Lancashire Clogs: Stepping Through History
IT DIDN’T SEEM REET – Anon.
Wen a fella cum walkin’ deawn eawr road,
‘Is clogs went “er—clatt, er—clatt.”
An’ it struck mi, as Ah’d never knowed
A pair o’clogs t’seawnd like that.
Soo Ah waited wile ‘ee getten close,
Fer t’see wot wer th’matter,
Clogs doant “er—clatt, er—clatt” tha knows
Thi should guh “clatt—er, clatt—er!”
Ah thowt, “Just wen ‘as passes mi
Ah’ll ‘ev a looka’t’greawnd,
Cause Ah wer fair reet wonderin’
O’er th’reason feryon seawnd.
Sos wen ‘ee sad, “Nah then theer,”
Wen ‘ee passed mii’ th’ street,
Ah looked, an’ does ta know
Booath ‘is clogs wero’t’wrong feet.
(Lancashire Poetry & Lingo)
Every article of clothing has a history, some are passed down through generations, some are bought and and discarded without ever being worn. Three months ago I was shown a pair of children’s shoes, no more than nine inches long. They belonged to my mother’s aunt, lovingly known as Auntie Annie, a women I have fond, but brief memories of. Annie died when I was only 5 years old, long before I could get to know her. Yet her childhood shoes were the secret to uncovering not only my personal family history, but fascinating truths about early 20th century English industry, society and culture.
As Jewish immigrants from Poland, my father’s family history was always emphasized. I was raised knowing the importance of upholding Jewish tradition and remembering our ancestors. On the other hand, I knew nothing of my mother’s side except that her family came from somewhere in Northern England, and settled in Ontario. Still, that bit of British heritage always leaked through. In my family, ‘french fries’ were always ‘chips’, a Yorkshire pudding was commonplace on our dinner table, and don’t get me started on all the tea!
Lancashire Clogs, Bottom showing Wooden Sole and ‘Horseshoe’
Lancashire Clogs, Leather Uppers with Imprinted Designs and Brass Nails
Annie’s shoes were said to have traveled with her on the long voyage from England to Canada, dating them to approximately 1919. They were clearly well worn, showing signs of wear in the sole and uppers. The shoes are clasped at the top with a single brass button and have a subtle decoration pressed into the leather uppers. Viewing them from a modern perspective, these shoes are very unusual. The leather uppers, now hardened with age, are connected to a wooden sole with brass nails. The sole itself is outfitted with metal ‘horseshoes,’ still filled with dirt from the days she wore them. The ‘horseshoes’ however clearly served a purpose protecting the wooden bottom, as the wood itself is fairly clean and still in good shape. Although these shoes were obviously stored in less then ideal circumstances, permanently warping the leather and likely affecting some of the colour, they are still in remarkably good condition. They are well worn, but she likely grew out of them before they were damaged too greatly.
It takes a skilled craftsman to create these shoes, working with wood carving, metal work, and leather manipulation. Although they have existed for centuries, these clogs rose in popularity throughout the Victorian era, and remained well used into the turn of the 20th century.
This particular style of wooden clog, known as Lancashire Clogs, originate from Northern England. A magazine article from 1899 writes: “The clatter of innumerable clogs is the distinguishing feature of Lancashire manufacturing towns. Most people who work in the mills wear clogs. The morning will hardly have got aired when you are awakened out of your second sleep by a noise like the rattle of musketry under your bedroom window” (Fraser 45).
The traditional Lancashire clog is described as “wooden soled, iron bound, and brass tipped. The brass nails run around the edge of the boot with the regularity of buttons up the breast of a page boy” (Fraser 45). Victorian Lancashire was known for its booming textile industry. The city was filled with cotton mills employing thousands of workers (Daglish 291). The cotton factories in Lancashire were kept very damp in order to produce the textile, often the floors were coated in water used in the production. For a factory worker, these shoes would be ideal. They are a cheap form of footwear, much cheaper than a leather boot (Atkinson), and able to withstand the dampest conditions. The metal ‘horseshoe’ keeps the shoes elevated from the splashing water while the wooden sole absorbs the liquid, keeping the foot dry. The metal attachment also kept the sole in good condition when walking along cobblestone streets. These shoes would have been surprisingly comfortable and warm, as they were often made specifically to fit the wearer (Atkinson).
You can here more about the construction of these shoes from a modern clog maker here (Atkinson):
What is most fascinating about these shoes is the culture which arose due to their widespread use. Factories in the late 19th century were becoming increasingly mechanical, each machine only requiring one, often female, operative. These machines “were overwhelmingly loud; it was impossible for workers to hear one another speak […] There could be no pause for social interaction, lest the worker lose pace with the machine” (Radcliffe 40). As a result, the workers began tapping their heels and toes in time to the rhythms of the machines they operated. Needing their upper bodies to operate the machine, a dance form was created based solely on the tapping of their shoes (40). Lancashire Clog Dancing, as it has been named, became a cultural phenomena still danced today. Its unique shuffling steps mirror the actions of the weaving machines, and are even named after the same steps. For example, ‘the pick’, ‘over-the-tops’, ‘two-up-two-down’, ‘weaving’, ‘the shunt’ and ‘the cog’ (41). These shoes in a sense became the centre of a culture, both in their use at work, and recreation. Their role in Lancashire culture brought life to an industrial town in which everyone, men, women and children were at work. Clog dancing was a way of embodying the monotonous labour and physical repetition without being overpowered by the industrial machine.
You can see some modern clog dancing performed by the Lancashire Wallopers here (Bogardesbar):
These tiny clogs therefore represented an entire region’s culture, and became the biggest clue in tracking down my family history. We began searching Lancashire census reports for familiar names. As it turns out, Annie was born in Lancaster, Lancashire in 1912 to Eliza Rigby, a Cotton Weaving Operative. Eliza’s mother, Dina Hardman, was also a textile worker in Longridge, Lancashire, about 20 miles south.
Based on census reports, birth certificates and death certificates, we discovered that Dina, my great great grandmother, died just three months after giving birth to Eliza in 1882. Eliza was left in her father’s care but by age nine, a census revealed that she was living as a boarder in her uncle’s house, and by the age of 19, Eliza was a full time worker in the Cotton factories. Eliza likely started to work in the mills right after the first census was taken. Fraser wrote in 1899: “As soon as a child is able to read, write, and spell well enough to become a half-timer it spends the other half of its life in the mills” (45). Considering these clogs were known for their use in factories, did this mean that Annie too was exposed to child labour? According to Nardinelli, The Cotton Factories Regulation Act of 1819 would have set the minimum working age for children at nine years old, a law which was in effect for a century (740). Annie left England a year before her ninth birthday, fortunately just before she could have been put to work.
Eliza Rigby in 1901 England Census, age 19, Cotton Weaver. (Ancestry)
Annie and her mother chose to immigrate to Canada in 1919. It is still a mystery why they chose to move, however these shoes, which have been kept in the family for nearly 100 years, indicate that they never forgot their birth country. Object biographies give us unique insight into not only the lives of the wearers, but also the culture which surrounds them. Keeping these childhood shoes provided an invaluable link to a lost history and marked the beginning of our family’s life in Canada.
Ancestry.com. 1901 England Census. Digital image. Ancestry. Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. Web.
Atkinson, Jeremy. “The Last Clog Maker in England.” YouTube. Artisan Media Co., 6 Sept. 2012. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
Bogardesbar. “Lancashire Wallopers Clog Dancing at Derby Folk Festival.” YouTube. N.p., 6 Oct. 2013. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
Daglish, Neil. “Education policy and the question of child labour: the
Lancashire cotton industry and R. D. Denman’s Bill of 1914.” History of Education, 30.3 (2001): 291-308
“Lancashire Poetry & Lingo.” Lancs Poetry. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
Fraser, J. F. “LIFE IN A LANCASHIRE COTTON MILL.” The Windsor magazine : an illustrated monthly for men and women 10 (1899): 45-52. ProQuest. 3 Mar. 2016 .
Nardinelli, Clark. “Child Labor and the Factory Acts.” Journal of Economic History. 40, no. 4 (1980): 739-755.
Radcliffe, Caroline, and Sarah Angliss. “Revolution: Challenging the Automaton: Repetitive Labour and Dance in the Industrial Workspace.” Performance Research 17.6 (2012): 40-7. Web. 3 Mar. 2016