Evode, Stafford and the Shoe Industry.

The industrial revolution which so radically changed the face of many an ancient English borough left Stafford, (the County town of the eighth largest County in England) comparatively untouched. Traditionally it was not an industrial town, for in the main these were centred on coalfields.

Like most of the industries in Stafford, Evode Limited owes its origins to the shoe industry. The boot and shoe industry was, in fact, Stafford's oldest surviving industry until 1998, but the tanneries, whose existence provided the necessary initial impetus, have long since disappeared.

The surrounding countryside was excellent farmland, and as a result a thriving tanning industry, based on the raw materials which this provided, eventually expanded into a flourishing shoe manufacturing industry which became a staple industry of Stafford and Stone. Records show that the industry existed in an organised form from at least 1476, when the Cordwainers Guild agreed trading rules and apprenticeships in Stafford Town.

The origin of the manufacture of footwear as a properly organised industry in Stafford would seem attributable to William Horton, who began his business when he was about 17 years old, he was appointed Mayor of Stafford in 1804, he was also Lieutenant Colonel of the Local Volunteers,

It was this position which gave him contact with Richard Brinsley Sheriden (M.P. for Stafford from 1780 -1806). This brought him so much business that he was able to employ many village shoemakers from the surrounding district. Sheridan assisted Horton through his position as Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and later as Secretary to the treasury. Horton's financial assistance to Sheridan was common knowledge.

Between 1750 to 1800 there was a huge growth in the export of boots and shoes especially towards the end of the century during the wars with France which brought a huge demand from the army. Boots and shoes were exported through London.

In 1825 William Horton purchased Chetwynd House (now main Post Office in Stafford town centre). To the rear of this house he built what is believed to be the first shoe factory in Stafford where the uppers and soles of shoes were cut out then taken by workers to be completed in their own homes.

William Horton died aged 82 on the 24th August 1832.

Chetwynd House in 1912

Source: Stafford Arts & Museum Services

'Out-workers' obtained their leather through Horton, but found their own accessories such as inks, stains, polishes, waxes, abrasives, etc. The finished work was brought into town in wallets thrown over the backs of donkeys, and was paid for in Hortons own token coinage.

Obverse .............................................. Reverse

With Stafford Castle and year 1801 ---- With 'WH' & Staffordshire Knot

source: Barrie Liss

The real foundations of the trade were laid down when William Horton began a shoe and boot factory in Mill Street in Stafford. He showed great business acumen in establishing large scale manufacture and finding markets for his products. During the Napoleonic Wars, Horton was said to have employed directly and indirectly almost a thousand men women and children in Stafford.

The importance of the industry may be gauged from the wording of Sheridan's famous toast:

"May this staple trade of Stafford be trodden underfoot by all the world"

In 1786 there were five shoe manufacturers in the town out of eight principal traders. There was considerable prosperity in this industry until the general depression due to the Napoleonic wars, and this situation was to get worse with the imposition of additional duties on leather in 1812.

At this time William Horton employed less than half his former work force, and wages of skilled workers had decreased from 30/- per week to 10/- per week One of the most important export merchants at that time was Thomas Bell, during the Napoleanic wars Thomas Bell was the main government agent for obtaining shoes for soldiers, he was required to obtain a certain number of shoes as cheaply as possible taking 2œ% commission. In 1812 he supplied 600,000 pairs of shoes, the Government paid 5s. 6d per pair of army shoes.

By 1818 the economic situation had began to improve, and by now there were twenty footwear manufacturing companies in the area, as well as other companies engaged in the trades of tanning and the supply of ancillaries to the boot and shoe industry.

By 1834 there were fifty three footwear manufacturers in Stafford, and the census of 1834 shows that out of a population of 8,500, 800 people were employed in shoe making.

The village out-workers were gathered into workshops as the industry developed, but the work was still done by hand. With the invention of the closing machine in 1847 (for sewing together the toe cap and vamp, stitching linings and inserting eyelets.), began the mechanisation of the industry and its conversion into an industrialised factory trade.

It was the introduction of machinery in the shoe industry that led to the development of the first engineering enterprises in Stafford, e.g. W.H. Dorman and Company ( Dorman Diesel Engines Company) who started with the aim of producing sole cutting knives for the local shoe and boot industry, the factory being situated on the site of a monastery formerly occupied by the monks of the Order of Grey Friars, ( it was only in 1912 that Dormans gave up its original manufacture of press knives for use in the shoe industry) Similarly the manufacture of abrasives by the Universal Grinding Wheel Company arose from the needs of the shoe industry.

Other local industries flourished as a result of the shoe and boot industry, for example, Henry Venables Timber Merchants Ltd., who began his business in the 1850's to supply the shoe manufacturing business in Stafford which was booming at this time.

In October 1855 Edwin Bostock began trials with the sewing machines which had been designed by Elias Howe in America in 1846. The workmen in Stafford opposed their use as they thought they would be forced to work in factories, and the reduction in labour would result in a fall in their standards of living. The machines were withdrawn but by 1858 Stafford was losing trade to towns that were using the machines. By February 1859 the workmen went on strike against the use of the sewing machines, the strike was bitter and protracted. It resulted in more trade being lost to the town.

Letter from the Clerk to the Justices to the Lord Lieutenant (undated)

I am directed to inform you that the Magistrates of this Town on Tuesday considered it their duty to appoint 30 special constables as they did not consider the usual Police Force in the town sufficient if a general quarrel ensue.

The cause of the quarrel is the introduction by a large manufacturer of a sewing machine and the manufacture of what were called 'Pegged Boots' in consequence of which a great number of his workmen refused to work and he has been driven to engage fresh hands, between whom and his old workmen the quarrel has arisen. The former being intimidated and abused by numbers in going to and returning from Mr Bostock's manufactory.

In July 1859 the strike was over, the workers agreed to work on machine sewn tops for an increase in wages of one penny per pair of shoes. During the strike a union of friendly societies and a Manufacturers Association emerged. There is certainly some significance, therefore, that Stafford was the birthplace of The National Union of Boot & Shoe Operatives. After the strike the making of shoe uppers was done in the factories, mainly by women, the shoes were then completed by the men at their homes, some were called 'Stickboys' or 'Stabbers'.

Report by the Children's Employment Commission 1862

"Mr Edwin Bostock, Foregate Street, Stafford conducted me over his factory, and stated that he employed about 200 females there. The hours are from 8.a.m. to 7 p.m. with an hour for dinner at 12.30, and half an hour for tea at 5. For two months or more before my visit they had worked, in one room, until 8.45 p.m. for five days in the week; and in another, where most, about 125 were employed, from 7 a.m. to 8p.m.; in that case they had half an hour for breakfast at 8 a.m. the younger ones of whom there were 9 or 10, about 12 years old, stayed as long as the rest, with one exception, a child of 10, who went at 7 p.m.; she had occasionally, at her own request, stayed later.

His establishment was closed on Christmas Day, Good Friday, and Whit Monday; all were paid by the piece, so much being deducted for the silk used in sewing. In three cases I selected from the wage book, it appeared that in one week one girl earned 24s. 2d., from which 5s. was deducted for silk; the second 21s. 9d. the third, a girl of only 15, 22s. 6œd. in this case 4s. 4d., in the second 5s. 8d., was charged for silk. This was in a week when they worked for five days an hour and a half overtime. In the same hours the earnings of fitters averaged from 8s. to 11s., and the needle women, who sew the linings, from 7s. to 9s. Mr Bostock believed the ultimate tendency of the trade in all places to be in the direction of a factory system; he thought that there were about 1,000 women and girls employed in Stafford, nearly all of whom would be in factories; one third of them might be taken to be machinists, if the proportion in other places was like his own. In his opinion, a half-time system for children under 13 years of age would not cause any serious inconvenience, and might be productive of considerable good, if children came to be employed in greater numbers than they were at present."

Following the boom in exports to Australia, the trade began to decline as Australia began manufacturing their own shoes. During the winter of 1867 short-time working in Stafford led to the Mayor setting up the 'Stafford Relief Distress Fund' which gave assistance to about 800 local people. In 1869 three Stafford shoe manufacturers went bankrupt. However trade picked up in the 1870's and Bostock captured part of the French market for women's shoes, exporting to South America, and trading with Australia and the Far East became easier with the opening of the Suez canal.

In Kendal, in 1863 a dispute involving rivetters and finishers committed the Amalgamated Cordwainers Association to considerable costs, this action began a hostile situation which resulted in the Amalgamated Cordwainers Association Council expelling the rivetters and finishers who then carried on their existence as local societies with very little communication between them.

Then in December 1873, 25 workers from the boot and shoe industry from other parts of the country met in Stafford, the majority were still members of the Amalgamated Cordwainers Association, and all were elected representatives of rivetters and finishers from the 'machine-made' boot and shoe industries. They met to discuss a proposal to form a break away union from the Amalgamated Cordwainers Association which was a craft union concerned with the interests of hand-sewn shoe workers. Once the decision was taken to secede, the breakaway union, formed in Stafford, initially became known as the National Union of Boot and Shoe Rivetters and Finishes.

The General Council at the Amalgamated Cordwainers Association, which had a long history of tradition and craft that had been unchanged for centuries, reacted against the new technical processes being introduced into the shoe industry. However, the Cordwainers leaders urged the members of the Association not to resist any new processes being introduced but 'to accept freely both them and the newcomers to the trade who were working on them, and to accept work on them themselves at whatever wage they could get, preparatory to evolving a new wage structure appropriate to the altered conditions'

By the last quarter of the 19th century the shoe and boot trade in Stafford and Stone was enjoying its best period, especially in exports. (The value of exports in 1875 was £1,350,233).

One lady recollects that her father who worked for Podmores in Browning Street in Stafford would go to the 'hatch' at a warehouse weekly to collect leather to make ladies boots. He worked in the back bedroom of his terraced house in New Street Stafford. The following week the shoes, which had been burnished to improve their appearance, were taken in a pillowcase back to the hatch for the princely wage of seven shillings and sixpence. He never knew what employment was available from one week to the next.

By 1893 there were 36 shoe and boot manufacturers in Stafford, and 9 in Stone, and it was claimed that Stafford had the largest trade of any English town in women's light footwear.

In 1901 the market town of Stafford had a population of 21,000. Cattle markets were held in the main street of the town and local produce was sold in a covered market area.

To the north of Stafford town there was a suburb of shoemakers with its own church, Christchurch. Many shoemakers worked in their own homes, but there were beginning to be small shoe factories springing up, sometimes with housing for the factory workers. In 1901 the original Edwin Bostock shoe factory in Glover Street was burned down. He built a new factory on Sandon Road Stafford shortly after.

Last cattle market May 14th 1909 in Market Square Gaolgate.

Source: Stafford Arts & Museum Services

In 1912 a Stafford lad recollects that he left school at 14 and went to work in the clicking room at Lloyd Evans shoemakers in Wright Street. They wanted him to be an apprentice but he wanted more money so he went to Lotus where he was paid seventeen shillings with two shillings and six pence as a bonus.

In 1914 he heard that volunteers for the Army were being given a £1 note so he enlisted, but when his mother found out, she told the Army his real age and he had to give the £1 note back!

After the First World War ended he went back to Lotus when they opened a factory in George Street. They made Cape Order, high quality black glace leather shoes which went to South Africa. However, when South Africans began to produce these shoes themselves, the factory in George Street closed.

By 1929 the population of Stafford had grown to 29,000 and the following shoemakers were established in Stafford:

Barton & Riley

Edwin Bostock & Co., Ltd

Cook & Co

James Dyche

Arthur Emberton

David Hollin & Co., Ltd

Samuel Johnson & Son

Edward Lloyd & Co.

Mason & Marson Ltd

Fred Mountford

W H Peach & Co., Ltd

C H Riley & Son

John Scott & Co., (Stafford Ltd.)

William Ward & Sons Ltd

St Patrick's Place

Sandon Road

Marsh Street

Marsh Street

188 North Street (Stone Road)

Rowley Street

189 North Street (Stone Road)

Wright Street

10 Sandon Road

71 Greyfriars

Fancy Walk

31 Marston Road

36 Rowley Street

Albert Terrace

In 1932, Spic & Span Shoe Polishes, the forerunner to Evode Ltd was manufacturing shoe polishes for supply to Lotus shoes.

The decline of the trade due to closure in foreign markets, prohibitive import tariffs (such as in Australia), and increased mechanisation in the industry led to many closures over the years, and by 1958 Lotus was the only surviving manufacturer in Stafford and Stone.

With reference to the shoe industry in Stafford, the official Stafford survey, prepared for the Borough Council in 1947 regarding the existence of Evode states:

"This diversity of industry has been increased by the establishment of a chemical manufacturer, in Messrs. Bostocks original works, by the Evode Chemical Company, whose products include polishes, and many other forms of polishes, etc., the manufacture of which employs some 50-60 persons."

In a nutshell, therefore, Spic & Span Shoe Polishes Limited - the forerunner of Evode - was formed because a market existed for the manufacture of shoe polishes for the shoe industry.