The county of Northamptonshire, England has a long history of shoe making dating back to the 13th century. Originally this was due to its plentiful supply of oak bark and its proximity to water, abundant supply of material (e.g. leather from local cattle markets), and its central location in the country for trading links.
Until the latter part of the nineteenth century, shoes and boots were normally made in homes by individual shoemakers who were paid only for the work they had ready when the collector came with his barrow to the door. Remuneration was poor and there was little security of employment.
In an attempt to impose some regularity to their income, five men living in the village of Wollaston banded together to form a co-operative (a company owned and run by the people working in it) called the Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS). Known locally as ‘the Duffers’ their premises was a dove house in Thrift Street.
Luck was with them from the outset as they managed to secure a year long production order from the Government for army boots.
A NEW HOME FOR A NEW CENTURY
As industrialisation spread in England during the late nineteenth century, demand in England and abroad for high-quality boots steadily increased. As a result, NPS enjoyed rapid growth and by the turn of the century, NPS had grown to 80 employees. Consequently, NPS moved to a larger purpose-built factory on South Street in 1899, which although extended in 1907 and again in 1951, we occupy to this day!
Footwear has been made at NPS with various construction methods including riveted and stitched, stuck-on, vulcanised and more recently Goodyear-welted, which is now used in all our footwear production. For 35 years NPS produced Solovair (Sole-of-Air) boots and shoes under licence, which were sold under the name ‘Dr Martens by Solovair’.
Times change and NPS no longer produces footwear under licence. Indeed, it is no secret that since the 1980s the UK’s manufacturing sector has drastically shrunk and shoemakers have been exposed to increased imports of finished footwear. At the turn of this century, NPS was on the verge of collapse and was propositioned by a property developer to demolish the factory site for land development.
A REVIVAL IN FORTUNE
Ivor Tilley, who lives in the village of Wollaston and has been involved with the footwear industry for over 45 years, wanted to try and save the factory. In 2006 he asked the co-operative if he could purchase NPS Shoes with the hope of both continuing its life as a shoe factory, whilst also preserving both the employment, skills and knowledge of the local villagers which had accumulated during the long history of the company. The workers voted in his favour!
The factory has subsequently gone from strength to strength! Our Solovair footwear brand is now distributed to all four corners of the world. Moreover, our classic footwear styles have been commissioned by some of the largest brands in the UK and internationally including Jack Wills, ASOS, John Lewis, Hudson (Purified), Joules, Vegetarian Shoes, M&S, Kurt Geiger and George Cox.
... AND THE FUTURE
Our customers understand that British made footwear is amongst the best quality in the world. By combining over 130 years of traditional craftsmanship and tooling with the latest technology and materials, NPS will continue to produce the finest quality footwear. To maintain this undisputed quality, our products will always be handmade from start (‘clicking’) to ‘finishing’ in the UK!