Made in Northampton: The History of British Shoemaking

By Amy Wakeham

4 months ago

The finest men's shoes, made in the Midlands


Discover the history of Northampton shoemaking, and the brands keeping the heritage alive for a new audience of luxury shoe lovers today.

The Story of Northampton Shoemaking

Joseph Cheaney & Sons

The Joseph Cheaney & Sons factory in Northampton 1990

Northampton, in the heart of the Midlands, has been the home of UK shoemaking since as early as the 12th century. The town happens to be perfectly placed for all the raw materials needed for the tanning process that’s essential for leather shoes: cattle, oak bark, and water from the River Nene, which flows through the heart of the town. Northampton is also ideally positioned in the centre of the country, close to London and Birmingham, and on the road to both Wales and the North.

According to the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery, King John was the town’s first known royal patron, stopping off to buy a pair of boots in 1213. 

Then, in 1642, a large order was placed to kit out England’s army with 600 pairs of boots and 4,000 pairs of shoes, which established the town at the heart of the country’s shoemaking industry. According to the 1841 census, there were 1,821 shoemakers working in the town at that point.

In the mid-19th century, a new technology called Goodyear welting emerged that transformed the Northampton shoe industry forever – and became synonymous with luxury British shoemaking. Goodyear welting machines not only sped up the making process, but the technique also allows shoes to be resoled several times over their lifespan without damaging the leather upper. 

Today, the UK makes six million pairs of shoes each year, nearly half of which are exported. Northampton shoes have become synonymous with quality, durability and classic British style, and are worn by royalty (King Charles is a fan) and action stars (James Bond wears Crockett & Jones) alike.

Here are three leading Northampton shoemakers keeping the craft alive in 2024.

Crockett & Jones

Man standing on a rock

Started in 1871, Crockett & Jones is still owned and managed to this day by the descendants of brothers-in-law James Crockett and Charles Jones. The brand kitted out Ernest Shackleton on his 1914 Endurance expedition, and made 600,000 boots on the outbreak of the First World War; during the Second World War, the company contributed a million boots. A favourite of King Charles’, Crockett & Jones received its Royal Warrant in 2017. crockettandjones.com

Edward Green

Edward Green Great British Brands 2024

The brand’s eponymous founder started out as a shoemaking apprentice aged 12; he established his own workshop in 1890, gathering around him Northampton’s most skilled craftspeople. ‘Excellence without compromise,’ was his motto, which still guides the brand today. Its 60 skilled artisans make around 350 pairs of shoes a week, using the finest French and Italian calfskin. edwardgreen.com

Joseph Cheaney & Sons

Cheaney

After being founded by Joseph Cheaney in 1886, the company made shoes exclusively for international retailers, branded to their individual company requirements as was common as the time. In 1967, the brand launched its own-name brand, to great success in the UK and abroad. It was bought in 2009 by cousins Jonathan and William Church, who are working to continue its legacy of craftsmanship. cheaney.co.uk