Walk 81: Northampton’s Shoe Quarter

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: Less than 1 mile as all compacted into a small area of the town

Time to walk: Can easily be done in 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy – all on hard footpaths & flat

Parking: We used the free 1 hour on road parking in Overstone Road

Public toilets: Couple of pubs en route

Map of the route: 

map

This walk is adapted from one by the Industrial Heritage of Northants & covers a small area of the town that was once prolific with factories associated with the Boot & Shoe Industry (known today as The Boot & Shoe Quarter)

Northampton’s history as a boot & shoe town has been well recognised since the 17th century. It wasn’t, however, until the advent of industrial processes that a significant & lasting effect was seen on the townscape

From the middle of the 19th century, the industry developed with astonishing speed, resulting in the long rows of terraced housing & associated factory buildings & community facilities seen today surrounding the historic core of the town. These areas are very important in showing how the Victorians adapted to a new way of working & living – one centred round the factory

The finest remnants of Northampton’s boot and shoe industry can be found in the area immediately to the north & east of the town centre (around Lower Mounts up to the Racecourse, Abington Square & down to the Billing Road). This area has the highest density of boot & shoe factories, the greatest survival of buildings (around 70%) associated with the industry, & the widest range of building types in the town

The street layout & buildings within this area show the development of the boot & shoe industry from its origins as a home-based craft through to the establishment of single large factories employing whole teams of workers

The conservation area exhibits a number of distinctive features worth preserving. These include long straight streets with regular layout & continuous rooflines, the houses facing immediately on to the street with no front gardens; houses & industrial buildings sitting side by side, as you might expect from an era when most people would have walked to work; factories & specialist workshops of different sizes & types, with houses which are usually two-storey, & factories typically no higher than three; the factory buildings often have elaborate designs to illustrate their importance in the community

A range of social, religious, educational & commercial buildings is intermixed with houses & places of work, providing for all of the community’s needs. Chapels & churches occupy key locations dominating the views along the streets. Corner sites tend to be occupied by significant buildings, including shops, pubs & factory entrances. The houses may appear uniform, but closer inspection reveals subtle differences of size & decoration, indicating the status of worker they were intended to house. Trees or public green open spaces are few. The whole adds up to a distinctive townscape of historical value

We make no excuses that most of the photos in this walk are of buildings, but it’s easy to imagine the days when this was a thriving area. So…

Let’s Walk!

1. We parked just off The Mounts in Overstone Road. The first old factory is no longer there as it was demolished to widen the road in 1970 & has now been replaced by a new building that’s part of Northampton University…

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Started by John Cove in 1854, the business eventually became Cove & West

2. Immediately across the road on the corner of St Michael’s Road & Overstone Road is an impressive old factory that still wears its badges from its heyday…

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This is in fact two shoe factories which later became one. Hornby & West built this factory in 1876. It was extended in 1883 & 1893. G.T. Hawkins’ original factory was built on the corner of Overstone Road & Dunster Road about 1886

Have a walk alongside the impressive building which is sadly now in disarray…

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The doorway with Walkerz Works on the lintel still survives

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By 1899 they had built an extension in Dunster Street & a 4 story block in St Michaels Road. About 1912 Hawkins took over Hornsby & West & the whole block became a single factory. Hawkins became famous for making walking & climbing boots, as well as making military footwear. They closed in 2000. Planning permission has been given for conversion into apartments

3. Walk back round & down St Michael’s Road…

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Across the road’s a 10 bay, 3 storey factory that was built in 1887. It was originally occupied by boot manufacturer James Branch & then by Beale & Co. Have a look up at the doors at the top of each end of the building – the gibs for the cranes are still thereIMG_5803

4. Continue down St Michael’s Road to No’s 56-60…the home of one of today’s most famous boot & shoe companies…Trickers

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One of the longest established shoemakers in England, RE Tricker Limited was founded in 1829 by Joseph Tricker. A reputation for outstanding manufacturing quality, established Tricker’s as the maker of choice for heavy country boots & shoes to farm & estate owners and the landed gentry

The new Tricker’s factory, located at 56-60 St Michael’s Rd, Northampton, opened it’s doors in 1904

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The same factory is still the base for all Tricker’s manufacture today. While traditional manufacturing processes have changed over time, their commitment to making shoes & boots of outstanding quality has remained the same & Tricker’s men & women can perform specialist operations which many other welted manufacturers cannot

However…today this factory is better known all around the world for a different kind of boots…

5. Next door’s another factory that was used by Pollard & Son until the 1970s & is now part of Trickers

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Carry on down the street passing one of the old buildings that’s now been converted into a Buddhist Temple

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6. Past this on the same side is the Business Centre

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This 3 storey factory was built in 1890. By 1908 it was the leather warehouse of AE Roadhouse. Next door is another factory, initially the Pedestrian Boot Factory of George Weed. In latter days it became a grocery warehouse

7. This part of the town’s always been fascinating & eclectic & we love it!

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Across the road is Chaplins Stage School which is in a T-shaped boot factory built in 1890 for HJ Bateman. Between 1910-1930 it was used by Northampton Machinery Company

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8. Turn left into another of the town’s great streets…Kettering Road. Here you can buy every spice under the sun! Love it!

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 On the left’s the gateway to Dickens Bros who were leather dressers. It was built in 1900 & is still one of only two leather companies left in our county. They’re one of the UK’s oldest established leather manufacturers & merchants

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 9. We’d love to stay on Kettering Road longer as we love their asian shops, but need to turn left down Grove Road

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This is an area of the town we really don’t know that well & never knew about the existence of this wonderful old cinema…

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The Vaudeville Electric Theatre opened in early March 1920. It was a conversion from a former chapel. The manager was a Captain W.H Richards. The projectors were manufactured by the local engineering firm, Bassett-Lowke. Redesigned in 1929/30, it reopened in March 1930 as the Regal Super Cinema with a reconstructed frontage. In 1931 the proprietor was Mabel Norfolk & the cinema claimed to have 1,000 seats. In 1945 it became part of the Southan Morris circuit before being taken into the Essoldo fold in 1954. Following closure on 25th February, 1956, it re-opened, now equipped with CinemaScope, & renamed the Essoldo on 13th March 1956 showing Trevor Howard in “Cockleshell Heroes”

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The Essoldo closed on 3rd August 1968 with Richard Todd in “The Dam Busters” & Kenneth Moore in “Reach For the Sky”. A few days later it re-opened under the control of the Cipin brothers who had recently closed the Plaza Cinema on Wellingborough Road. The re-opening films at newly re-named Cinema were Fred MacMurray in “Follow Me Boys” & “Geronimo’s Revenge”. A bingo club licence was soon granted & films were gradually reduced to screenings on school holidays. It was then known as the Plaza Bingo Club

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Following the end of cinema & bingo, the place was gutted to form a skateboard centre & roller disco, then a laser games centre & gymnasium. At this time, the letters ‘PER’ & ‘EMA’ could still be read on the front, a leftover from the Regal modifications. When all this ceased, a local builder purchased it & converted the whole building into a residential development known as ‘The Plaza’, with a restored façade, including the carved ‘Programme’ feature above the central ground floor window. Sadly, the stained glass circular windows disappeared during the refurbishment. The premises have been occupied since completion in 2006

10. Continue down Grove Road to the junction with Clare Road where on the left’s Grove Works, a 15 x 6 bay 3 story shoe factory built in 1890 & occupied by GM Tebbutt & busy until the 1970s

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Over the road’s one of the best unknown Irish Pubs in the town…The Swan & Helmet

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11. Turn left along Clare Street…

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…& walk past corner with Overstone Road which we’ll return to in a bit

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12. On the right’s yet another building we never knew was in Northampton…the TA HQ

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This building was built as an armoury in 1859. It was built following the 1852 reform of the Miltia (related to the impending Crimean War). It was to provide a secure & defensible store for the local regiment

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It’s one of a number of decorative barracks which were intended to act as a focus of local pride & to assist in filling the regiment’s quota of recruits. The drill hall was probably added to provide space for drilling in wet weather. It was also used from 1942 under the Defended Localities system during World War Two. It has since become a Territorial Army Centre

13. On the corner of Clare Street & Earl Street’s a factory that dates back to 1888 & was the home of Fred Juggins until 1894 & then Allison’s shoe factory until 1982

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At the end of this street is another Northampton institution…Wolfies Cafe

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If you want a really good, value for money, breakfast or lunch then this is a great cafe

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14. About turn now people & walk back past The Cuckoo’s Nest pub…

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…turning right down Overstone Road where we left our car at the far end – we told you this was a compact walk. The building we passed earlier was built for Kerridge Bothers in 1877, before being occupied by Joseph Dawson from 1889 – 1920s. It was later used by Leicester company Brevitt Shoe Co

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15. Overstone Road’s got a great deal of history tied to it. Look closely & you’ll see much evidence of it…

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On the right at No. 73 is what used to be a 4 storey building that was reduced to 3 by a fire in 1902. It was occupied by James Collier, a leather currier, in 1884 & was then taken over by a gold blocker, Glover & Barnes in 1906

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16. Across the road’s another of Northampton’s noted pubs & one that is becoming more & more renowned for it’s food, especially Sunday lunches…The Lamplighter

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It might not be the biggest menu in the world, but what they do they do well

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17. Continue to the corner of Overstone Road & Dunster Street on the left…

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Built in 1880, this was a 3 storey leather dressing factory & used buy several leather dressing companies. In the 60’s & 70’s it became home to a bedding company

18. Turn left down Dunster Street…

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Down here on the right’s the massive site of Globe Leather Works, with 13 bays & 3 storeys plus a basement

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Note the Dutch style architecture built around 1888. It was occupied by James Collier for around 60 years

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19. Dunster Street’s a real example of what we mentioned earlier with the terraced houses being built around the factory & community. Further down on the right’s a range of buildings that were leather factories…

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20. About turn again & head back to Overstone Road…

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…turning left at the end to where we parked. Across the road (& we didn’t spot it when we parked) is the final factory in this walk at No. 113

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Another factory built in the 1880s & initially used as a shoe factory, it then became a warehouse of the Linen Thread Company

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So that’s the end of a very short walk in a very small area of Northampton that we’ve now realised we didn’t know very well!

17 shoes factories, an art-deco cinema & a military style fort. What will our town throw up next?

Go Walk!