Celebrating the iconic Dr. Martens brand

Pictures by Alison Bagley

Pictures by Alison Bagley

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This brand may have been born in Germany, but it was made famous in Wollaston.

While boots have been made in Cobb’s Lane in Wollaston since 1901, the Dr. Martens brand is probably what the site is best known for.

The Northants Telegraph was invited to take a tour of the factory in Wollaston and see how Dr. Martens are made.

It all started with the Griggs family, who had been making boots for six decades before the Dr. Martens boot was born.

But it was Dr Klaus Maertens, a 25-year-old solicitor in Munich, who was convalescing from a broken foot when he created an air-cushioned sole to aid his recovery who really got the ball rolling on this.

He made a prototype and went into partnership with an old university friend and mechanical engineer Dr Herbert Funk.

The pair used disused military supplies to begin producing their shoes and by 1947 they began formal production.

Within a decade, business was booming and in 1959 they decided to advertise their footwear invention in overseas magazines.

Back in England in 1960, the Griggs company was now being run by the third generation of the family, Bill, with brothers Ray and Colin and son Max, and they spotted the advert in a shoe trade magazine.

After getting an exclusive licence and making a few key changes, the boots were branded as ‘Airwair’ and came complete with a black and yellow heel loop featuring the brand name and the slogan ‘With Bouncing Soles’.

Taking its name from the date of its inception – April 1, 1960 – the eight-holed 1460 Dr. Martens boot had arrived.

Despite tweaks and additions over time as trends come and go, the boot itself has hardly changed and still continues to be one of the main players in the footwear field.

The history of the Dr. Martens brand is something its team at Wollaston are very proud of, including pictures of members of the Griggs family as you go into reception at the Cobb’s Lane site. As you walk through to the factory floor there are boots from several eras, showing how the colours and designs have changed from one decade to the next but the sole of the brand remains the same.

Machinery from back in the day is on display, including the original clocking in machine which workers would have used at the start and end of their shifts.

About 40 people now work in the Wollaston factory, many of whom are local to the area, and they work in four different areas – the clicking, closing, lasting and shoe rooms.

Steve Bent, UK production manager for Dr. Martens based at the Wollaston site, said: “Everybody here is so skilful.

“They make it look easy, but this stuff really is crafted and everyone here is multi-skilled.”

While some people have worked at the Wollaston factory for 20 or 30 years, there is a real cross-section of ages represented there and Steve said this has been helped by its apprenticeship scheme, for which it gets applications from across the country.

The scheme has led to a number of apprentices securing permanent positions with Dr. Martens.

While it hasn’t always been plain sailing for the firm, its boots which are known for their unique sole, yellow stitching and heel loop have stood the test of time and look to continue adorning the feet of celebrities as well as people who just love them.

With shoes and brogues now featuring alongside the original boot within the Dr. Martens brand, which also has a Made in England collection, the future is looking good for the company.

But even with such global success and a large portion of its sales coming from outside the UK, Wollaston remains at the heart of the business which is helping keep Northamptonshire firmly on the shoe-making map.