Crockett & Jones…since 1879
Crockett & Jones, a symbol of quality for nearly 140 years, have been crafting beautiful English made shoes in Northampton since 1879.
It’s where heritage meets style and with over 200 individual stages to the finished product, these shoes are handcrafted with an extraordinary degree of care and precision. With shops in London, Paris and New York they really are created for the most discerning customer. After all, even James Bond wears a pair of Crockett & Jones shoes in the film ‘Spectre’.
It’s been five years…
When you arrive at the address, it’s always surprising to see such a robust Victorian building in a ‘normal street’ claustrophobically packed on all four sides with terrace houses and cars parked nose to nose. Only the early bird gets a parking space within a streets distance!
It had been five years since I last visited Crockett & Jones. I received a call from them to come back and refresh their image bank with industrial photographs of the factory and process’s.
The first thing that hits you is an intoxicating mix of glues, leathers and polish. It feels familiar, like the smell of pear drops. Apart from a few fresh coats of paint, it was comforting to know that not a huge amount had changed and it was nice to see faces that I recognised immediately. As you walk on to the factory floor there is a satisfying hum of machines and people beavering away, with the occasional person looking a bit daunted as I take out a camera and attach it to the tripod.
I spent half of the day looking through a macro lens at the impeccable detail and quality of leather, hand sewing and polishing techniques that are passed down from one generation to another. It’s only when you get this close you start to appreciate how serious they are about shoes.
It’s up on the top floor where all the ‘Clickers’ (named for the sound the knife creates when cutting) are based. Light floods in from the massive windows to illuminate precision hand cutting. It’s very controlled and quiet and has more of an air of a library than a factory
The ‘Clickers’ create their own knives from hacksaw blades, as it allows them to bend more freely than any standard knife manufactured, honed and sharpened they are fitted into a wooden handle.
In the hide room which is covered from floor to ceiling in leathers from around the world. Labelled with origin and graded by hand, it looks more like the work of a cartographer who has stored them with love and care. The smell is unbelievable…in a good way!
Quality control is of upmost importance in the factory and compromising isn’t an option…
The shoes have an enduring quality about them and because every pair is inspected by hand they really are as good as they look. I witnessed the quality control area pushing and pressing leather to see whether, by some chance, it revealed any imperfections at the end of the construction process.
I meet a hand stitcher, who lovingly hand sews shoes is surrounded by a treasure trove of tools. He threads thin strand of cotton with the use of a piano wire that he’s stripped down to assist in puncturing the leathers with meticulous commitment of detail and craftsmanship.
A Skiver trims leather on a circular blade the size of a 50p piece and spinning at such a high speed you cannot see it move. However, she still manages to cut an intricate 45 degree angle all around the edge on a piece of leather you can hold in the palm of your hand… whilst carrying on a conversation with me!
Going into the basement of the building you are surrounded by hard white tiled walls and extraordinary amounts of soles, heels awaiting a top half. The majority of the floor space is taken up by a world of wooden lasts stored and neatly ordered in cubby shelving as far as the eye can see.
Prepared pieces of leather swing in unison awaiting construction into a loafer, formal dress shoe or a pair of boots are carefully selected and put into a lift ( which has no doubt seen at least two world wars) to move them further up the process.
Shoes that have had a lifetime of wear on the street, are sent in for repair and essentially everything, apart from the top leather is replaced. New soles are attached using a traditional Goodyear-welted construction method. Heels and liners are added, battle scars are removed. They are polished back up to a reassuring lustre, boxed and returned for many more years of faithful service.
End of the day…
At 4:30 a bell rings for the end of a day, it’s time for the building to go quiet as the machines slowly wind down and it’s time for me to go back and pick up the shots that I have mentally stored to photograph later when it’s empty.
In the silence, you get to hear the creak of the floorboards and every noise is echoed. In that moment you realise just how much the factory is alive when people are creating some of the finest shoes produced today!
For some reason, there is a reassuring feeling knowing that that everyone in Crockett and Jones are still making shoes in a time honoured fashion.
All images © Paul Worpole Photography – see more on Instagram
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For some beautiful shoes…see Crockett & Jones website HERE