Bespoke Shoes Unlaced – a shoemaker's blog

Friday, 9 March 2012

A step into the past

Whilst Mr Ducker has been working miracles creating super-thin soles, I have been out and about flying the flag for handsewn shoemaking and carreducker...and what an interesting time I have had!

We were honoured to be invited to attend the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers Annual Footwear Dinner last week. We have been looking into the historic guilds and bodies that represent shoemakers here in London and had come across both the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers and the Pattenmakers in London and the Honourable Cordwainers Company in the US, but this was our first invitation! 
I had no idea what to expect and it was with some trepidation that I stepped through the hallowed doors of The Stationers Hall in The City. In its hey day, all City companies wanted to own a hall, so when the Great Fire of London tragically destroyed the majority of the City in 1666 the Company of Stationers had a new hall built. Today the Stationers Hall is one of the most beautiful in London and it was to this majestic building that I went on a wet and windy March night to meet the Pattenmakers.

You are probably wondering, "what is a patten?" Their history in a nutshell is as follows: pattens were a wooden platform that resembled a clog or sandal, worn by men and women in the Middle Ages and continued to be worn by women into the 19th century. Over the centuries three types of patten evolved. In the 12th century pattens had a wooden platform sole up to 4" high raised from the ground with wedges or iron stands and in the 14th and 15th centuries flat varieties became popular (when pointed toe poulaines were fashionable) made from either hinged wood or stacked leather. Pattens were worn to protect the thin-soled shoes popular at the time and the wearer from unpaved roads, cold stone floors and streets awash with effluent and rubbish!

From the 17th century onwards, gentlemen replaced their pattens with thicker soled shoes and riding boots, but women continued to wear them to protect their clothes, hence the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers motto - Recipiunt Foeminae Sustneacula Nobis - women Receive Support From Us!

But back to the night in question...after being announced and introduced to a line of gentlemen sporting gleaming gold medals on blue ribbon and a great deal of fur (the Masters of the Company) I entered the main hall - a wonderful room set out for the dinner, wood-panelled and hung with the banners (standards) of the Stationer members - and immediately found myself with a chaperon in the kind and gentlemanly form of Mr. Mark Hancox who introduced me to both Mr Richard Kottler the CEO of the British Footwear Association and past Master of the Company Mr Richard Paice and it was a delight to catch up with a familiar face, Mr Bill Bird, freshly returned from the Independent Shoemakers Conference in Ireland. 

Needless to say, the evening was fascinating. Today the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers is involved in charitable and sociable activities including supporting young managers in the footwear industry, helping the armed forces, orthopaedic footwear, bursaries and grants to universities and schools and support to the Mayor of London and the civic life of the City of London.  I was impressed...and we hope to become Liverymen in the future if they'll have us!