one little girl of 9 or 10 years, to do as much "stabbing" as 30 children would have done under the old system.' (fn. 70) Children were often presented when ridiculously young to employers as candidates for employment. 'I have asked some if they think we keep an infant school', said one witness. 'Many', he continued, 'use their children just as farmers use their cattle, to get what they can out of them, and have no regard for their health and education.' (fn. 71) A schoolmaster in the town stated that 'several of these boys had come from distant places, being drawn hither by the briskness of the trade'. (fn. 72) Most of the younger children in the trade were employed in small jobs of neatening and finishing, such as tying off the ends of thread left by the machinists, while older girls sometimes worked as fitters. Apprenticeship was almost unknown by 1892 and neither employers nor trade unions ever attempted to revive it. (fn. 73)

A distinctive feature of the modern boot and shoe industry is its distribution system. In 1931 in Great Britain there were as many as 13,855 distributing units as compared with 1,054 manufacturing units. (fn. 74) This vast network has developed from the crude marketing methods of the mid-19th century, when the manufacturers were the chief distributing agents. As the industry expanded, specialized footwear factors appeared. George Oliver is typical of this type in Leicester. (fn. 75) Apprenticed to a boot- and shoemaker in Barrow upon Soar, he wandered between various boot centres until in 1860 he opened a retail shop in Willenhall (Staffs.) and in 1886, with his brother, Charles, another in Neath (Staffs.). Other shops followed and in 1869 he set up a factory in Wolverhampton to supply his shops, but decided to concentrate on distribution after 1875. The factory was closed and Oliver set up a large warehouse in Leicester; at the time he had 30 branches, which had increased to over 100 by 1889, when he advertised himself as the largest boot retailer in the world.

J. Wedgewood Heath, Mayor of Leicester in 1921, and H. P. Tyler are others who became important factors in the town. The former came to Leicester at the age of 20 after being apprenticed to a draper. Five years after finding employment in Leicester he opened a business on his own account. (fn. 76) Tyler's firm was founded about 1861; by 1891 he had some 100 branches. (fn. 77) Stead & Simpson became a limited company in 1899 (fn. 78) and with Freeman, Hardy & Willis inaugurated a new policy, of extending the retail side of their business by opening shops direct to the public, an important step in the history of the industry. By 1934 Stead & Simpson had 186 retail shops in the British Isles. This method of marketing, which tended to eliminate the middleman although the factor still remained important, was soon copied by other firms in Leicester and Northampton.

Boots and shoes varied little in style, colour, and design before 1900. The larger manufacturers, competing in the same wholesale market, tended to eliminate the less efficient firms, but this process was slow because there was an ever-increasing demand and in many cases independent retailers favoured certain manufacturers. In order to overcome the limitations which were placed upon size and expansion by these features of the industry, many of the wealthier manufacturers integrated retail shops of their own, and at the same time some of the distributive concerns began to make their own shoes. This increase in the number of retailers conditioned and promoted variety and fashion manufacture in two ways. First, the extensive advertising by the multiple retailer of a wider choice of shoes endangered the independent retailers, who in their efforts to save themselves were forced to order styles of shoes different from those offered for sale by the multiple retailer. Secondly, as the multiple retailers gained an increasing proportion of the distribution, they in their turn were able to obtain a wider choice of shoes. Thus the extent to which fashion manufacture rules the trade 'must be explained primarily with reference to the attempt of both producers and retailers to establish for themselves a semi-sheltered market, thus leading the public rather than being led by it'. (fn. 79)

This movement was especially applicable to Leicester with its specialization in women's and children's shoes. The number of manufacturers and employees continued to rise. There were 198 shoe manufacturers in 1880, 210 in 1890, 233 in 1896, and 225 in 1900. (fn. 80) The increase in the number of employees in the industry was more marked. It rose from about 13,000 in 1881 to about 24,000 in 1891. The ratio per thousand of the population in the same period rose from 106 to 138. In Northampton the approximate numbers were 10,500 in 1881 and 13,000 in 1891, the ratio per thousand of the population being 188 and 165. (fn. 81) In 1901 a distinction was made in the census figures. The number of male shoemakers in Leicester, over ten years of age, was 17,770. It will be observed that the expansion had markedly slowed down in this decade and a similar position was apparent in Northampton, where the number of men was 11,167. (fn. 82)

Meanwhile, technical innovations were continually introduced. Leicester shoe-machinery firms were designing their own models and improving on the American machines which flowed into the country from 1870 onwards. Hitherto, machinery had only helped in 'making' in the narrowest sense of the word. (fn. 83) Now came the machines which were to accelerate production and require widespread division of labour. In 1872 the first Goodyear weltsewing machines were introduced into England. (fn. 84) Invented in 1862, they were said to be 54 times as fast as stitching by awl and thread. (fn. 85) With this machine and the Goodyear chain stitcher it was claimed that a boot similar in quality to a handsewn boot could be produced, and boots produced on these machines eventually superseded cheap hand-sewn and welted work. By 1899, the improved version, first introduced into Leicester by Royce Gascoigne & Co., could do in 18 seconds what had formerly been done in an hour. (fn. 86) More and more processes were afterwards performed by machines, (fn. 87) aided by a system of standard sizes and half-sizes, until in the 20th century some processes became entirely automatic.

Before the reaction of labour to the introduction of machinery and its effect upon wages is discussed, it will be as well to examine its influence upon the size of the manufacturing unit, and the way in which machinery was supplied. Before 1900, with the increasing use of machinery, competition between manufacturers of footwear machinery came to be based not upon cost but upon the varying output capacity of each machine. This affected the size of the manufacturing unit, as the machine manufacturers made no attempt to coordinate the technical functions of their machines and the factory had to have a large number of machines, each with a specialized function. (fn. 88)

The tense competition between the machine firms resulted in the formation of the British United Shoe Machinery Co. Ltd. (B.U.S.M.C.), in 1899. This was an amalgamation of the Leicester firm of Pearson & Bennion, the leading firm in the town, with the British interests of various American shoe machinery companies in alliance with the United Shoe Machinery Co. of America, (fn. 89) and although half English, all the voting power of the new company lay in America. (fn. 90) The B.U.S.M.C. system was not to sell machines but to lease them, and today, apart from sewing machines, which are usually purchased, only a very small proportion of the machinery in a boot factory is owned by the firm. For some time after the formation of the B.U.S.M.C. there were only two free firms of any importance, the Gimson Shoe Machinery Co. and the Standard Engineering Co., both of Leicester. After fruitless and costly attempts to remain outside the combine, Gimson's joined the B.U.S.M.C. in 1931, (fn. 91) leaving the Standard Engineering Co. virtually alone in the field of independent production. (fn. 92)

The B.U.S.M.C. secured the patents of a small number of important machines, which were only leased on condition that others, made by the combine but for which it had no patent, were used as well. This system was known as a tied leasing agreement and by it the B.U.S.M.C. forced other machine firms either to close down or seek absorption into the company, the predominance of which grew steadily. In 1910 about 20 per cent. of boot machines were acquired by the manufacturers from firms other than the B.U.S.M.C., but by 1936 it controlled more than 90 per cent. of the machines used. (fn. 93) Despite this monopoly the Standard Engineering Co. has increased its sales.

The B.U.S.M.C. has, however, decreased the size of the manufacturing unit by producing machines with well-balanced output capacities in a team smaller than was formerly needed. The cost of machinery leased from the B.U.S.M.C. is exactly the same for small firms as it is for large, as the payments are assessed at a fixed sum per 1,000 turns performed by the machine. Whether a factory consists of 40 or 400 machines the cost per pair of shoes is identical, and thus the larger firms have been prevented from achieving economies of scale by spreading their machine costs over a larger output. This has made for smaller plants, and it was estimated that the best size of plant for men's shoes needed 50–60 workers (in this respect only) and 40–50 for women's shoes. At this scale of production direct labour costs amounted to 23–25 per cent., machine charges 2–3 per cent., other overhead costs 4–5 per cent., and raw materials 50–60 per cent. of the total costs of production. (fn. 94)

Since the hides from which leather is made are a by-product of livestock raising, the demand for which is conditioned by the demand for meat, and since the meat is worth 10–15 times the hide, the supply and prices of hides are determined by factors other than leather consumption. (fn. 95) Market imperfection in the selling of shoes has resulted in much dependence upon fashion production, especially in women's shoes which particularly concern Leicester. The effect of this fashion production, which is to keep firms small, is especially noticeable in Leicester. (fn. 96) Another feature of the industry which accounts for the survival of small and medium-sized firms in the town is the lack of competition in the shoe-machinery industry, owing to the monopoly of the B.U.S.M.C. The leasing policy of the combine meant that new firms could enter the industry with only a modest capital outlay, and manufacturers endeavoured to shelter their markets by the development of individual and distinctive styles of shoes. 'The proprietors frequently manage in person and for their remuneration largely depend on profits; this system of payments by results, in conjunction with the active competition between firms, contributes to the efficiency of the industry.' (fn. 97)

Conditions of work have been mentioned above. The good employers tended to draw labour away from the factories and workshops where conditions were less good, and improvements in factories and workshops were necessary if an employer was to keep his workmen. Witnesses to the various inquiries at the end of the 19th century admitted that the introduction of machines and the factory system had improved the wages of operatives in full employment. 'I consider', said one, 'the factory system 1,000 to one preferable to the home system', (fn. 98) but so much bootmaking was done at home and by the piece in 1886 that trustworthy statistics of bootmakers' earnings could not be compiled, even for the great centres of the industry. (fn. 99) For Leicester some figures are available. In 1863 in the Leicester factories, which all seem to have worked much the same hours, the machinists could make 12s.–14s. weekly and an average fitter 10s.–12s., 'without overworking themselves'. (fn. 100) The hours were from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the winter and 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer. At Crick's firm in the same year, earnings could reach as much as 20s. weekly and about 60 hours a week was the usual time worked. (fn. 101) The nailers working on the factory premises were generally hired by the riveters, who paid them between 5s. and 9s. a week, and the riveters themselves might earn as much as 50s. a week, less deductions and payments to their assistants. (fn. 102) In 1885 shoemakers working in homes were not thought to earn an average of more than 23s. a week. (fn. 103) In 1878 the Leicester Board of Arbitration carried a resolution calling for a uniform statement of wages in the town. (fn. 104)

At the time of the 1895 conflict, one employer in Leicester maintained that he had paid his clickers an average of 29s. a week during the past year, to which one of his workmen replied that none of them had drawn as much as £1 in any one week. (fn. 105) The same workman stated that in the year there had been only 30 weeks of full employment and 22 of short-time and holidays. In a short-time week, the hours had ranged from 20 to 34, instead of the usual 54. Lasters and finishers were said to have averaged 31s. 8d. a week, with a recognized minimum of 28s. (fn. 106)

Trade was difficult at this time. In October 1893 it was reported that nearly all the factories in the Leicester and Northampton districts were working halftime and that unemployment was higher for that time of year than ever before. (fn. 107) The industry had reached the peak of its growth and was beginning to react to external fluctuations of economic activity. Earlier, in 1880, it was stated with some truth that Leicester had suffered less than almost any other town from the general stagnation that affected English industry: 'this applies especially to the boot and shoe trade . . .; while several smaller houses with insufficient capital and appliances have necessarily succumbed to the keen race of competition, those firms which have devoted their attention to the production of high class articles, and consequently paid an enhanced scale of wages, have received a larger share of orders, and this kept their workpeople in constant and profitable employment'. (fn. 108)

In December 1893 it was estimated that from 10 to 12 per cent. of the workers in the footwear industry were quite without work, while about 40 to 50 per cent. had been working short hours. (fn. 109) The corporations of both Leicester and Northampton organized relief schemes. There had been an improvement in Leicester in the early spring of 1893 but by August many were working half- or threequarter-time.

In the Leicester footwear factories there seems to be no evidence of trucking in the form of 'tommyshops', but outworkers had to take part of their payment in leather or 'grindery' (i.e. tacks, wax, and thread), or 'findings' (i.e. buckles, buttons, and laces); (fn. 110) these furnishings had to be purchased by the workmen from their employers in most English towns. A riveter probably spent five or six shillings a week on material, the cost of which was deducted from his wages. There was difficulty in purchasing this material as cheaply from the employer as elsewhere. One example of this occurred in 1888, when an employer charged 1s. for a pound of brass rivets, which could be bought elsewhere for 6d. In 1892 the charge averaged about 9d. a pound for the same article. (fn. 111)

These deductions, together with charges of about 1s. a week which were made to finishers for gas, were supposed to secure economy in the use of rivets and fuel. Where the grindery was provided by the employer, the rivets were weighed out in quantities sufficient to complete the work in hand. If any were wasted the operative had to pay for them in order to buy others. Another reason advanced for the charges was that the shoemakers were 'largely a migratory people' who might abscond with the furnishings. One witness admitted that while this was to some extent true, the objection was not a serious one. The union objected to this system. One of its aims was to obtain room, light, and grindery free of charge. Leicester, through its Board of Arbitration, was the first centre in which all finishers were admitted to the factories, where these services were provided without cost to the operatives. Thus by 1892 it was stated that under 5 per cent. of the workers in Leicester were employed outdoors. (fn. 112)

The main reasons for the introduction of the factory system were the needs for uniformity of output, economy of time, labour, and materials, and for supervision. Other contributory causes were the development of heavy machinery, the use of power to run it, and trade-union agitation.

The Amalgamated Society of Cordwainers, formed in the 18th century, was drastically reorganized in 1862, and became the Amalgamated Society of Boot and Shoe Makers in 1874, (fn. 113) when the machinists split off to form the National Society of Boot and Shoe Riveters and Finishers, (fn. 114) later the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives (N.U.B.S.O.). The introduction of machinery after 1850 was at first resented by the men and there was a lot of thoughtless opposition. Though in some places hand shoemakers struck against it at first and probably suffered as a consequence, on the whole it did very little harm to them. The wages of these craftsmen went up, (fn. 115) but the new methods were disliked, and the idea of the factory system was abhorrent to the hand workers. Monday had been the traditional 'shoemakers' holiday'.

The policy of the cordwainers' union, no doubt conditioned by the experience of the handloom weavers and in Leicester by the framework-knitters, was not to attempt to compete with machine products. As easy processes passed into machine operations they abandoned them and concentrated upon maintaining the particular qualities of their own special article. The society refused to oppose the introduction of machinery and advised those of its members who could not get handwork at the established rates to accept factory work. It encouraged the new factory workers to organize themselves and thus avoid unfair competition from cheap labour, and as early as 1863 a resolution was passed 'that men employed in the riveting and finishing peg work, and those working in factories, be recognized and can belong to any section or form sections by themselves'. (fn. 116) In a short time the society found itself composed of two classes, craftsmen and factory workers. As the numbers of the latter began to exceed those of the 'seat workers', as they were called, policy decisions became more difficult. By 1874 the old society had proved incapable of dealing with the employers' attacks on the local unions or of coping with changed industrial conditions. (fn. 117) In that year the machine workers seceded to form their own union, the present N.U.B.S.O., encouraged to do so by the handcraft workers. Since then the two unions have remained on friendly terms, refusing to allow competition among themselves or to be played off one against the other.

Two months after its formation at Stafford N.U.B.S.O. had 35 branches with a total membership of 4,204. The Leicester branch stood at 1,397, the largest single branch, which it still was in 1955. The headquarters of the union were transferred to Leicester in 1876. Membership of the branch continued to grow. In 1903 11,000 operatives were members of the union out of a total of 27,000, and another branch had opened in the town especially for clickers and pressmen, with a membership of 2,463. On the other hand, local membership of the cordwainers' society stood at 25 in 1903. (fn. 118)

The manufacturers of the town, constantly forced to deal individually with labour problems and disputes, decided in 1871 to create an effective organization to protect themselves and to enforce a better discipline in the industry. The Leicester Boot and Shoe Manufacturers' Association came into being, under the presidency of W. H. Walker. Among its aims were the protection of members from harmful practices by traders, and the issuing of trade reports. (fn. 119)

The policy of conciliation, which is a distinctive feature of the industry's history, was early established. (fn. 120) This meant that there was some tradition of arbitration upon which to build a settlement in the dispute of 1895. The union, in its first quarterly report, maintained that it was 'in the interests of the trade as well as the welfare of our union [that] we urge upon the officers and members, the need of cultivating a firm faith in the policy of referring disputes to boards of arbitration for mutual settlement, for we believe that arbitration means the safety of trade societies'. (fn. 121) In 1878 the Leicester Arbitration Board was set up, to be followed quickly by similar boards in other centres. (fn. 122) Formed of equal numbers of locally elected employers and unionists, the board had referred to it 'every question, or aspect of a question, affecting the relations of employers and workmen individually or collectively'. (fn. 123) In the event of disagreement the matter was referred to an independent umpire, agreeable to both sides, and in the early days usually a leading manufacturer from another town. The board's activities were thought to minimize disputes and strikes, but were not altogether effective. In 1883 a strike was averted only by the intervention of the Mayor of Leicester, Sir Thomas Wright, and this led to the establishment of the National Conference in 1892, with Sir Thomas as the neutral chairman and the later Lord James of Hereford as independent umpire, to deal with national questions affecting the whole industry. The National Conference was constituted like the local arbitration boards and held its first meeting at Leicester in August 1892, with representatives from the N.U.B.S.O. and the Federated Associations of Boot and Shoe Manufacturers of Great Britain. This federation had been formed in 1891, with headquarters at Leicester, after the lead had been given by manufacturers in the town, with J. Griffin Ward of Stead & Simpson as first president. The local manufacturers' associations could no longer feel at any disadvantage in fighting the union's claims. (fn. 124)

The disputes in the industry were not so much over the actual introduction of machinery as over the way in which that machinery was to be used. The only way in which the workers could protect themselves from being driven to produce more for the same payment was deliberately to restrict output on the new machines, and the union imposed fines of 2s. 6d. to £1 if a certain output was exceeded. (fn. 125) (fn. 126) The employers' principal journal stated: 'The spirit of comradeship is carried to a ridiculous extent. . . . It seems to be a settled policy with the men, not to earn as much money as possible per week, but as much as possible per job, in other words to keep the cost of production running as high as possible.' (fn. 127) One of the more enlightened employers suggested that if the piecework system were adopted and only expert men employed on the machines, the result would be better work and lower costs for the employers and higher wages for the operatives. (fn. 128)

Among the grievances connected with the new machinery was the practice of 'basket work', the sending out of work to country villages, where labour was cheaper, or to another town. (fn. 129) The union's policy was to insist that the agreed wages be paid to such outworkers, and that factories should be set up in the country districts, a policy designed to bring together the unorganized country workers and so strengthen the union's position. The union also objected to the substitution of labour by unskilled juniors for that of skilled adults, which led to the flooding of the labour market with boys. (fn. 130) It asked for a limitation of one boy to each five men employed. (fn. 131)

The manufacturers, on the other hand, were anxious to exploit the advantages of machine production because they found themselves being beaten by the technically superior American factories, whose products were successfully competing in established British markets. They also objected to the union's demand for a minimum wage on the grounds that productivity would be lowered. The system of arbitration which should have settled these disputes broke down when trade became bad in the early 1890's. Between 1891 and 1894 seven local arbitration boards were dissolved. (fn. 132) The men objected to their slowness, while the employers were also dissatisfied because of the time taken to ensure that they were not committed to some new principle. They had intended the boards to deal with questions of interpretation only, not to be a market in which new bargains might be struck. The question of increased wages could not be brought up every two months at these boards. The National Conference met five times between 1892 and 1894 to settle wage claims, and to consider the demands of other centres for indoor working by all employees: in 1891 Leicester led the way in this, the employers agreeing by 137 to 3 to confirm this principle on the understanding that no manufacturer should be omitted from the agreed rules. (fn. 133) (fn. 134)

By the early 1890's, then, the union was in a powerful position: at that time it was the fourth largest union in Britain. The manufacturers resented its growing power and especially what they considered to be its unwarrantable interference in the internal organization of their factories. (fn. 135) Their attack began in November 1894 with their submission of seven proposals which the union had either to accept or reject within eleven days. This ultimatum, which came to be known as the 'Seven Commandments', included the proposals that wage-rates should not be changed at intervals of less than two years, that the introduction of piecework in lasting and finishing should be indefinitely delayed, that the internal management of the factories was the function of the employers alone, and that the union should impose no restriction on output. The union delayed its reply until the end of January 1895, when it rejected the proposals as 'illegal, unjust, unworkable, and therefore impracticable', but suggested that the proposals should be subjected to arbitration. In the meantime the employers had withdrawn from the National Conference and they now refused the union's proposal. The union maintained that a strike was inevitable, and began preparations by levying 1s. a week on its members. After big meetings had been held by the operatives, like the one at Leicester on 30 January 1895 which was attended by about 5,000 union members, the union put in notices to three firms in Northampton and six in Leicester demanding minimum wages of 28s. a week for clickers and 26s. for pressmen, increases of 2s. 6d. and 3s. per week respectively. (fn. 136) In addition, the Leicester branch of the union put a motion to the local board, 'that this board decides that all work cut in Leicester shall be made and finished in Leicester, and paid for in accordance with the prices and conditions at present prevailing in Leicester'. These requests were met by a general lockout which began on 6 March. (fn. 137)

The actual stoppage, then, came on side issues of minor importance. (fn. 138) The clickers and pressmen in the Midlands had only recently been drawn into the N.U.B.S.O. which, according to the spokesman of a rival union, the National Union of Bootclickers, whose members, 1,650 in 1892, belonged mainly to London and district, was doing nothing for them so that many were gradually leaving. (fn. 139) Possibly the union wished to show that it could still do something for them: the clickers at any rate were craftsmen as yet little affected by machines. It perhaps also wished to ensure their solidarity with the older members in the event of a strike. The lockout lasted three weeks. For the firms outside the association trade remained brisk and work plentiful, but three-quarters of the shoe factories in the Leicester district were closed both to union and non-union labour. A local estimate of the numbers out of work at the peak of the dispute was 22,000. (fn. 140) The affair cost the union £56,383 in strike pay, of which £16,979, or some 30 per cent. of the total, was laid out in Leicester. (fn. 141) A sum of £1,049 was subscribed by various friends and by other unions. (fn. 142)

A settlement was finally reached which has regulated labour conditions in the industry ever since. The 'Terms of Settlement' laid down that piecework in the industry was undesirable, that the local boards of arbitration were to be reconstituted with revised regulations, that certain subjects were to be outside the jurisdiction of these boards, and that a financial guarantee that the agreement would be honoured was to be arranged. (fn. 143)

No provision was made for the National Conference, but by joint consent it was re-established and took place every two years, its functions clearly being to deal with questions of principle which could only be raised there. The local boards were confined to matters of interpretation and purely local affairs. The immediate solution of local grievances, before they can spread or accumulate, has contributed much to the success of the boards and to the efficient honouring of the Terms of Settlement, which, in spite of their vagueness, marked an important step forward for the industry, largely because of the sensible way in which they have been interpreted.

Meanwhile, at the end of the 19th century, the establishment of co-operative factories was an important local development. The first known attempt to set up a co-operative factory was the floatation of the National Co-operative Boot and Shoe Manufacturing Co., Ltd. in 1876, in which union members were invited to take shares. (fn. 144) The directors included four Leicester riveters and the secretary of the N.U.B.S.O. Nothing seems to be known of what became of this co-operative shoe factory. In September 1886 about 60 working men, mostly connected with the union, attempted to form themselves into a Productive Society. Business began in July 1887 with a share capital of £220, £100 of which was subscribed by the local branch of the union. The first 'factory' consisted of three small rooms in which 21 workers (4 on uppers, 17 on bottoming) made shoes, mainly by hand. Removals to improved premises were made in 1889, and 1895, with extensions in 1898. The original trade-mark of this society was 'Eagle', but in 1894 the co-partnership took its present name of 'Equity'. In the division of profits its rules provided for the payment of 5 per cent. interest on capital, for the usual depreciation charges, and for reserves. The remaining profits were divided between committee workers, shareholders, an educational fund, a provident fund, and a special fund for inventors. Shares, the nominal value of which was £1, were transferable, but no member could hold less than one, or more than 100. (fn. 145) By 1889 there were 443 members: 184 were co-operative societies, 4 were trade unions, and the rest were mainly workers. The rules remained unaltered until 1896, when changes were made in the division of profits.

By 1892 the members numbered 750, and the share capital was £4,900. Of the 400 customers on the books, all were co-operative societies. The number of employees in that year was 220, all of whom were shareholders. Eighteen men were employed by the week at an average weekly wage of 30s.; 92 men by the piece at 26s.; 9 females by the week, and 14 by the piece at an average of 17s. 6d. per week. It was to provide 'the most regular work of any firm in the kingdom'. (fn. 146) The hours of work seem to have been always less than those generally prevailing in the town. One historian of the copartnership has stressed the importance of its capital formation policy in the early years, by obtaining the highest profit possible on a shoe. 'It was more important . . . to make a large profit than do a great deal of trade.' (fn. 147) Saving and reinvestment was the main theme of the management's decisions. They refused to manufacture cheap shoes which realized only a small profit per pair. Similarly, they refused to make men's and women's shoes with the crude equipment available because the quality of the women's wear, for which they were acquiring a reputation, would have declined, with a subsequent fall in trade in times of depression. The later history of the copartnership is largely a story of increasing sales and profits, with a few periods of depression. (fn. 148) The number of workers employed rose to 320 in 1900, but by 1926 had fallen to 166. A leading trade unionist observed that it was not strictly co-operative but it rather had the character of a large limited liability company. (fn. 149)

In 1872 the Co-operative Wholesale Society began the production of boots and shoes in Leicester. This was the second industry in which it ventured as a manufacturer. Though not co-operative in the strict sense, by 1886–7 the Leicester C.W.S. had 1,000 members, a share capital of £100,000, and transacted business to the value of £150,000 per annum, of which some £20,000 profit was distributed to members. In 1894 the Society opened the Wheatsheaf (C.W.S.) shoe factory at Knighton Fields. (fn. 150) It was quick to introduce American machinery, to the detriment of other firms such as 'Equity', who were attempting to compete with it in supplying the various co-operative societies. It is interesting to observe that the first reaction of the co-partnership to this threat was to tighten up conditions and discipline and to reduce piecework rates. The market for boots and shoes was expanding, however, and 'Equity' began supplying dealers other than cooperative societies.

With the threat of the 1895 dispute, the number of firms in the manufacturers' association increased from 115 in 1894 to 136 in the following year. (fn. 151) But as trade revived and conditions became more settled, the membership dropped to 119 in 1896. In that year the local arbitration board was reconstructed under the Terms of Settlement. It still had work to do, for there were several cases in which the men attempted to introduce piecework prices and restrict the output of machinery, and illegally stopped work when their demands were refused. In these cases the union disclaimed responsibility and expressed disapproval. The union submitted the 'one boy to five men' demand to the board, as well as a minimumwage demand for workers aged between 18 and 20, but the employers were not in favour of restriction. During 1897 the employers were still complaining that there was a 'systematic and concerted action to limit output on the part of the employees'. (fn. 152) In addition, the union had issued instructions that the operatives were not to work overtime, except at 'time and a quarter'. In 1898 a piecework rate for lasting-machine operatives was agreed upon, workmen's compensation was introduced, and the manufacturers' federation was incorporated as a limited liability company.

By 1900 the boot and shoe trade had 'shared in the improvement which has taken place in the state of trade in the country generally, and in consequence, manufacturers have been able to maintain a condition of more regular employment in their factories'. (fn. 153) In 1897 an American combine was formed to raise the price of leather, with the result that British manufacturers' profits dropped because they could not raise prices to meet the rise in the cost of their raw material. (fn. 154) Leicester manufacturers agreed upon a limited policy of an agreed rise in prices. (fn. 155)

Between 1890 and 1903 the British boot and shoe industry lost markets as the result of poor quality and finish, and recovered them only after the adoption of American production methods, styles, and finish, and of half-sizes. (fn. 156) Trade in Leicester in the last part of the 19th century was affected by the slump in markets and short-time was the rule rather than the exception. This was aggravated by the seasonal nature of the town's trade, where the emphasis on the production of women's and children's shoes meant that the season began in the spring and that except in a few factories employment was less regular than in those towns which made all kinds of footwear. Returns to the Board of Trade covering 12,700 workpeople in Leicester showed that in the first half of 1903 67 per cent. worked full-time: this figure was reduced to 47 per cent. in the second half. The manufacturers repeatedly expressed their conviction that prices of shoes would have to go up, (fn. 157) while realizing that price rises proportionate to increased costs could not be made. The manufacturers' association submitted in 1905 that 'combination . . . ought to be successfully used in making a determined effort to secure a reasonable return for the capital employed . . . not only for those who provide the capital, but also for the large numbers of workpeople and others whose livelihood depends for its remunerative employment in the trade'. (fn. 158) In 1895 membership of the association had numbered 135 firms, but in 1905 was only 87, although 27 new firms had been admitted in the meantime. The withdrawal of 75 firms was said to be entirely due to discontinuance of business. (fn. 159) The decline of membership continued steadily to 70 in 1915, after which the First World War brought some outsiders into the association. The highest war-time membership was 107 in 1918. At the same time the association was assisting its members to obtain reasonable terms for the use of patented machinery and to relieve the industry from the arbitrary and unreasonable conditions inserted in machinery leases. (fn. 160)

Meanwhile the union was active on the board of arbitration. The clickers' statement, which only a few firms had adopted by 1900, was revived in 1902 with a minimum of 29s. a week. Three years later a piecework statement for the town was agreed upon after much difficulty. The union, while urging nonunionists to become members, also asked employers to dismiss non-unionists. The unauthorized strikes continued, 3 in 1906, 5 in 1907, and 4 in 1908. These strikes, disapproved of by the union, were financed by collections made from the men out of work. (fn. 161) In the strike of 1905–6, the strikers were expelled from the union in accordance with the Terms of Settlement.

From 1908 to 1914 trade in the town's productions was steady but not on a high level. The manufacturers' association protested against a proposed tariff increase by the French government in 1908. In the same year it was agreed that female workers were to be included in the Terms of Settlement. The arbitration board continued its activities in these years, dealing, for example, with 175 cases of dispute from 1909 to 1913. The more technical and intricate character of the difficulties involved accounted for much of the increased work of the board. Strikes continued. In 1910 there was a big strike at Simon's factory and the premises were picketed. A notice was issued, signed by the local representatives of the federation and the union, to the effect that the factory was open to employment. In 1912–13 there were nine strikes in factories of members of the association, provoked by causes such as the reinstatement of dismissed workers, dismissal of foremen and managers, refusal to work with non-unionists, displacement of men by newly introduced machinery, or, as the association reported, 'by other issues affecting the rights of employers to maintain discipline in their factories'. (fn. 162) An agreement upon a 52½-hour week was agreed upon and came into operation in 1909.

The reports of the manufacturers' association in the years before 1912 continued to emphasize the need for collective action if rising costs were to be covered by increased prices. In 1912 they regretted 'that owing to the keenness of competition and no doubt, to a large extent, in consequence of the system of fixed retail prices', manufacturers were prevented from obtaining adequate increases in prices. (fn. 163) 'Many efforts', they said, 'have been made in recent years by collective action . . . with this object, but the results have not enabled the committee to conclude that collective efforts are likely to be more effective in the future . . . than in the past, and [they hoped] . . . that the necessities of the situation which will be intensified when the National Insurance contributions become payable will cause every manufacturer to realize that he cannot carry on a successful business unless he adopts a firm policy with regard to prices and obtains the necessary advances.' (fn. 164)

The outbreak of the war in 1914 disorganized business and finance in the industry by causing a partial suspension of business. But confidence returned and business revived until military, naval, and civilian demand far exceeded supply. During the first six months some 20 per cent. of male operatives in the town were mobilized and many women were taken into the industry. (fn. 165) Efforts to increase output were continuous; more power was adopted, more operatives employed, and war bonuses given to indoor and outdoor workers. Although leather supplies became more difficult, Leicester was more affected by a labour shortage and 'Equity' lent workers to private factories to help ease the situation.

In the two immediate post-war years the boot and shoe industry benefited from the boom. The demand from the home market outran all powers of supply. New machinery was introduced, factory discipline was tightened up, and workers could no longer be allowed time off for a football match. (fn. 166) When the slump came in 1920–1 and strikes occurred in a number of industries, trade was bad for the Leicester boot and shoe industry. The number of workmen employed locally declined and a great deal of shorttime prevailed. The difficulties at home were aggravated by a depressed export trade. By the spring of 1923 trade improved and the local manufacturers felt that they had now reached the 'bottom of the downward curve'. (fn. 167)

A serious strike of women workers occurred in May 1922 when 1,100 women in 22 firms ceased work for a week. The strike took place at the busiest time of the year and meant that a number of male operatives had to stand down for some days. Although trade improved in the following years, times were still regarded as difficult, for under-employment in other industries lowered effective public demand, which was to some extent diverted to the very cheapest brands of footwear. The mid-1920's were perplexing years for the manufacturers, for it was becoming increasingly difficult to forecast the public taste in fashionable footwear. (fn. 168) For example, in 1925 there was an insistent demand for the Cossack type of women's boots, which rapidly declined two years later. In addition the increased import of cheaper grades of footwear had a detrimental effect on the Leicester trade.

The General Strike and the coal stoppage of 1926 resulted for the industry in short-time which continued for some months. (fn. 169) Fortunately gaiters became extremely popular and provided work for the clicking and closing departments. In 1928 it was observed that 'a number of firms, of long and honourable connexion with the trade, have been compelled to cease manufacture. In some cases, the causes of failure must be attributed to reckless trading. Notwithstanding, there is reason to believe that many manufacturers have increased output, and that in aggregate, the volume of shoes produced in Leicester last year was higher than in previous years.' (fn. 170) In the year 1927–8 15 firms ceased production. Membership of the local manufacturers' association had continued to decline from the war-time peak of 107 to 81 in 1928. This decline continued thoughout the depression years of the 1930's to its lowest figure of 60. It may be said that this reflects in some way the process of concentration which resulted from high-output machinery and improved organization, but although the extensive mechanization of processes substantially increased the productivity of the labour force, demand did not keep pace with it. (fn. 171) Between 1913 and 1939 the number of plants in the industry declined from 1,073 to 673. With the exception of Rossendale and Leicestershire, the decrease in every main centre of the industry exceeded 20 per cent. In Leicester the number of firms fell from 165 to 94, a decline of 43 per cent. (fn. 172)

The censuses of production of 1924, 1930, and 1935 give approximate estimates of the output, value, and relative importance of the Leicestershire area, for no distinction is made in the census between town and county. The total value of the output of Leicester city and county was £11,868 in 1924, and £10,950 in 1930. The total output as a percentage of the total British output was 25.02 in 1924, 25.93 in 1930, and 24.79 in 1935. In each case these figures are a little over two-thirds of the similar figures for Northampton city and county. (fn. 173)

These figures conceal an important development in the industry: the tendency for the county areas to expand at the expense of the towns. This delocalization was assisted by cheaper labour, the use of semiautomatic machinery, lower rates and rents in the rural areas and the development of an economic roadtransport system. This drift began about the time of the 1895 dispute. The dangers of uncontrolled migration were alluded to by a factory inspector in 1906: 'No less than 31 of the smaller towns and villages are now executing work formerly done in Leicester: a serious matter for the elder workpeople of that town.' (fn. 174) Another change taking place within the industry in the 20th century is the steady decline in the number of male operatives and a rise in the number of females, a large proportion of the increase being in the administrative staffs. By 1931 there were 11,705 employed in the industry in the administrative county of Leicester, and 17,342 in the county borough; in the county, 7,506 were male and 4,199 were female, and in the borough 11,384 were male and 5,958 were female. (fn. 175)

In common with most industries, footwear suffered in the depression of the early 1930's. (fn. 176) Within the industry, the struggle against the non-federated firms was intensified. 'It is becoming more and more evident,' said the local manufacturers' association, 'that it is to our home markets that the manufacturer has mainly to look for his business and here the menace of the non-federated firms . . . is a problem to which both manufacturer and operative should give their serious and undivided consideration, with a view to finding ways and means of putting an end to the unhealthy element in the industry.' (fn. 177)

With the spring of 1934, the expansion of output began, although turnover in value did not expand in proportion to the volume of output. By 1936 recovery was under way. Employment was much improved, hours of work more regular, and wages higher than in previous years. The recession of 1937–8 brought difficulties which had just been resolved when the outbreak of war in September 1939 ushered in a time of great prosperity for the boot and shoe industry of Leicester, a prosperity which has continued almost unbroken up to 1955.


  • 1. A. T. Patterson, Radical Leic. 88.
  • 2. British United Shoe Machinery Co., Hist. Survey of Boot and Shoe Making (1932).
  • 3. Leic. Jnl. 7 Feb. 1806.
  • 4. Census, 1831.
  • 5. Spencer, New Guide to Leic. (1888), 190.
  • 6. Pigot, Dir. Leics. (1828), 483; ibid. (1835), 217.
  • 7. For Crick see Patterson, Radical Leic. 388; White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 133. The firm of T. Crick & Co. has only recently been amalgamated with another company.
  • 8. White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 143.
  • 9. T. Cook, Guide to Leic. (1843), 143.
  • 10. Ibid. 100–1.
  • 11. White, Dir. Leics. (1846), 172–4.
  • 12. Post Office Dir. [Leics.] (1848), 2564–5.
  • 13. V.C.H. Northants. ii. 236.
  • 14. J. A. Schumpeter, Business Cycles, i. 391.
  • 15. J. A. Clapham, Econ. Hist. of Modern Britain, ii. 94; T. Wright, Romance of the Shoe, 224 n.
  • 16. Clapham, op. cit. ii. 94.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Ibid. 93–94.
  • 19. V.C.H. Northants. ii. 326.
  • 20. Ibid. 328.
  • 21. Spencer, New Guide to Leic. (1888), 191; cf. E. Crew, Homecoming: The Story of Leic. (1910), 101, in which it is stated that D. Garner claimed to have invented this type of riveted shoe two years before Crick obtained his patent. The Crick patent is hung in the office of the Leic. Boot & Shoe Manufacturers' Association.
  • 22. Schumpeter, Business Cycles, i. 391.
  • 23. Clapham, Econ. Hist. ii. 95.
  • 24. Stead & Simpson Centenary, 1834–1934 (priv. print., no pagination).
  • 25. See below, p. 326.
  • 26. Stead & Simpson Centenary.
  • 27. Census, 1851, 1861.
  • 28. Census, 1851, 1861.
  • 29. 2nd Rep. Royal Com. on Employment of Children [Cd. 3414], p. 165, H.C. (1864), v.
  • 30. 58 in 1851; 352 in 1861.
  • 31. White, Dir. Leics. (1863), 282–5.
  • 32. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 165.
  • 33. Factory Inspectors' Reports, April 1863 [3206], p. 39, H.C. (1863), xviii.
  • 34. E. S. Drake, Dir. Leics. (1861); Wright's Midland Dir. (1864); J. G. Harrod & Co., Dir. Leics. and Rut. (1870); White, Dir. Leics. (1877); Wright, Dir. Leic. (1878).
  • 35. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 125.
  • 36. Wright, Dir. Leic. (1878), 11.
  • 37. Census, 1871.
  • 38. Leic. Illustrated in 1891, 59.
  • 39. Leic. Daily Post, 16 Sept. 1901; H. Hartopp, R. Mayors of Leic. 228–9.
  • 40. R. Mayors, 254–5.
  • 41. Leic. Illustrated in 1891, 58–59.
  • 42. R. Mayors, 224.
  • 43. Leic. Illustrated in 1891, 53.
  • 44. Stead & Simpson Centenary.
  • 45. Drake, Dir. Leics. (1861), 74–75; C. W. Webb, Corah's of Leic. 40.
  • 46. R. Mayors, 212; Leic. Daily Post, 12 Oct. 1893. The firm failed after the slump: Kelly's Dir. Leics. and Rut. (1932), 649; ibid. (1936), 811.
  • 47. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 165.
  • 48. Ibid.
  • 49. 3rd Rep. Royal Com. on Employment of Children [Cd. 3414–1], p. 125, H.C. (1864), v.
  • 50. Census, 1871.
  • 51. Clapham, Econ. Hist. ii. 95.
  • 52. 3rd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 163.
  • 53. Ibid. 165.
  • 54. For the industry in the administrative county of Leics. see V.C.H. Leics. iii. 23–25.
  • 55. S. and B. Webb, Industrial Democracy (1911), 78.
  • 56. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 167.
  • 57. Ibid.
  • 58. Clapham, Econ. Hist. ii. 195–6.
  • 59. Cf. B. E. Hazard, Organisation of Boot and Shoe Industry in Massachussetts before 1875, 121 sqq.
  • 60. An advertisement in the Stafford Mercury, 4 April 1863, stated that riveted shoes were 20 per cent. lower in price.
  • 61. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 167.
  • 62. Ibid.
  • 63. 3rd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 125.
  • 64. Ibid. 130.
  • 65. Schumpeter, Business Cycles, i. 391.
  • 66. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 167.
  • 67. Ibid., pp. lxviii. 85.
  • 68. 3rd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 123.
  • 69. Ibid. passim.
  • 70. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 84.
  • 71. Ibid. 166.
  • 72. Ibid. 167. Most of the immigrants were of course from neighbouring counties.
  • 73. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 90.
  • 74. H. C. Hillman, 'Size of Firms in the Boot and Shoe Industry', Econ. Journal, xlix. 285.
  • 75. Olivers (1860–1950), 1–10.
  • 76. R. Mayors, 241.
  • 77. Leic. Illustrated in 1891, 60.
  • 78. Stead & Simpson Centenary.
  • 79. Econ. Journal, xlix. 290.
  • 80. Wright, Dir. Leic. (1880); Wright, Dir. Leic. (1890); Wright, Dir. Leics. and Rut. (1896); ibid. (1900).
  • 81. Census, 1881, 1891.
  • 82. Ibid. 1901.
  • 83. Clapham, Econ. Hist. ii. 95.
  • 84. V.C.H. Northants. ii. 328.
  • 85. Schumpeter, Business Cycles, i. 391.
  • 86. T. Wright, Romance of the Shoe, 248.
  • 87. V.C.H. Northants. ii. 328; Econ. Journal, xlix. 279 n.; Schumpeter, Business Cycles, i. 391.
  • 88. Econ. Journal, xlix. 281.
  • 89. Story of Leic. ed. Feilden, 69; and see V.C.H. Leics. iii. 28.
  • 90. Clapham, Econ. Hist. iii. 183.
  • 91. The Shoeman's Guide, viii and ix (1931–2).
  • 92. H. A. Silverman, Studies in Industrial Organisation (1946), 218.
  • 93. Econ. Journal, xlix. 281.
  • 94. Econ. Journal, xlix. 282.
  • 95. Ibid. 283.
  • 96. Silverman, Studies in Ind. Organisation, 199–200.
  • 97. Board of Trade, Working Party Rep., Boots and Shoes (1946), 3.
  • 98. 3rd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 131.
  • 99. Clapham, Econ. Hist. ii. 96.
  • 100. 2nd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 165.
  • 101. Ibid. 167.
  • 102. 3rd Rep. Children's Employment Com. 131.
  • 103. Fifty Years, being the Hist. of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives (1874–1924), 20.
  • 104. Ibid. 18.
  • 105. Leic. Chron. and Leics. Mercury, 11 Mar. 1895.
  • 106. Royal Com. on Labour [Cd. 7063], p. 470, H.C. (1893/4), v.
  • 107. Ministry of Labour Gazette, Oct. 1893.
  • 108. Wright, Dir. Leic. (1880), p. xiii.
  • 109. Min. of Labour Gazette, Dec. 1893.
  • 110. Wright, Romance of the Shoe, 225.
  • 111. Royal Com. on Labour, Mins. of Evidence, Group C, vol. ii [C. 6795–vi], p. 20, H.C. (1892), xxxvi, Pt. II.
  • 112. Ibid. 27.
  • 113. Webb, Industrial Democracy, 417. For the rules of the N.U.B.S.O. see ibid. 147.
  • 114. V.C.H. Northants. ii. 329.
  • 115. Clapham, Econ. Hist. ii. 459.
  • 116. Webb, Industrial Democracy, 418.
  • 117. G. D. H. Cole and others, Brit. Trade Unionism Today, 415.
  • 118. Trade Union Congress, Official Souvenir (Leic. 1903), 23.
  • 119. Inf. from Leic. Boot Manufacturers' Assoc.
  • 120. Fifty Years, 13.
  • 121. Webb, Industrial Democracy, 185–7.
  • 122. Story of Leic. ed. Feilden, 67.
  • 123. E. Brunner, 'Origins of Industrial Peace: The Case of the Brit. Boot and Shoe Industry', Oxford Econ. Papers, i. 254.
  • 124. Brunner, op. cit. 254.
  • 125. Webb, Industrial Democracy, 397.
  • 126. Brunner, op. cit. 251.
  • 127. Webb, op. cit. 398.
  • 128. Ibid. 400.
  • 129. Brunner, op. cit. 251.
  • 130. Webb, op. cit. 483.
  • 131. Ibid. 484.
  • 132. Brunner, op. cit. 255.
  • 133. Webb, op. cit. 187–8.
  • 134. Fifty Years, 25–27.
  • 135. For the strike see Brunner, op. cit. 256 sqq.
  • 136. The firms on which notices were served were Wilkes Bros. & Johnson, J. J. Morris, Johnson & Bailey, A. H. Simpson, Andrews, Belgrave Rubber Co.: Leic. Chron. and Leics. Mercury, 2 Mar. 1895.
  • 137. Brunner, op. cit. 257.
  • 138. Ibid. 256.
  • 139. Royal Com. on Labour, Mins. of Evidence, Group C, vol. ii, p. 24.
  • 140. Leic. Chron. and Leics. Mercury, 11 Mar. 1895.
  • 141. Fifty Years, 44.
  • 142. Ibid. 43–44.
  • 143. The 'Terms of Settlement' are printed ibid. 35–42.
  • 144. E. O. Greening, A Pioneer Co-partnership, passim.
  • 145. Greening, op. cit. 10. It is interesting to note that when capital was more abundant the soc. asked Earl Brassey to withdraw the loan capital which he had deposited in earlier, more stringent days.
  • 146. Royal Com. on Labour, Mins. of Evidence, Group C, vol. ii, p. 28.
  • 147. J. H. Plumb, Hist. Leic. Co-operative Boot and Shoe Manuf. Soc. 26.
  • 148. Ibid. 153.
  • 149. Royal Com. on Labour, Mins. of Evidence, Group C, vol. ii, p. 28.
  • 150. Ibid.
  • 151. Leic. Boot and Shoe Manuf. Assoc. 24th Rep. (1897); these are held by the soc. at its office in Granby St., Leic., where the writer was allowed to use them.
  • 152. Ibid. 25th Rep. (1898).
  • 153. Ibid. 27th Rep. (1900).
  • 154. Greening, Pioneering Co-partnership, 123.
  • 155. Leic. B. & S. Manuf. Assoc. 27th Rep. (1900).
  • 156. Economist, 3 May 1913.
  • 157. e.g. Leic. B. & S. Manuf. Assoc. 30th Rep. (1903). This is repeated in following years.
  • 158. Ibid. 32nd Rep. (1905).
  • 159. Ibid.
  • 160. Ibid. 30th Rep.
  • 161. Ibid. 33rd Rep. (1906).
  • 162. Ibid. 40th Rep. (1913).
  • 163. Ibid. 39th Rep. (1912).
  • 164. Ibid.
  • 165. Census, 1911, 1921.
  • 166. Greening, Pioneer Co-partnership, 180.
  • 167. Leic. B. & S. Manuf. Assoc. 52nd Rep. (1923). This shows for the first time that the assoc. was aware of the trade cycle.
  • 168. Leic. B. & S. Manuf. Assoc. 55th Rep. (1926).
  • 169. Ibid. 56th Rep. (1927).
  • 170. Ibid. 57th Rep. (1928).
  • 171. Silverman, Studies in Industrial Organisation, 203.
  • 172. Ibid. 205.
  • 173. Census of Production, 1924, 1930, 1935.
  • 174. Rep. on Factories and Workshops [Cd. 3586], p. 51, H.C. (1906).
  • 175. Census, 1931. The total number employed in Gt. Brit. was 173,353. In Northants. admin. co. there were 23,555 and in Northants. boro. 14,043.
  • 176. For estimates of unemployed see Bd. of Trade, Working Party Rep. Boots and Shoes, 4.
  • 177. Leic. B. and S. Manuf. Assoc. 59th Rep. (1930). On the industry between the wars see also H. A. Silverman, 'Industrial Survey of Leics.' (Nuffield Coll. Social Reconstruction Survey, TS. lent by Brit. Hosiery Mfturers' Association).