Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 28 October 2016

Derbyshire greats - Claytons tannery and William Lennon, traditional Bootmakers

Hello again to one and all, we hope you have had a good week? On Monday I found myself in Derbyshire on a visit to Joseph Clayton and Son Ltd, a tannery based in Chesterfield, more of which later. 

But while in Derbyshire I couldn't not visit our friends at fellow bootmakers William Lennon and found myself knocking at their green door for a tour.

Based in picture perfect Stoney Middleton in the Peak District National Park, they have been making work boots since 1899. 

Still a family business, now in the 4th generation, they make some of the toughest boots on the planet. From shepherds boots to tug of war boots, hill walking boots to foundry boots, these boots are rough, tough and very cool.


The factory is housed in a higgledy piggledy stone mill in the heart of the village next to the mill stream and is the typical warren of small rooms, corridors and narrow staircases you find in English shoe factories. 

Packed with vintage machines, this is a shoemakers paradise.


I was shown round by Libs Slattery who was delightful and informative in equal measures. 

The leather store

The clickers tools ready to cut out the leather

Boots returned for repairs
I treated myself to a pair of these work boots on a semi sprung last... 

...and Mme Shoe to a pair of these amazing fell boots with the fully sprung toe to help get up those steep fells typical of central London - cute!

As I said, the main reason for my trip to Derbyshire was a visit to the Joseph Clayton tannery in Chesterfield. 

With over 175 years of experience, they are one of only three pit tanners left in the country and make mimosa tanned hide for the shoe and saddlery industries (and a few other things, belts, dog leads, clothing etc).

The liming pit

We were particularly interested in their shell cordovan which they have been producing for the last few years. It is great to have a UK tanned cordovan and, much as we love Horween, it is increasingly difficult to get hold of in the UK, so we're delighted to be buying British.


The tanning pits

My guide was Les, who has worked at the tannery for over 20 years and who runs the warehouse where the finished skins are stored. 

He was both detailed and enthusiastic about the whole factory and was more than pleased to share his knowledge with an enthusiast like me.

Unfinished cordovan shells

Hides drying

Dried skins ready for finishing

It really was a great visit and culminated in the purchase of two beautiful burgundy shells for a pair of bespoke loafers.

I also bought an unfinished cordovan shell and learned something about it - the finished side is actually the reverse of the skin, so the flesh side. The skin side is patterned with growth marks and would lead to a non smooth finish.

An undyed shell - surprisingly, this is the wrong side
The right side of the shell ready to be dyed and polished

We are going to try finishing this shell and see what we come up with. It would make a lovely card holder or wallet.

That's all for this week. I'm off to Spain for a well-earned break so Madame Shoe is in charge next week. I'm hoping to visit the shoe museum in Elda and will report back if I caan tear myself away from the beach. Until then, happy shoemaking!

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