Rossendale Slipper and Shoe Industry
Industrial growth within the Rossendale Valley commenced with the woollen industry, which developed later to include the cotton industry. This led to the development of the essential link of the railway. The first rail link to Rawtenstall was completed in 1848 which, by 1852 extended to Bacup.
The cotton industry was slowing down and it was coming to the end of what were known as the golden years. Vacated cotton Mills were taken over by the shoe manufacturing industry.
The shoe trade evolved from the felt industry. Felt was introduced in the area by Edward Rostron of Leeds in 1854. Felt carpets were made in Leeds and were sent to Mirtle Grove Mill in Rossendale for dying and printing. Soon afterwards Mirtle Grove Mill was used to manufacture felt. At the time felt block printers made rough wrappings out of used pieces of felt and covered their feet when they were walking over the felt pieces to avoid spoiling the work. This was the start of making crude slippers. Below the felt pieces that make up the slipper.
John William Rothwell was the first to start producing slippers in 1874. He collected remnants of felt from his uncle Henry Rothwell at Bridge End Mill. He started his business with 4 people using printed felt for the uppers and saddle felt for the soles.
Samuel McLerie, was a cannie Scot, who was a foreman at Bridge End works, he started by making slippers at home. When in 1876 Henry Rothwell’s business failed, it gave an opportunity for McLerie to step into his shoes. McLerie took over the disused Holt Mill in Whitewell Bottom, and developed a large and prosperous slipper business.
In 1879 John Rothwell went into partnership with James Gregory and called it Gregory and Co., but after a few months he left and went back to block printing. It was rumoured he helped start about 8 slipper firms.
Henry Whittaker Trickett left school at the age of eight. (1865) He attended St James Night School, and for a number of years he had a variety of jobs. In 1881 he joined Gregory & Co as a traveller, he stayed with them for 2 years. After that time he borrowed money from his uncle and started his own business with 6 people . 6 years later he bought a rundown mill at Gaghills for £1,000. By 1900 he was employing over a 1,000 people and producing 72,000 shoes per week. His factory was the first to run off electricity, powered by two steam engines they were named after his two daughters Elsie and Janie.
Henry Trickett travelled overseas and set up offices in Paris, Hamburg, Bucharest, Cape Town, Cairo and Kingston Jamaica by 1906 He was knighted in 1909 in recognition of his services as a Alderman and Mayor and his industrial achievements.
Sir Henry Whittaker Trickett was an entrepeneur of his day, he was a man of integrity, a Godly man, he held prayer meetings at 5am in the morning on Waterfoot Station with his travellers.
He was 5 times Mayor and a Justice of the Peace. He was the first to have a profit and share scheme. He bought the first car in Rossendale 1902. He built Gaghills house,and he bought a house in St Anne’s by the sea. In 1903 his daughter was married they had a celebration that lasted for 2 days. She married James Ashworth from Ashlands, their wedding present was a house Ashville on Haslingden Road. His last public engagement was a meeting with King George and Queen Mary in 1913 he died in August of the same year aged 56. Henry Trickett was buried in Waterbarn Baptist Church yard.
Lambert Howarth & Sons came into being in 1887. Lambert and Betsy started their business in School Street, Whitewell Bottom. Betsy had a drapery business before she married Lambert who had been an auctioneer. In 1910 they were a Private Limited Company. 1918 Lambert died, his 2 sons came into the business and split the Company into two parts; Charles Frederick took the footwear and William the drapery. Charles had 2 sons Clifford and Frederick, Clifford joined in 1920 then Frederick in 1926 and the fourth generation James joined in 1965.
In 1969 the company went public. In 1970 Lambert Howarth Group p.l.c bought Ronaldsway Shoe Company in the Isle of Man, 40,000 shoes were produced per week.
Lambert Howarth Group p.l.c produced 10 million pair’s of shoes per year and at one stage employed 2,500 people and was one of the first companies to supply Marks & Spencer’s with footwear.
Supplied to retail: M & S, British Shoe Corporation, mail order and many large wholesale companies.
The Rossendale Valley Shoe Industry at its peak employed between 50 and 60,000 people producing the everyday shoes that most people wear. Kay Shoes of Kendal and Clark Shoes produced a more expensive shoe range.
In the 1980’s the shoe trade in Rossendale began to decline, Cheap imports from the Far East undermined the industry. The rising costs of this labour intensive industry plus the energy required to produce the shoes has been its downfall.
Today there is little sign in Rossendale of the once thriving shoe industry, only a few small specialist companies produce footwear like wedding shoes, using modern machine technology 10 people can produce 1,200 pairs of shoes in an 8 hour shift.
A few supporting industries remain: box and knife making companies .
Most of the old mills that have survived have been sectioned into small business units. These now are struggling to be filled as many small businesses have closed down due to our present economic climate.
The main Lambert Howarth’s Mill along with several other mills have been demolished to make way for housing. Ilex mill has been converted into flats and Hardman’s mill into offices.
Lambert Howarth Group in 1962 bought Greenbridge Mill, today it is now the home of the Footwear Museum.
Kind acknowledgments to Mr Brian Warburton retired Director of Wholesale Retail Lambert Howarth Group p.l.c Shoe Manufacturers and founder of the Footwear Museum, Rawtenstall. Pictures taken at the Footwear Museum May 2012.