Sure Footed: Joseph Cheaney

Richard Holt goes behind the scenes of one of the world’s finest shoemakers to see how their approach to craftsmanship makes them perfect partners for Gieves & Hawkes

Once people get an idea in their heads, it can be difficult to shift, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. One of the pieces of false wisdom you still hear from people who should really know much better is this: “Yes, but we don’t really produce anything in Britain any more, it all comes from abroad.”

This is partly due to a British tendency to do ourselves down, but also because we have watched the dwindling of obvious, landscape-altering industries such as mining, and assumed everything has headed the way of coal and steel. But whether it is textiles, cars, plastics or beer – and now fine wine – there is still plenty to celebrate in Britain.

The technology industry is a huge growth area for the country, but at the same time the UK maintains a great international reputation for traditional craftsmanship. A fine example of this is the shoe industry in Northamptonshire, with firms such as Joseph Cheaney & Sons making handcrafted shoes using methods passed down across many generations.

The company was founded by Joseph Cheaney in 1886 and, other than a change of premises ten years later, has been making shoes in the same Desborough factory ever since. Each pair of shoes takes eight weeks to make and everything from the cutting to the stitching and the final polishing is completed in-house by a workforce of skilled craftsmen and women.

The Goodyear welted shoes made by Cheaney & Sons are a typically English style, and they are in high demand from abroad, particularly Japan and Italy. “The Japanese like seeing Northamptonshire on their products,” says Jonathan Church, co-owner of Cheaney & Sons. “They do their research, they read magazines on the origins of shoemaking and they know how everything is made. They are discerning customers, like the Italians, and they know that the shoes we make in Northamptonshire are not made the same way anywhere else.”

Cheaney & Sons has five retail outlets in London, plus one in Cambridge, one in Leeds and a factory shop in Northamptonshire. In addition, a range of Cheaney & Sons shoes will be offered in selected Gieves & Hawkes stores. Cheaney has a long history of supplying shoes to Gieves & Hawkes, and this latest collaboration simply emphasises how ideally suited the two companies are to one another, believes Church.

“We sit well with Gieves & Hawkes because we are 100 per cent English made,” he says. “Our shoes are all made by hand under one roof in the traditional English style. This fits very well with Gieves & Hawkes as they are all about quintessentially English design.” Nick Keyte, managing director of Gieves & Hawkes, agrees: “We are privileged to have such a long-standing relationship with Joseph Cheaney,” he said. “Both businesses were founded on similar principles of quality and craftsmanship. Joseph Cheaney enjoys an enviable reputation within the UK and abroad as one of England’s finest footwear manufacturers.”

Joseph Cheaney shoes are for people who understand the value of a traditionally handcrafted product that is stylish but does not need to shout about it. Something that perhaps does need shouting about is British industry in general, just in case there are still some people out there that haven’t seen how well it is doing – not just with cutting-edge technology, but also with the kinds of skills that that have been appreciated around the world for many years.

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