Northampton | The Cradle of Shoe Civilization

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“Finishing” is the dirtiest word in high-end footwear. As shoe companies have exported their production to China or Bangladesh or any other country where the production practices are as questionable as the quality of the shoes, many English, Italian, and American brands have begun to exploit a convenient loophole when it comes to marking the country of origin. A shoe might be almost entirely produced overseas, but if it is “finished” in England then that company is free to tack on a “Made in England” label.

What exactly is finishing? Well in some cases it means that the shoe is completed in England – pieces are stitched together, the sole is affixed, etc. but in some cases it means that the shoe was finished and little more than the laces were added in England. Of course, countries have now begun to crack down on this, and it’s not exactly clear how many companies have taken advantage of these loose guidelines, but it’s enough to make savvy shoe-buyers weary. As a result, that “Made in England” tag no longer holds as much weight as it once did. Customers now want greater clarity on the exist origin of their footwear, which has narrowed the scope of “Made in England,” down to one area in particular: Northampton.

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What Naples is for soft-shouldered sportcoats, Northampton is for leather dress shoes. Located seventy miles north of London, Northampton has been the cradle of brogued wingtips and cap-toed boots since as early as the 1200’s when King John supposedly ordered a pair of boots from a local cobbler. Location has always been the key for Northampton – it’s situated near the River Nene, surrounded by oak-wood forests which aid in the tanning process and provide easy access to thick timbers which are perfect for those hardy British soles. It was this positioning which helped to build Northampton up as the heart of England’s high-end dress shoe industry, but it was also what lead to the town’s downfall in the 1980’s.

As companies realized that their customers cared less about quality and more about frugality, they began to ship their shoe production overseas and so many of Northampton’s once busy factories were put out of business. Those that did weather this rocky period have found success on the other side, as customers from around the world not only value that “Made in England” tag, but have also taken a vested interest in the careful cobbling and high-quality materials that distinguish a Northampton made shoe. Northampton might not have as many shoe manufacturers today as it once did, but those that remain are as busy as ever. Here’s seven of Northampton’s finest – those that maintain the town’s legacy, and carve out its future so that men will never have to settle for shoes that are merely “finished” in England.

CJ1 CJ

Crockett & Jones founded in 1879

Grenson1 Grenson

Grenson founded in 1866

Trickers1 Trickers

Tricker’s founded in 1829

Sargent2 Sargent

Alfred Sargent founded in 1899

Cheaney1 Cheaney

Joseph Cheaney & Sons founded in 1886

Green1 Green

Edward Green founded in 1890

Churchs1 Churchs

Church’s founded in 1873

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Sanders founded in 1873


Comments on “Northampton | The Cradle of Shoe Civilization

    Johnny Boyon November 5, 2014 @ 12:08 AM:

    The most money I’ve ever spent on a pair of shoes was a pair of Tricker’s brown brogues about 5 years ago. Worth every penny.

    Daveon November 5, 2014 @ 5:14 AM:

    No mention of Loakes? Founded in 1881 and transparently splitting their production between India and England.

    BlueTrainon November 5, 2014 @ 6:01 AM:

    While “Made in England” may be important to some people, to an American, it’s still an imported product.

    peteon November 5, 2014 @ 7:42 AM:

    Funny thing you mention Grenson because I know for a fact that they are doing this since that new guy took over a few years ago. They’ve probably been the most mentioned british footwear brand on all the menswear blogs and the heritage and authentic what have you crowd and they have no clue what’s behind the product.

    tomiskinkyon November 5, 2014 @ 10:43 AM:

    Don’t forget also, that there is a sport shoe manufacturer who also produces their shoes entirely in England, check out Norman Walsh.

    http://www.normanwalshuk.com/

    Jon November 5, 2014 @ 11:03 AM:

    *Ahem* – where are Grenson’s made? Think they have a nice office in Northampton…

    Jorgeon November 5, 2014 @ 3:04 PM:

    Grenson manufactures some of their footwear overseas- their product clearly states it when such is the case.

    Quiequeggon November 5, 2014 @ 6:38 PM:

    Situation seems to be slightly more complex. For instance, Grenson has a range of shoes made in India, along with English made ones. And it is all explained below :

    http://www.permanentstyle.co.uk/2014/10/tim-little-and-grenson-explained.html#.VFqyfsu9KK0

    Robert Easthopeon November 6, 2014 @ 1:09 PM:

    There is no doubt that Grenson are not made in England. I am not sure where Barkers are made either.
    I think there is certainly a pecking order in terms of quality, right at the top is Edward Green, probably the finest you can buy, followed by Crockett and Jones, Trickers make excellent brogues.
    The best value for money and probably the most design led and forward thinking are Cheaneys. I think this company will go from strength to strength.
    I live 30 miles from these factories and they are a joy to behold. I also think you cannot buy a better loafer than the Alden cordovan, nothing in the UK comes close.

    Matthew Pikeon November 12, 2014 @ 5:14 AM:

    I do think Loake is worth a mention, having been to both the Loake and Grenson factories in North’amps I’ve seen both in action. Loake are very open about where they make their footwear and are mostly make in UK. They realise Italians generally do the best driving shoes so they get theirs made in Italy. Grenson only produce a very small % of their collection in England (I’d guess 15%), their top line stuff. I’m not knocking either but I feel Loake are probably left behind sometimes as their designs aren’t as progressive as Grenson – but for me Loake shoes are by far better quality.

    Petricon November 13, 2014 @ 5:49 PM:

    Is it frowned upon to purchase one of the more progressive designs in the G:Two collection from Grenson just because they’re finished in India?

    Owenon November 26, 2014 @ 2:57 PM:

    So sick of reading articles talking about shoes Made in England and then seeing Grenson mentioned. The vast majority of their shoes are G-Two and the info is right there on their website: “In order that we can make Grenson shoes accessible to people who want to wear our shoes but don’t feel the need for incredibly high levels of specification in G-ZERO and G-ONE, we developed the G-TWO spec. Designed by us in our studio, lasts developed in the UK by us, patterns developed by our pattern makers, leathers sourced by our leather buyer, prototypes made in our factory to final sign off and then taken to our partner, a beautiful handmade factory in India where they are made and shipped back to us for inspection and final polishing where required. These shoes represent the most incredible value for money, every bit a Grenson shoe, at a price that doesn’t require a mortgage.”

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