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 http://www.maggieblanck.com/Occupations/Shoemaker.html 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.
http://www.thehcc.org/backgrnd.htm

1555-56 'Seats...William Dolbeare, shewmaker...'
Devon and Cornwall Record Society, Churchwardens Accounts of Ashburton, 1479-1580, Alison Hanham, 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
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk ref
PROB 11/249/705

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

1686 Nicholas Dench, cordwainer, soldier, was listed amonst 'Maimed soldiers'
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk Devon Archives and Local Studies Service, ref QS/128/3/6

A release dated 1711 concerning Little Sparnham, Ashburton, involves Thomas Bastowe of Ashburton, cordwainer.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk Plymouth and West Devon Record Office ref
2180/5

1739 James Tapper, cordwainer, was Portreeve.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk 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

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

The will of George Stone, cordwainer of Ashburton, was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury in 1791
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk ref
PROB 11/1209/83

                                                                             ***
Roger Maunder, cordwainer, is one of the parties to a lease of Sparnham, Ashburton, in 1779, together with his wife Margery.
Ref
Z10/2/1a-b, Devon Archives and Local Studies Service, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

In 1792 Roger Maunder, cordwainer, North Street, was named in an insurance document.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk 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
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk 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.*
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk 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

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.
Parish records

When Joanna, the daughter of Anthony and Joanna Martin, was baptized in October 1819, her father's occupation was that of shoemaker.
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.
https://familysearch.org
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.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk 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

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, http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk


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

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

                                                                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
https://www.freebmd.org.uk


                                                                        *******

                                      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
http://www.freecen.org.uk
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


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

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

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