Reunion sparks memories of Norwich’s proud shoe trade
PUBLISHED: 18:20 18 June 2017
The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade by Frances and Michael Holmes.
They worked hard and knew how to enjoy themselves...Norwich shoemakers were a breed apart and there were thousands of them.
Only three other places – London, Northampton and Leicester – produced more shoes than Norwich, where there were at least 30 factories turning out millions of pairs, mostly for ladies and children.
Today most have long gone but there sis till one big factory producing shoes in the city – Van Dal, part of the Florida Shoe Company, and later this month a reunion for the former workers is being held.
“The last reunion was four years ago,” said Alan Robinson, a former Florida worker who spent 21 years in the clicking room. Those who worked at Edwards & Holmes are also very welcome.
It will be a great opportunity for these skilled men and women to get together again and discover what they have all been up. There was always a great bond of friendship between the shoe workers.
Today the factory at Dibden Road near Mousehold is one of the largest manufacturers of high class ladies shoes in the land carrying on such a long and proud tradition.
So many people have been, and still are, part of the Florida family. One of the relative newcomers to shoemaking in Norwich which has carried on while others went to the wall.
The story of Norwich shoemaking goes back hundreds of years to the 10th century and in the 14th century it was just one of 130 trades being carried out in the city.
In the early days most of the leather workers carried out their business at home and then in the 1790s James Smith opened a shop and factory making ready-made shoes on a site where City Hall stands today.
Between 1850 and 1900 business boomed with thousands of men and women working in the shoe factories built across the city. While Northampton specialised in making shoes for men, Norwich companies made high-quality footwear mostly for women and children – and sent many shoes across the world.
By the 1930s the boot and shoe trade employed more than 10,000 people – 15 per cent of the total Norwich workforce.
It was during that time, 1936, that Adleman Goodman, arrived in Norwich and bought the Florida Shoe Factory on Salhouse Road on what was known as Florida Corner. The factory had been set up by a German refugee named Herschel to produce ladies’ shoes.
When Adleman died soon after coming to Norwich, his sons David and Lionel took over. In the Second World War the factory was requisitioned. The company moved into Clarke’s in Northumberland Street but when that was destroyed in the 1942 Blitz, they moved back to Salhouse Road.
In the late 1950s it moved to a factory in Dibden Road, Mousehold.
The company sold its shoes to Lilley & Skinner and Russell Bromley before coming up with the Van-Dal brand name. The wide-fitting fashionable Italian-look shoes were a hit across the world...and still are.
Simon Goodman took over as chairman and in 1987 Florida bought Edwards & Holmes but in the face of tough times all production was later transferred to Dibden Road.
Today, while Florida has transferred some of its production overseas, shoes are still made at the Norwich factory – a tribute to all those involved with the company over the years. A great survivor and one of which we can all be proud.
The reunion for Florida and Edwards & Holmes workers, is taking place at the Blue Boar Inn, Wroxham Road, Norwich, on Wednesday May 17 from 7.30pm. More details from Alan Robinson on Norwich 01603 487588 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our heritage of shoemakers
The festival of the patron saint of shoemakers, St Crispin, was celebrated on a Monday when, before the days of factories, most of the workers had a day off.
The custom died out when the factories came along but many workers still took a Monday off, especially turnshoe makers – and they enjoyed a drink.
In the 1930s around 10,000 men and women worked in around 30 shoe factories producing millions of pairs of mainly ladies’ fashion shoes, shoes for children and slippers. It was estimated each worker made around £650 worth a footwear a year. A lot of money in those days.
During the First World War the Norwich shoemakers, working day and night to make army boots, went on strike and marched through the streets demanding bonuses. It was settled by giving the men £1 and the women 15 shillings.
Hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes made in the city were sent all over the world to countries including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Canada, Singapore, Denmark, Malta and Iceland.
Excavations around Whitefriars’ Bridge revealed that as early as the 10th century simple turnshoes were being made in Norwich.
The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade by Frances and Michael Holmes of the Norwich Heritage Projects is still in the shops. It comes highly recommended.