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Boot & Shoe trade and its history - Kingswood

In the early period Kingswood boot factories tended to be small, family-run units relying heavily on outwork. The various parts of the boots were collected by the outworkers from the factory and made up at home, the boots being returned to the factory to be 'finished'. This type of production which was later superseded by larger, more mechanised factories better geared to mass production.


For hundreds of years, leather production and manufacturing has been a high profile feature of Kingswood.




Derham's business was started by James and Samuel Derham in the 1830's or 1840's, and was among the first to make ready-made footwear. The company moved to Soundwell in 1906 after the earlier factory was destroyed by fire. In 1910, the factory was bought by Clifford and Percy Steadman of Steadman and Co. Derham's, like many other employers, got involved in the social side of their employees' lives. Derham's owned allotments in the area for the use of their employees.




One of the factories that ceased production in the1950's was that of Bruce Lewis. Originally his factory was located at 53 Downend Road, Kingswood (Gordon Boot Works). During the Second World War his business was housed with the Saunders Brothers at 25 Downend Road. (Many businesses were grouped together during the War so that the empty factories could be used for different types of war work).

In 1947 a fire broke out at this factory and half of it was destroyed; however, as the building was insured, Bruce Lewis had sufficient to start up again in Forest Road, Kingswood. He subsequently went into liquidation in the 1950's.


When the British Shoe Corporation came into Kingswood, they took over the building, in Forest Road, that Bruce Lewis had occupied. It was this organisation that took much of the female labour force of Derham Brothers and Pratt when those factories closed down.




The firm of Saunders Brothers, whose property Bruce Lewis shared, was begun by Edwin Pearce Saunders. He originally started trading from a small building in Cross Street, Kingswood, but later on moved into Alsop Road. Here he bought several small cottages, had them demolished and erected his factory.


He also bought two cottages on Downend Road and had them converted into Kilvie House, now Kilvie Guest House. When his parents died, he took his brothers Tom, Charlie and Harry into the firm, and they remained partners until 1910. Edwin's son Ne!son, joined when Edwin bought out his brothers, who carried on working as paid employees. Edwin worked until his retirement in the l930's. lt was nelson who had the house 'Myrtle Glydd' built and lived there, almost opposite the factory. His sons, Keith and Terry, were the last Saunders Brothers in the firm ' and they ceased production in 1957.




A major employer in the heavy boot industry in Kingswood, this firm manufactured an extremely good, high quality agricultural boot. There are still many inhabitants of the Kingswood district who have themselves worked for the firm. 'I went straight into a job within a week, in a boot factory at Kingswood.'


'Which one was that?' 'Pratt's in Park Road. I was feeding up to a heel attacher, that is, there was a machine with two feet on, swivelled in the centre, and boxes of nails on the side, and you had to sort these nails out, slip them in the holes and then the operator would put the boot on the heel, clamp down the machine and the heel would be attached.'


The business was started by Edward Woodhall Pratt in the 1880's. William and Ted Pratt ran it after E.W. Pratt retired. The Pratt family eventually sold out to Derhams, and the factory was demolished in the 1960's.




lssac Pow, 1839-1910 was a manufacturer, and was the first to install permanent machinery in his factory. He was also a member of Kingswood Urban District Council and Chairman of that authority in 1901/2.




Aaron Johnson owned the Britannia Boot Works at the junction of Britannia Road and Forest Road. Part of the buildings were destroyed in a fire and he is supposed to have perished with it. He does, however, reputedly still 'visit' the factory on occasions!




The boot manufacturer business of Hoare and Douglas was originally housed in the out buildings of a property on Whittucks Road, now known as Oakfield Road. An attempt to sell the property, known as 'Hanham House', was made on 2nd November, 1898 at the Jolly Sailor Hotel, Hanham, whilst Hoare and Douglas still had a two and a half year lease on the buildings they were using. The bill of sale for this can be seen in the Reference Section of the Central Lending Library (Bristol). They continued trading in Oakfield Road until acquired by G.B. Britton in 1956.




The last family firm in Kingswood was that of Moon. It closed in 1971, Charles Moon and his brother Raymond being the last members of the family to be working. They believed the reason they were able to continue for so long was the fact that the machinery required for their work was owned by them. Most firms rented theirs, and slack periods in working brought about many closures of smallfactories as they either could not keep up the payment on the rent and the machines were repossessed, or they bankrupted themselves trying to keep up the rent.


When Moon's closed there were just six men still working, the youngest being 42 and the next eldest 63.The two brothers left in the firm could produce a heavy riveted boot from beginning to end.




F. Wiltshire's factory was on Church Road in Soundwell, and is now part of Soundwell Technical College. The factory was built in 1913 by Alderman A. Wiltshire, who founded the firm in 1904.




G.B. Britton is perhaps one of the most famous firms left in the area. The company was founded in 1875 by Bryant and Britton. in the 1950's they introduced the process of vulcanising the one-piece rubber sole to the leather upper of the shoe, which gave the combination of strength and protection with lightness and flexibility.


The process was a great success for them, but for others it tolled the bell of doom. Those firms which would not or could not introduce this system went out of production.


The End of the Boot & Shoe Trade in Kingswood - The GB Britton factory once employed 1,500 workers


'The buyers and users are looking for value for money and there is no indication that they are willing to pay the sort of price that's needed for a UK-made product.


'Obviously it is a sad day, as the company's history goes back to 1876.


'But there is a positive aspect to it. We are closing down manufacturing, but we are relocating our sales and warehouse operations to a new site only six miles away so we are continuing in that respect.


'We'll still have almost 100 jobs there.' Terry Meekin of the Knitwear, Footwear and Textile workers union (KFAT) said it was the end of an era for the city. He said: 'It was a huge shock for the area when it was announced.


'It was a very skilled and productive workforce that was more like a community than a factory, but it was impossible to compete.


Business impact - Some local traders have raised concerns about the impact the closure will have on their businesses because the workforce will no longer be using the nearby shops. Mr Newman said: 'Obviously, there will be a knock-on effect of jobs being lost, but generally employment conditions in Bristol are good. 'I'm confident, particularly with the help of the company and the union, that people going through re-training exercises will find alternative employment and so there shouldn't be a major impact on small local businesses.'

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Taken on January 22, 2009