Craftsmanship, whatever form it takes, requires hard work, detail, and creativity. Take the British shoe manufacturer, they know their craft, their materials, the science of build, and the art of style. It is no surprise, therefore, that when I am asked for shoe recommendations – increasingly so – I will rattle off a list of Northamptonshire shoemakers – England’s traditional shoemaker hub. The shoemakers listed below will readily fill that list, depending on your needs and budget, but all employ methods and materials, including the Goodyear welt construction, that results in a quality shoe that can serve your feet for decades if cared for appropriately. The focus is on ‘ready to wear’ shoes, not bespoke, although several listed below do both.
For brevity, this blog post is divided into three parts. Part I and II is squarely focussed on the shoemakers and listed in alphabetical order. In Part III you will learn where to find these shoes in Australia and a small discussion on the best brands for your budget.
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History: Established in 1899 and still a family-run, Northampton business.
Interesting fact: They’ve been making welted shoes in the same workshop since 1913. Alfred Sargent also produces the 1966 line of shoes for online shoe retailer Herring, which has lifted the quality of Herring’s shoe range considerably.
What to expect: Once considered the economical choice to other Northampton brands like Crockett & Jones and Edward Green, the brand spiralled into a bit of a rut, but more recently it has overhauled just about everything and now focuses on a more exclusive market with two quality lines: their Handgrade Line (made-to-order) and Executive Line.
From the pocket: Prices start from $550 AUD for their Executive Line and $1,000 AUD for their Handgrade Line.
History: Barker has been a dependable shoe manufacturer since 1899 and is an excellent choice for those venturing into the World of the welted shoe.
Interesting fact: Barker is now owned by an ‘International Group’, but has kept its manufacturing in Northampton and its focus squarely on quality English welted-shoes.
What to expect: Barker offers seven lines of shoes, with the professional collection being their most well-known and entry-level line. One can pick up a pair for as low as $300 AUD. Of course, you can’t expect a bespoke shoe, and you will want to avoid their corrected-grain leathers, but for the price, a comparatively superior choice given many cemented shoes compete in this price range. Barker also offers a higher-grade line in their Anniversary collection, for the gent who appreciates hand cut uppers and fine aniline dyed calf skins.
From the pocket: Professional line starts at $300 AUD to $880 AUD for their Anniversary line.
JOSEPH CHEANEY & SONS
History: Joseph Cheaney & Sons (a.k.a Cheaney) has been around since 1886. Cheaney has remained British to its roots and while many other Northampton shoe manufacturers have outsourced parts of production overseas, Cheaney has kept it all in Britain, purportedly from start to finish.
Interesting Fact: Cheaney was purchased by Church's (see below) in the 1960s. When Church's was sold to Prada in 1999, Cheaney became somewhat of a rudderless ship, floating along, fulfilling private contracts and bearly staying afloat. Then in 2009, two Church cousins, William and Jonathan, purchased Cheaney and put wind in its sails. In 2016 Cheaney won the Queen’s Award for International Trade for continuous growth in overseas sales over the past six years.
What to expect: Cheaney often fly below the radar but offer some very good quality welted shoes, especially at entry-level. They manufacture 8 shoe lines, including a ‘Veldtschoen’ construction line. Each shoe takes eight days to produce and involves 160 separate stages.
Price: From $400 AUD to $650 AUD
History: One of Northampton’s most well-known shoe manufacturers. Church’s was founded in 1873, with shoemaking roots going back as far as 1675.
Interesting fact: They were the first shoemaker to introduce the left and right shoe in different widths and half-sizes. Technically no longer ‘British,’ Church’s was bought by Prada in 1999 but still make most of their shoes in Northampton. The brand received a reputational battering when their shoe range took on a Milan-inspired fashionista patina, but they appear to have rediscovered their le style Anglais.
What to expect: By refusing to be hidebound by tradition, Church’s have tapped into whole new markets with brave new lines, such as posh sneakers, slippers, and flip-flops. But Church’s is best known for its ever-popular Oxford style and Church’s Consul Oxford on 173 last remains its best-selling shoe. If polished leather is your thing, their Bookbinder leather is arguably the best on the market.
Prices: $650AUD +
CROCKETT & JONES
History: Since 1879, Crockett & Jones has solidified its place as the heavy-weight on the Northampton scene. They also supplied extensively to Australia from 1910 to well into the twentieth century.
Interesting fact: Still family owned. James Bond’s shoe of choice. Enough said.
What to expect: Their high-end Handgrade Collection is seen by many-a-shoe-enthusiast as heels and toes above the rest. Using supple tannage uppers from the finest calf skins, detailed stitching and symmetric shaped lasts, a pair of these shoes will set you back a pretty penny but are viewed by many as the premium ‘off-the-shelf’ shoe on the market. Their Main Line Collection is the more economical, but no less impressive, choice and possesses an extensive range of styles and materials – in part catering to a younger clientele and the ‘Cool Biz’ sector – but still with a premium on quality and priced accordingly.
History: From apprentice to master, Edward Green established his workshop in Northampton in 1890. His aim was to produce the highest quality shoes, which he achieved. “Excellence without compromise” is the motto that the Edward Green company has aspired towards in the 118 years since.
Interesting Fact: Edward Green’s welted footwear have graced the feet of such people as the Duke of Windsor, Ernest Hemingway, and Cole Porter. They were also the largest supplier of Officer’s boots for the British Army during the 1930s, but today their focus is squarely on quality over quantity and only produce around 325 pairs a week.
What to expect: 12 stitches to the inch, channel closing, the finest leathers and micro-focus to the shape and finish of the last. It is this attention-to-detail and a more laborious manufacturing process that sets Edward Green from its Northampton counterparts. Their Dover (split toe) shoes remain one of their more popular items, particularly on the 606 last, and their hallmark light burnishing ads a splash of complexity to the full-grain leather. Prices are at the higher-end, and one could make a case that there are comparatively better-priced options around, but one cannot deny that Edward Green manufacture some of the better ‘ready-to-wear’ shoes in England.
Cost: Average price starts at around $1,700 AUD
This is part one of the best shoemakers in England series. If you've worn any of the brands listed above, let us know your experience in the comments below.