Cordwainers and Shoemakers

'The first thing to be regarded is the accurate admeasurement of the foot of the person for whose use the shoe is intended, which is a very simple process. When this is ascertained, the next step is to procure a last precisely of the same dimensions. This is an exact imitation of the foot, the making of which is quite a distinct profession from that of the shoemaker.
To cut leather to the best advantage requires much more art than may appear at first sight to be necessary; but it is an undoubted fact that many an industrious workman has been ruined in consequence of his want of skill in this particular. Ingenuity, together with a good deal of practice, are necessary to acquire it. The cutting knife is in the shape of a crescent.
The implements necessary for the Shoemaker are the hammar and lapstone, by which he renders the leather more compact and solid, and its durability much greater, the awl, knife and a stone to sharpen his tools, and wax, which he keeps in water in the shape of balls. With this substance the thread that he uses is waxed over, which both renders it more strong and durable, and makes it keep a much firmer hold of the leather; and as he does not employ a needle, to this is fastened a hog's bristle, by means of which he can easily direct the thread through the hole made by the awl...

...The wages of a Journeyman Shoemaker altogether depend upon his expertness in business and his industry, because he is paid by the piece.'
Artificiana, or a Key to the Principle Trades, Edinburgh, 1819, p38ff

Right: Last maker, tools.
From the collection of Maggie Land Blanck to whom many thanks

Although 'cordwainer' means a shoemaker, the title tends to be used by those wishing to show themselves as belonging to a certain class. Cordwainers always worked with new leather, as distinct from cobblers, who repaired and reused old.

1555-56 'Seats...William Dolbeare, shewmaker...'
Alison Hanham, Churchwardens Accounts of Ashburton, 1479-1580,
Devon and Cornwall Record Society, The Devonshire Press Ltd., Torquay 1970, p132

The will of Thomas Reeve, cordwainer of Ashburton, was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1655 ref
PROB 11/249/705

Richard Bickham, cordwainer of Ashburton, and his family appear in the settlement records of Modbury parish in 1675 Devon Archives and Local Studies Service, ref 269A/PO 10

1686 Nicholas Dench*, cordwainer, soldier, was listed amonst 'Maimed soldiers'
*Transcribed as Duich on the Devon Heritage Centre site - Accessed 13-11-2018 Devon Archives and Local Studies Service, ref QS/128/3/6
A transcription is available on Genuki, at - Accessed 07-02-2018

A release dated 1711 concerning Little Sparnham, Ashburton, involves Thomas Bastowe of Ashburton, cordwainer. Plymouth and West Devon Record Office ref

Circa 1733 there was a presentment against Thomas Hatherleigh of Ashburton, shoemaker, and one other, for assault and battery on William Gortley.
Ref QS/4/1746/Epiphany/PR/4, South West Hertage Trust - accessed 28-03-2024

Charles Lake, cordwainer, had to appear at the next Quarter Sessions in 1736, to answer charges made by John Dobell jnr. James Papper, cordwainer, together with Thomas Foot (occupation not stated in title of document) are also named.
Ref QS/4/1736/Epiphany/RE/5, Devon Heritage Centre, 11 Dec 1735 - accessed 31-10-2020

In 1737 there was a presentment (ie a formal statement) to the Quarter Sessions regarding John Moore of Ashburton, cordwainer. He was a searcher and sealer of leather*, but had refused to search and seal one hide of leather belonging to Nicholas Tapper. The goods were valued at twenty shillings.
Devon Heritage Centre ref QS/4/1737/Epiphany/PR/56 - Accessed 8-10-2018
*This appears to have been a form of quality control. See The Acts of Assembly of the Province of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia 1775, p108, which presumably followed the pattern in England.

1739 James Tapper, cordwainer, was Portreeve. Devon Archives and Local Studies Services ref QS/21/1739/8

William Gifford, one of Ashburton's 'Famous men', had, as a youth, ambitions to be a schoolmaster. 'On mentioning my little plan to Carlile [his godfather] he treated it with the utmost contempt, and told me in his turn that as I had learned enough, and more than enough at school, he must be considered as having fairly discharged his duty...; he added that he had been negotiating with a shoemaker of respectability, who had liberally agreed to take me, without fee, as an apprentice. I was so shocked at this intelligence that I did not remonstrate, but went in sullenness and silence to my new master, to whom, on the first of January 1772, I was bound till I should attain the age of twenty-one...The deep dislike he felt for his new occupation prevented him from making much progress in it...'
Gifford's main love was mathematics, but had no pen, ink or paper to practice with. 'I beat out pieces of leather as smooth as possible, and wrought my problems on them with a blunted awl...' He also began to write verse - eventually having enough subscribers to pay his master six pounds to release him from his apprenticeship.

Lives of Distinguished Shoemakers, Davis and Southworth, Portland,1849, p169ff

A counterpart lease from 1750 concerns closes of land including Fosters Park in Ashburton and is from John Kelley of Exeter, gent, to Thomas Cockings of Ashburton, shoemaker.
Deeds and associated papers relating to property at Ashburton and Buckfastleigh, ref MS3101/A/F/1/6, Birmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography Service, 1641-1761/2 - accessed 18-03-2021
Many thanks to Annie Pomeroy for passing on this reference


In September 1764 Thomas Bidlake married Douglas Saunders.
Parish records

Thomas and Douglas (various spellings) had a child Ann baptized in March 1765, Thomas Hamlyn Bidlake baptized in October 1770, and Joseph baptized in September 1772, all at Ashburton.
Parish records

In 1776 Elizabeth Bidlake was baptised at the British Lying-in Hospital, Holborn, Middlesex. Her mother was Douglas and her father Thomas, a shoemaker, from Ashburton. The baptism was non-conformist.

Thomas Bidlake, the son of Thomas and Douglas, was baptised in 1778.
Holborn, British Lying-in Hospital, Endell Street, Middlesex non-conformist births and baptisms.

A Thomas Bidlake, son of Thomas, was buried in 1784. Although there is another candidate, the fact that 'from ye workhouse' is written after the entry suggests that this was the son of Thomas and Douglas: the other Bidlake family appear to have been quite prosperous.
Parish records

Thomas snr. was possibly buried at Ashburton in January 1821, aged 83. This would give him a birth date of circa 1738.
This would fit a baptism of a Thomas Badlake, father John, in Ashburton in December 1737.
Parish records

John Bidlake had married Anne Hamlyn at Widecombe in the Moor in September 1735. John was of Ashburton and Anne of Widecombe. It seems likely that this couple are the parents of Thomas and the grandparents of Thomas Hamlyn Bidlake baptised in 1770 (above).
Widecombe in the Moor parish records

Douglas Bedlake was buried at Ashburton in August 1831, aged 88. This would give her a birth date of circa 1743. What looks like 'Woman, of poor house' is written in the register.
Parish records

See the section on Clockmakers under Banks and Businesses for information on another Thomas Bidlake.

1767 Mathew White, cordwainer, was one of the parties to the lease of a dwellinghouse over the arch in North Street.
Z10/2/14a-b Devon Archives and Local Studies Service,

The will of George Stone, cordwainer of Ashburton, was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1791
In it he left one shilling each to his mother, Barbara Stone, widow; his brother William Stone; his sister Elizabeth, the wife of Richard_____*; and to his sister Mary Stone. Everything else was bequeathed to George's wife Thomasin, whom he appointed executrix. ref PROB 11/1209/83
*Possibly Joynt. Richard Joynt married Elizabeth Stone in Ashburton in 1759. Parish records

It seems  likely that George left legacies of one shilling to avoid any disputes over the will, particularly to prevent relatives claiming that they were the legal heir, or had been forgotten.
The Law's Disposal of a Person's Estate, 1792, says the following: 'In the former part of this work it has been shewn that all persons may by will dispose of their personal estate to whom they think fit.....As to real estate....all persons (except married women, infants, idiots and persons of insane memory) are empowered to dispose by will in writing of the whole of their landed whom they think fit...and that even to the total disinherison of the heir at law, , notwithstanding that erroneous opinion which some entertain of the necessity of leaving the heir a shilling, or some other express legacy, in order to disinherit him effectually.'
Peter Lovelass, The Law's Disposal of a Person's Estate, London, 1792, p127

Mary Ann Bennett, the daughter of James and Susanna, was baptised in September 1821, in Ashburton. James was a shoemaker.
Parish records
Roger Maunder, cordwainer, is one of the parties to a lease of Sparnham, Ashburton, in 1779, together with his wife Margery.
Z10/2/1a-b, Devon Archives and Local Studies Service,

In 1792 Roger Maunder, cordwainer, North Street, was named in an insurance document. London Metropolitan Archives ref
MS 11936/391/605729

The will of Roger Maunder, cordwainer of Ashburton, appears in the will registers of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1822.
In it he names his son, Andrew Bennett Maunder, his daughter Mary Williams, and two further daughters, Elizabeth Maunder and Margery Bennett Maunder. Andrew, Elizabeth and Margery were appointed joint executors. ref PROB 11/1664/1


At the Bastardy examinations in 1796 Edward Langworthy, cordwainer of Ashburton, was named as the father of Mary Foster's male child.* Devon Archives and Local Studies Services ref
122 A/PO 309
* Born 13th April 1795 ref
122 A/PO 326

Tho. Mugridge was a boot and shoemaker in the Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce and Manufacture, Vol 2, late 1700s.

1807 Bankrupts. Wm Ireland Snr, Ashburton, cordwainer
Salisbury and Winchester Journal 23 November 1807 p4 col1

Among the Marriage Bonds and Allegations held at the Devon Heritage Centre is one for the marriage of Thomas Whiteway and Eleanor Smerdon, 2nd April 1816. Thomas, a widower of Ashburton, was a shoemaker, and Eleanor, a spinster, was a sojourner in Stoke Damerel.
Devon Heritage Centre ref DEX/7/b/1/1816/132 - Accessed 31-10-2018

Two petitions were presented to the House of Commons on April 9th 1816. One was from the tanners, curriers and shoemakers of Ashburton, concerning the taxes upon leather.
Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 25 April 1816 p5 col1

George Haberfield was baptized in April 1816. His parents were Charles, a shoemaker, and Mary. Another son, Richard, was baptized in April 1821.
Parish records

In 1817 the overseers decided that several shoemakers, who had applied for relief, should be employed making shoes for the poor the ensuing month.
on - accessed 24-06-2023

When Joanna, the daughter of Anthony and Joanna Martin, was baptized in October 1819, her father's occupation was that of shoemaker. Elizabeth, another daughter, was baptized in March 1821.
Parish records

Thomas Smerdon married Ann Bennett Week(e)s at Ashburton in April 1781. He had been baptised at Ashburton on the first day of January 1761; she at Wolborough Street Salem Independent Chapel in 1782, so their ages at marriage were roughly 20 and 19.
The will of Thomas Smerdon of Ashburton, cordwainer, was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1831.
He appointed his son Thomas, a customs officer in London, and his son Richard, an excise officer in Bristol, as trustees of everything he owned (messuages, tenements, land, money, household goods, personal estate etc.) to provide his wife, Ann Bennett Smerdon, with an income from rents and interest for the rest of her life. She was to be allowed to live in his dwelling house, and to 'enjoy all my household furniture.' He was a wealthy man - amongst the stocks that he owned was one thousand pounds in 3% consols. After Ann's death Thomas's estate was to pass to his children then grandchildren in varying proportions, and in the case of his daughters, for their 'sole use and benefit'. The children were:
(1) Thomas Smerdon
(2) Richard Smerdon
(3) Eliza Smerdon
(4) Mary Harris, the wife of Richard Harris, a painter and glazier in Totnes (she inherited the dwelling house in North Street, currently occupied by Edward Bryant) Mention was made of her
son Thomas Smerdon Harris.
(5) Ann Strawbridge, wife of John Strawbridge, an excise officer in Bristol, and her children John, William and Thomas.
(6) Charlotte Stephens, the wife of Robert Stephens, a yeoman (?) of Woodland.
(7) Lydia Pope, the widow of William Pope, a miller. Her children William Henry Pope, John Pope and Thomas Smerdon Pope were to benefit after her death.
She was to inherit the north or higher side of the passage into the dwelling house in North Street after the death of her mother - the lower or south side of the property was to go to Eliza.
Grandchildren Lydia and Mary Ann Smerdon (daughters of William) also had bequests, as did Ann Bennett Smerdon, daughter of Thomas.
 The remainder of the estate was to go to Thomas's sons Thomas and Richard. ref PROB 11/1788/210
See Miscellaneous Documents under People and Properties for a document concerning Lydia Pope.

'Large quantities of shoes, made at Ashburton, Kingsbridge and Dartmouth, are sent to Newfoundland.'
A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, vol 2, London 1831, p41

John Bowyer was indentured to George Monday, cordwainer, in 1789.
British Country Apprentices 1710 - 1808, Society of Genealogists no. 240501, available from Findmypast

The Devon Archive and Local Studies Service holds the record of a draft lease dated 1832, concerning a dwellinghouse, curtilage and garden in East Street. One of the parties is Margaret, the wife of Edward Pears of Devonport - formerly she was the widow of George Monday, cordwainer, of Ashburton.
Ref Z10/2/22, Devon Archive and Local Studies Service,

In April 1845 Mary, the daughter of Mr Abbotfield, cordwainer, Ashburton, married Mr Lavers at Dean Church
Western Times 26 April 1845 p3 col1

1848 William Mitchelmore, shoemaker, summoned William Brimmicombe of Torquay for a debt of £2 15s 11d. Mitchelmore had done work for both Brimmicombe and his daughter, and claimed that Brimmicombe had promised that he would pay the total amount. Brimmicombe's daughter had ordered boots, entered into the shoemaker's books as 'whole soled, bound and buttoned'. Brimmicombe denied promising to pay for these, saying that his daughter was 30 years old and he had nothing to do with her debts. It appears from the report that Brimmicombe only had to pay for the work done for himself.
Western Times 14 October 1848 p7 col4

Samuel Weeks was a 51 year old cordwainer in North Street in the 1851 census. Living with him and his wife Susan were 8 children, including Samuel, 25, who was a cordwainer, and 17 year old Elizabeth, who was a shoebinder.
1851 census HO107, piece no. 1871, folio 301, p30

1853 Elizabeth Skews summoned Thomas Ireland Searle, shoemaker, for the maintenance of her illegitimate child. The Bench ordered him to pay 2s 6d a week plus £1 0s 6d costs.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 2 July 1853 p4 col3

William Brown, a shoemaker, was summoned by Mary Blackler for assault in 1856. The case was described as 'a paltry squabble between parties who live in the same house' - nevertheless the assault was proved. Brown was fined 10s 6d and 9s 6d costs.
Western Times 3 May 1856, p7 col2

                                             Samuel Henry Chalk
Above: Invoice from S H Chalk in the 1880s
From my own collection

Samuel Henry Chalk was baptised in April 1832, the son of Samuel Chalk, a carpenter, and Maria Brown Chalk.
Parish records

At the time of the 1861 census he is a master cordwainer, employing one boy. He and his widowed mother are the next entry on from Thomas Bowden, a journeyman cordwainer.

By 1871 Samuel, now married with a daughter, is employing two men and a boy. On the census of that year he calls himself a shoemaker.
1861 census RG09, piece no.1405, folio 49, p8
1871 census RG10, piece no.2080, folio 34, p19

Ten years later his nephew Albert Fletcher, aged 16, is a shoemaker in the same household.
1881 census RG11, piece no. 2161, folio 31, p17

Samuel's daughter Flora R is assisting him in 1891. She is a 'boot & shoe shop assistant' in 1901.
1891 census RG12, piece no. 1698, folio 50, p7
1901 census RG13, piece no. 2053, folio 9 p9

Although Samuel spent most of his life in Ashburton, towards the end of his life he appears to have gone to live with his daughter and her husband in Lewisham, London. This is where he is on the 1911 census, aged 78 and a widower. He died in the September quarter of that year.
1911 census RG14, piece no. 2815


                                      People connected to shoemaking in the 1861 census
Richard Abraham, aged 13, boot and shoemaker, North St
John Barnes, boot and shoemaker, St Lawrence's Lane
Thomas Bastow, shoemaker, visitor, East St
Thomas P Bastow, 19 year old bootmaker apprentice, Heavyhead Lane
William Battershill, boot and shoemaker, Bowden Hill
James Bennett, retired bootmaker, Heavyhead Lane
Thomas Bowden, journeyman cordwainer
Samuel H Chalk, master cordwainer employing 1 boy
John Codd, shoemaker employing 3 men and 1 boy, West St
John Codd, cordwainer
Philip Cox, shoemaker, North St
George Culling, shoemaker, North St
John F Eales, shoemaker, St Lawrence's Lane
John Elliott, cordwainer, Bowden Hill
William Elliott, cordwainer, St Lawrence's Lane
John P Foot, boot and shoemaker master employing 1 man and 1 boy, East St
John Gardiner, shoemaker, North St
Henry Giles, bootmaker employing 1 man and 5 boys, West St
Thomas Harding, shoemaker
John Head, shoemaker, Bridge Cottage
Amelia Johns, boot binder
Edward Johns, boot and shoemaker
Mary A Johns, boot binder, Back Lane
William Kingwill, cordwainer, North St
Agness Langworthy, boot binder
Michael Langworthy, boot and shoemaker
Miriam Langworthy boot binder
Thomas Langworthy, shoe maker

Edward Luscombe, 13 year old apprentice shoemaker, Screeches Hill
Selina Madge, boot binder
Ambrose Nosworthy, 15 year old apprentice shoemaker, Bridge Cottage
John Petherbridge, 15 year old cordwainer, St Lawrence's Lane
John Sharmer, 16 year old apprentice shoemaker, West St
Ann Shellabear, boot binder
Richard Shellabear, boot and shoemaker, St Lawrence's Lane
George Shillabear, cordwainer, North St
Robert Sitters, cordwainer, East St
John Smerdon, bootmaker (and post office messenger), 2 Bovey's Cottages
John Smerdon, shoemaker (and parish clerk), 1 Bovey's Cottages
William Smerdon, shoemaker (son of John), 1 Bovey's Cottages.
William Thorn, 14 year old shoemaker apprentice, London Inn
Samuel Trenery, shoemaker, East St
Edward Trist, shoemaker, Heavyhead Lane
John Trist, cordwainer, East St
Robert Weeks, cordwainer, North St
Samuel Weeks, boot and shoemaker master, North St
Samuel Weeks (son of Samuel above), boot and shoemaker, North St
William Widger, shoemaker, East St
Peter Wotton, boot and shoemaker, East St
Six of the above, all women, were boot binders.
'The linen linings are then cut true to this pattern; the cashmere, prunella or cloth, cut to form the outside, and the morocco, patent leather or cordovan, added for the goloshing, and in this state it is given to the binder. Great care is now required and exacted in working up the boot-leg true to the pattern, and if it be lace, button or elastic, the binder has it is her power to spoil the whole affair - more, perhaps, depends on fitting the work than the workmanship, an union therefore, of skill in these two points  constitutes a good boot-binder.'
The Book of the Feet, A History of Boots and Shoes, J Sparkes Hall, London, p84

Solomon Weeks, a boot and shoe maker, died in February 1864. He was 79
Western Times, 26 February 1864, p5 col4

                                               The Giles family
John Giles, aged roughly 55, and his wife Mary, are living in North Street in the 1841 census. John is a cordwainer.
1851 census HO107, piece no. 253 ,folio 12, p19

In the 1851 census 45 year old John Giles and his wife Elizabeth are living in East Street. With them is their son, Henry, aged 19, who like his father is a cordwainer. There are three daughters including Thomasin and Ann, and John's 70 year old father, also called John and also a cordwainer, is with them.
James Abbot, a 21 year old apprentice cordwainer, is also in the household.
1851 census HO107, piece no. 1871, folio 292, p12

John Harding married Anne Giles in the Newton Abbot district, in the June quarter of 1860.
By the time of the 1861 census they had a 3 month old son, John C. 21 year old John was a watchmaker; his wife was 22.
1861 census, piece no 1405, folio 33, p15,

2 girls were born with the surname Harding and the mother's surname Giles after 1864: Elizabeth Ann in 1865, and Thirza in 1867. Both births were registered in the Newton Abbot district.

Ann Harding, aged 30, died in 1868

A notice in 1869 called for all debtors and creditors to the estate of John Harding, jeweller, Ashburton, to come forward before the 30th April. They were to contact Messrs Giles and Son, Boot and Shoemakers, Ashburton.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams 21 April 1869 p2 col3

After the death of John and Ann, their children seem to have been distributed amongst relatives:
In the 1871 census John Giles, a boot and shoemaker aged 65, is living in East Street with his wife Elizabeth.
With them is his niece Elizabeth Harding, aged 5, who was born in Ashburton.

1871 census RG10, piece no. 2080, folio 68, p10

Meanwhile Thirza Harding, aged 3, is living in the household of James Port and his wife Thomasin S. Her relationship to the head of the household is 'niece.'
James Port had married Thomesina Saunders Giles in the September quarter of 1860

1871 census RG10, piece no. 2080, folio 31, p14

In 1871 Henry Giles and his wife Frances Newham Giles were living in West Street. Henry was a master boot and shoemaker employing 4 men and 2 boys. In the household on census night were their 5 children, and nieces and nephews John E [C?] Harding, John Harding, William Harding, Francis N Rowland and Kate Rowland.
1871 census RG10, piece no. 2080, folio 69, p12

By 1881 Henry and Frances are living in East Street, probably in the property at the junction of East Street and North Street. Of the 5 children living with them Robert, aged 16, is a bootmaker; also in the household is Charles Harding, Henry's nephew, who is also a bootmaker.
1881 census RG11, piece no. 2161, folio 28, p 12

1898 'Re Henry Giles of Ashburton, bootmaker. In the matter of a deed of assignment for the benefit of creditors. A first and final dividend is about to be declared. Creditors who have not sent in their claims are required to send particulars thereof to the undersigned on or before the 10th day of December next...Tucker and Son, Ashburton, Devonshire, solicitors to the trustee.'

The London Gazette 29 November 1898 p7755

George Rowland Giles is a boot and shoemaker at the corner of North and East Street in the 1901 census. 31 years old and born in Ashburton, he is living there with his wife Elizabeth and three young children.
A postcard from the early 20th century (sold privately, not in my possession) shows a business with the name Giles, on the property that is now 2 North Street.
1901 census RG13, piece no. 2053, folio 35, p1

 Edwin Weeks Johns, aged 32 and living in St Lawrence Lane, was a boot and shoe maker and a letter carrier in the 1871 census.
1871 census RG10, piece no. 2080, folio 74, p22

In 1874 magistrates sent William Thorn, shoemaker, to prison for seven days for being drunk and riotous.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams 24 March 1874 p3 col4

George Shillabear, shoemaker, was summoned in 1876 for trespassing at Welstor in search of conies. He paid a 16s fine.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams 22 January 1876 p4 col2

In 1875 Mary Martin summoned Mary Field, the wife of a shoemaker, for assault. Field had thrown a bucket of water over Martin, after the latter had allegedly spread an 'evil report' about her. Field said that she 'was so aggravated that she could not help what she did.' She was fined 1s with 6s costs.
Western Times 22 June 1875 p7 col1

1879 Thomas Bawden, a shoemaker, was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Christow. He was fined 13s including costs.

Western Times 12 July 1879 p2 col5

In the 1881 census 69 year old John Eales, shoemaker, is living at Browses Buildings. With him is his wife Sophia, married daughter Elizabeth Keat, and three grandchildren: Francis, 3, Ellen, 2,  and William, 2 months old. John had been born in Brent, Devon.
1881 census RG11, piece no 2161, folio 72, p19

William Thorne, shoemaker, was fined 1s for being drunk and disorderly in the streets in October 1884. He was also charged under the Poaching Prevention Act, but as there was some doubt about whether or not he had permission to be on the land in question, the case was dismissed.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams 18 October 1884 p4 col2

In 1907 a postcard was sent to Brodrick, Boot repairers, Ashburton. It was addressed to Eva and Sam (?)
Sold privately, not in my collection