Northampton's shoe heritage is alive and kicking as first new factory in decades opens to fanfare

A new chapter in Northampton's shoemaking heritage began yesterday when the town's first new factory in decades opened its doors.

Thursday, 25th October 2018, 6:08 pm
Updated Friday, 26th October 2018, 10:15 am
The Foster & Son factory is the first of its kind to open in Northampton in decades.
The Foster & Son factory is the first of its kind to open in Northampton in decades.

At £5,000 a pair for bespoke designs, Foster & Son have been outfitting those of a discerning taste with some of the finest hand-crafted footwear from its workshop near St James Palace since 1840.

But now, for the first time in the firm's 180 years of history, they have made the move into creating its own line of ready-to-wear shoes - and has chosen Northampton as the home of its first factory.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony in St James Mill Road yesterday (October 25) marked the opening of the first new shoemaking factory to launch in the town in decades.

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Foster & Son chairman Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson and Lord Lieutenant David Liang cut the ribbon.

Chairman Richard Edgecliffe-Johnson said: "It's been a long, long time since anyone opened a new shoe factory in Northampton.

"When we looked at the strategy of the company, it seemed obvious what we had to do. We had to grow up and start making our own shoes.

"It will be the best that Northampton can do and by god, Northampton can do really, really well."

Foster & Son have stocked and commissioned bespoke shoes from Northampton-based brands like Barker and Jeffery West for decades.

Leicestershire band J For Jazz were on hand to open the factory with a fanfare.

But now they have chosen Northampton as the base of operations to create their own line of ready-to-wear shoes using a mix of machinery and handcrafting techniques.

The new factory in St James Retail Park has been kitted out without with over £700,000 worth of machinery.

Northampton, with its history of bespoke cobblers, was the natural choice for its first factory, according to its CEO, Matthew Allen.

Mr Allen said: "It's great to have shoemaking come back to Northampton. We're keen to take back some of the shoemaking techniques that have been lost over the years.

The St James Mill Lane factory has employed eight of Northamptonshire's top shoe craftsmen.

"We're actually looking at revisiting our vintage designs and bringing them out of retirement to create our own new styles.

"I feel fantastic and very excited to be here today. We've got a great team made of some of the best craftsmen in Northampton."

One craftsman, Jack Wykes - who now works at the factory as a finisher - told the Chronicle: "It's a lot more hands-on at Foster and Sons, with finer details than other factories.

"There are some high-quality shoemakers in Northampton but we, of course, aim to be even better.

"There's a big demand still for well-made shoes. You learn something new every day in this job."

The opening of the factory coincided with St Crispin's Day - the patron saint of shoemaking.

In its 178-year history, Foster & Son clientele have included Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Gary Oldman, Stephen Fry and Charlie Chaplin.

The factory will officially begin producing shoes today (October 26).