The search is on for the Norwich shoemakers
PUBLISHED: 13:49 06 February 2012
An appeal has been launched for the city shoe workers to step forward and be part of a new book telling the story of the Norwich shoe trade.
The extraordinary story of the rise and fall of the Norwich shoe industry – once a way of life for thousands of men and women – is being told in a new book.
This is the latest project by a group of people with a passionate love of Norwich, who have already produced wonderful books about the city yards, the market and now the pubs and breweries.
The new book by the Norwich Heritage Projects, Norwich Pubs and Breweries Past and Present, is still a local bestseller, and is packed with tales from both sides of the bar.
Now the double act behind the books, Frances and Michael Holmes, are out of the pubs and into the shoe factories... and are appealing for your help. “We need to reach out to the people and ask for their support, their memories, their photographs and anything they have which can help us tell the story of the Norwich boot and shoe industry,” said Frances.
Norwich Heritage Projects is a voluntary organisation which is self-funding – a small group of dedicated volunteers whose aim is to bring life to Norwich’s rich heritage – and it is doing just that.
Each year it takes on a new project which culminates in a new book and a website and this year it is turning its attention to the world of boots and shoes.
It wasn’t that long ago that Norwich was still was one of the leading centres of shoe making in the land.
There were factories, large and small, dotted around the city turning out millions of pairs of shoes every year.
Generations of the same family followed each other into the shoe trade and in the early days many people worked from home preparing parts of the shoes before they were made up in the factories and sent all over the world.
“Made in Norwich” was a symbol of quality footwear and our city was home to some of the most highly respected manufacturers in the land.
One of the first shoemakers in the city was James Smith later to be James Southall and Co with premises on the Market Place now covered by City Hall.
He started up in business in 1792 and was a cordwainer (leather worker) and the first shoemaker in the country to offer ready-made, off-the-peg footwear that people could afford.
Slowly but surely the business expanded and factories emerged that would transform the city into a major shoemaker.
That first business started by James became Start-rite, represented by those world famous twins, and their shoes were worn by young members of the Royal Family.
The Norwich head office is the heart of the business while the shoes are made overseas.
It is regarded as the oldest children’s shoe company in England and a household name across the world.
New chairman and managing director Peter Lamble represents the eighth generation of the company’s founding family.
But for most of the shoe firms, the pack of cards came tumbling down during the 1970s when most of the factories, unable to compete with cheap imports, closed their doors, throwing thousands of people out of a trade in which they had spent their lifetime.
The last major shoemaker producing footwear in the city, Van Dal, part of the Florida Group, celebrated its 75th birthday last year with a reunion inspired by the Evening News.
The Florida Group began making shoes in Norwich 75 years ago but the company’s history stretches back to 1870.
Over 140 years ago the grandfather of its current chairman, Simon Goodman, started making shoes working as a clicker in London.
Adelman Goodman was a refugee from Belarus with an ambition to make something of himself – and he moved with his family to Norwich in the 1930s.
The story of the Norwich shoe trade is one waiting to be told. It is a mayor part of the history of this city – once one of the most important centres of shoemaking in the land.
Can you help with the stories?
If you can help with any memories, photographs or other memorablia linked to the Norwich shoe trade, then Frances and Michael Holmes would love to hear from you.
And let’s not forgot the smaller factories, others connected to the trade and those working at home. Others worked in the shoe shops.
They all had an important role to play and should get the credit they deserve.
Did you, or members of your family, work in a shoe factory?
What stories can you tell?
Do you have any pictures of life in the factory or perhaps of outings or social events?
Remember this book will be your book and the authors want to hear your memories.
You can call them on 01603 455798 or email firstname.lastname@example.org