Cheaney Heritage - Made in England Since 1886
Joseph Cheaney founded the company and moved to the present site in 1896. In 1903 Joseph's sons Arthur and Harold joined the company. In 1930 "Dick" Cheaney, grandson of the founder, joined the company.In 1966 Cheaney won the Queen's Award to industry and was sold to Church and Company. In 2009 Jonathan and William Church bought the company. Their family has been making fine shoes for five generations and they are fully committed to producing the finest footwear entirely made in England.
Shoemaking tradition in Northamptonshire
Northamptonshire is renowned as the home of quality English shoemaking, and it is interesting to explore what prompted this industry to develop in the first place. The popular theory is that in the 1600s there was ample availability of materials for tanning leather. This, so the story goes, coupled with the need to re-shod the armies about to fight the Battle of Naseby, spawned the nascent shoe industry. It’s a nice folk tale, but the reality is more prosaic.
There were no factories in the 17th century, and it was around 200 years later that the oldest shoe families began to become more organised, which led to the establishment of manufactories. So it was with Cheaney. Joseph Cheaney had been the factory manager of B. Riley, but in 1886 established J. Cheaney, Boot & Shoemakers in a small premises in Station Road, Desborough. At the time, many people were engaged in the making of shoes, but rather than carrying out the whole operation, they would specialise in a part of the process. This would typically be done in outhouses, known as shops, at the bottom of their gardens. At each stage of the making process, the shoe would move to a different ‘shop’ until the end product would go a collection point for distribution, which was facilitated by the burgeoning road and rail network. Before this, a local shoemaker would only supply customers in his immediate vicinity.
There were about seven shoe factories in Desborough at this time, and in 1890, Arthur Cheaney joined his father’s company. In 1896, the business moved to the site it still occupies today in a purpose built factory to house all aspects of shoemaking, from the cutting out of the leather (clicking) to the final polishing. Although some manufacturers now outsource the initial production of the uppers to the Far East, Cheaney shoes are still cut out and ‘closed’ in Desborough, Northamptonshire as they have been since 1886.
Joseph Cheaney was a prominent local character, being a local councillor and also had involvement in the Church. He was interested in the welfare of local children, and it appears that he used to keep them supplied with oranges.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Harold Cheaney joined his father and brother in the business, which led to the company name changing to J. Cheaney & Sons in 1903. It became a limited company in 1920, with a paid up share capital of £40,000, which was substantial for the time.
There are a couple of amusing anecdotes concerning the independent nature of the workforce in the early part of the 20th century. Desborough shoemakers took a lively interest in the local hunt and requested permission to go and watch the spectacle. This was refused, but the workforce went anyway, thus finishing production for the day! On another occasion, a sales representative for a last manufacturer came to demonstrate a more efficient way of handling lasts (the three dimensional form on which shoes are made). The workforce took exception to having their working practices criticised and promptly threw the salesman in the local duck pond, thus incurring each of them a £5 fine for their trouble! At that time Cheaney had a 54 hour working week spread over five and a half days.