Monthly Archives: November 2014

Cordwainer, Shoemaker, Cobbler? Where would Georgian Londoners Buy Their Shoes?

I have shoemakers in my ancestry through the 15th to 19th century. Sometimes they are described as cordwainers, sometimes shoemakers. So what is the difference, and where would you have gone to buy your shoes if you were a Georgian Londoner – from a cordwainer, a shoemaker or a cobbler?
(Greetings, by the way, if you have Hurst ancestors in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire we are probably cousins!)
10
The term cordwainer, according to the Honourable Cordwainer’s Company’s website, “is an Anglicization of the French word cordonnier, which means shoemaker, introduced into the English language after the Norman invasion in 1066. The word was derived from the city of Cordoba in the south of Spain… Moorish Cordoba was celebrated in the early Middle Ages for silversmithing and the production of cordouan leather, called “cordwain” in England… Crusaders brought home much plunder and loot, including the finest leather the English shoemakers had seen. Gradually cordouan, or cordovan leather became the material most in demand for the finest footwear in all of Europe.”
Shoemakers who chose to call themselves cordwainers were implying that they used only the finest materials, and therefore produced only the finest footwear. Cobblers, on the other hand, were not working with new leather. They were repairing shoes, or “cobbling together” new shoes from old.

tradecard 1802This trade card was produced by “The Friendly Institution of Cordwainers of Leeds” in 1802. The reference to “the Sons of Crispin” is to St Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers.
If you were a Georgian in London looking for footwear you had a choice ranging from the finest made-to measure products of a high-end cordwainer to the reworked product of the cobbler on the corner – or even simply second-hand from a market stall.

blue shoesThese exquisite blue satin shoes are in the Museum of London and date from the 1760s. The label inside reads ‘Fras Poole, Woman’s Shoemaker in the Old Change, near Cheapside London’. They show the high level of craftsmanship required for top-end footwear – and the range of craftspeople who would have been employed. Much simpler, and closer to Jane Austen’s day, are these delicate pink silk-satin ankle boots with their thin soles and fragile silk laces in my collection (below). They had absolutely no internal support for the sole of the foot.

SONY DSCFor the well-to-do, shoes were purchased from a shop which might display the products of one maker, or several. The trade card at the top of this post shows a fashionable lady being served. In the background are display cabinets containing a range of styles. As the card says, “Large Assortment of Ladies fashionable Shoes always on Sale.” For such a tiny scrap of cardboard the detail is considerable. The lady is seated with a mat in front of her to protect her unshod feet (or the new shoes?). She is being served by a man – the norm in high-class retail establishments – and he is carrying shoes over his arm in a way that shows that pairs were tied together. The assistant is smartly dressed, but wearing a long apron, which makes me wonder whether he would kneel down for the lady to place her foot on his knee.
This is certainly the case lower down the social scale. The print below shows a shoe shop which appears to be selling only products made on the premises – both men’s and women’s boots and shoes. One lady has her foot on the knee of the salesman while her friend, wearing a riding habit, tries on a boot. In this much less refined setting a passerby ogles the ladies.

shoe makers

At the end of the 18th century small change was scarce and many businesses produced copper tokens which took the place of low denomination coins. I have two from shoemakers. One is for Carter of Jermyn Street. Dated 1792 it shows an elegant lady’s shoe with heel. The other is for Guests Patent Boots & Shoes of No.9, Surry Street, Blackfriars Road (1795) and shows a lady’s slipper, a man’s shoe and a boot.

Boots 2 copyboots token obv09

 

 

Fashionable gentlemen took great pride in their boots and perhaps the most famous of all the London bootmakers was George Hoby whose shop was at the top of St James’s Street. Hoby was arrogant, and far from subservient to his aristocratic patrons, but he died a very rich man, famous for producing the iconic Wellington Boot to the duke’s special requirements.
This billhead is from an account sent by Hoby to Major Crowder (who, incidentally, was the officer who intercepted the coach carrying Napoleon’s secret codes in the Peninsula). The billhead shows the royal coat of arms and names Hoby’s royal patrons. It also includes a do it yourself guide for measuring for boots –  presumably this was for the convenience of officers serving abroad, or country gentlemen.

LA44
To see a range of men’s footwear across the classes, this print by Thomas Edgerton from the ‘Bores’ series of 1828 is ideal. The gentleman has been interrupted as he pulls on his boots after breakfast. A beadle accompanies an aggrieved father who is complaining about the seduction of his daughter by the valet. These boots are elegant items in very soft leather with the spurs already attached, and they are pulled on using special boot-pullers and loops in the top of the boot. The gentleman’s backless bedroom slippers are by his chair. His valet wears black pumps with natty striped stockings, contrasting to the solid and old-fashioned respectability of the beadle’s buckled shoes. Finally the father wears practical riding boots with tan tops.

valet no text
At the lower end of the market, shoemakers would produce a range of sizes and the customer would come in and buy ‘off the peg.’ For made to measure shoes a wooden last would be made to the customer’s exact measurements, kept in store and modified by cutting away wood, or adding leather patches, as the foot shape changed over time. To see a last-maker in action you can go into Lobb’s in St James’s Street. Although established a little later than the Regency they still produce hand-made shoes in the traditional manner and their display cases have some fascinating old examples.

1-DSCN53041-DSCN5305 I was in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, recently  and visited the shoemaker’s shop there. The photo is of him working to produce the everyday leather shoes that the re-enactors use on the site. These are sturdy, off the peg styles, and are very similar to the shoes and boots illustrated by W H Pyne in his “Rustic Figures”, a series of sketches to guide amateur artists.

shoes

10 Comments

Filed under Fashions, Gentlemen, Shopping

Horse Guards Parade – Crocodiles, Cardinal Wolsey & Beach Volleyball

One of the emptiest, yet most evocative, spaces in London is Horse Guards Parade. In my last post I wrote about the Regent’s Bomb – the fantastical mortar and gun carriage that sits on one side of the Arch. This time I’m writing about a little of the history of the parade ground and another cannon with a wonderful gun carriage.Guardsman
Horse Guards Parade sits between Whitehall and St James’s Park and began life as open land next to the grounds of York Place, the London palace of the Archbishops of York. Its main entrance faced down the road that is now Horse Guards Avenue, the bishop’s route to his landing stage on the river. With the fall of Cardinal Wolsey Henry VIII seized York Place and then set about acquiring “…all the medowes about saynt James, and all the whole house of S.James and ther made a fayre manision and a parke…” according to Edward Hall.
When the king began his work on what was to become Whitehall Palace a willow marsh for the farming of osiers for basketwork, Steynour’s Croft, covered much of what is now Horse Guards, the Bell Inn stood at the southern edge and an old track crossed it from the scrubland that became St James’s Park.
By 1534 the Palace of Whitehall was largely complete. Part of the area, a longitudinal strip running west across Horse Guards became his tiltyard, scene of tournaments and knightly exercises. Under Elizabeth I the Tiltyard was used for animal baiting and tournaments and pageants which were set pieces for state occasions. Under James I elaborate masques were held – including one involving an elephant carrying a castle – but the increasingly theatrical nature of royal masques led to the building of the Banqueting House on the other side of what was then King Street (now Whitehall) and the last masque in the tiltyard was planned for 1624. After that it became known as the Bearstake Gallery and it continued to be used for baiting sports until 1660.
A standing guard was stationed in a specially built guardroom at the tiltyard from 1641 and the area continued to house soldiers throughout the Commonwealth period.
On May 8th 1660 Charles II was proclaimed on the site of the old Tiltyard ‘Green’ and the renovation of Whitehall Palace began. A plan of c1670 shows Whitehall as a wide street coming down from the north and ending at the pinch-point of a Tudor gate. The range of buildings that were the old Horse Guards were built in 1663 with a yard in front and behind the range the open expanse of ground that became Horse Guards Parade.
In January 1698 a great fire destroyed the Palace of Whitehall, sparing only the Banqueting Hall and Old Horse Guards. A letter of the time records, “All parts from near the house my Lord Lichfield lived in to the Horse Guards were yesterday covered with heaps of goods rescued from the flames.”
The king moved to St James’s Palace, across the park, and Whitehall became the location for many government offices and from the 1730s the buildings surrounding Horse Guards were gradually replaced. The dilapidated old building was demolished in 1750 and the new building – the one we see now – was designed by William Kent, with additions by Isaac Ware.

 

Horse Guards

The large open space was referred to as the Parade ground, but the first written reference to “Horse Guards Parade” as a title comes as late as 1817. By then the area looked much as it does today as can be seen in this print of 1809 by Rowlandson and Pugin, published by Ackermann. Only the high brick wall that closes off the gardens at the rear of Downing Street today (to the right of the picture) is missing.
The space is uncluttered now – when it is not being used for events such as Trooping the Colour and the Olympic Beach Volleyball, or in the Victorian era, the marshalling point for the vast funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington. However there are two interesting weapons exhibited there, either side of the arch. On one side is the Regent’s Bomb, on the other a 16th century Turkish cannon brought to the site in 1802 after its

capture in the siege of Alexandria (1801) when the British invaded Egypt to fight Napoleon’s army, an event that formed the setting for my recent novel Beguiled By

Her Betrayer.

DSCN0415

DSCN0413

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was made in 1526 and the inscription on the barrel reads:
“The Solomon of the age the Great Sultan Commander of the dragon guns When they breathe roaring like thunder. May the enemy’s forts be razed to the ground. Year of Hegira 931.”
The gun carriage was made at Woolwich and depicts Britannia pointing at the Pyramids and a rather splendid crocodile.                                                                     You can visit Horse Guards Parade both in my Walks Through Regency London (Walk 8 Trafalgar Square to Westminster, which follows the length of Whitehall)
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HZ35V4K
and Walking Jane Austen’s London (Walk 6 Westminster to Charing Cross, which goes through St James’s Park).
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CPOT0IC

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Buildings, London Parks, Monuments, St James's Park