Wm. Lennon – Bootmakers.

January 16, 2018 | 0 Comments | Filed under: 2018, February 2018

Wm. Lennon & Co. – Bootmakers.

(The last heavy duty boot manufacturer in the U.K.)
Tideswell Local History Club were treated to a very heroic story when, at their January meeting, Libs Slattery (being the great granddaughter of the founder) gave a superb account of this courageous little firm.

William’s parents had died of T.B. in 1884 when he was only 11 years old. He then had to be brought up in an orphanage in Chorlton until he was sent out here as an apprentice to Joseph Heginbotham. At that time there were at least 9 companies in the boot trade in Stoney Middleton, with a big demand coming from the quarries and mines. He married Charlotte Goddard in 1895 and it is said that she took in lodgers to help to pay for the machinery that he needed to start up on his own in the old corn mill (they are still there today). He eventually bought the building for £450, which included a £250 mortgage that was not paid off until 1936. Electricity did not arrive in Stoney until 1933; up until then, the factory had been powered by a Rushton paraffin engine. The tannery at Grindleford supplied the hides and casting companies in Leeds and Sheffield provided the hob-nails and ‘horseshoe’ heels.

However, by the 1950s new regulations concerning industrial safety footwear meant that the firm had to install new vulcanising machines to bond the uppers on to the heat resisting rubber soles and steel toecaps had to be fitted. This meant that the old sole stitching and screwing machine had to be mothballed (for the next 40 years!). This new process could produce 600 pairs of safety boots per week, but by the 1980s, cheap imports from the Far East were severely affecting sales. Having to source adhesives from Spain and steel toe-caps from China didn’t help. By this time, nearly all of Lennon’s competitors (including some very big firms) had gone out of business.

So, with great dexterity, Lennon’s started to make bespoke boots for discerning customers with choices of leather, colour, styles, thread and eyelets which led to orders from well-known figures such as Monty Don, Ant and Dec and Brad Pitt. For re-enactors, Leslie Lennon fired up the old mothballed machines, found out the original knives and lasts and made WW1 replica boots (which were later used in the Downton Abbey trench warfare scenes).

Thanks very much Libs for a really tremendous evening and everyone is invited to join us again on Thursday February 8th at 8pm. in the Institute when Ellen Outram will be telling us about the curiosities of the Peak District.

Brian Woodall

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