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Wednesday
Feb102010

Home-Made Army Shoes. Ringstead 1896 (A Poem)

HOME-MADE ARMY SHOES

Ringstead 1896

The following lines are the production of the Rev. A.C. Neely who, in 1896 was Vicar of Denford-cum-Ringstead. To quote his own words “they serve to show something of the conditions of the shoe-trade over thirty years ago before the real old-fashioned craftsmen had to give way to machinery and the team system”

Scene:  A Railway Carriage. A shoe-maker talking to a fellow passenger

 

How do I get my living? Well, that’s straight and no mistake.

What do I look like, Guv’nor? What d’ye think I make?

You can see I work at something with my hands and not my head,

That I ain’t a chap as writes and that, to earn my daily bread.

Well, I’ll tell you, where I come from and then, perhaps, you’ll guess

What trade I’m in and so on – what business I profess.

Of course you’ve heard of Ringstead in the valley of the Nene?

Well, that’s the place I come from, where nearly all the men

Their wives and boys and girls as well, are employed in making shoes.

Yes! I thought you’d know about it: most folks do, but they confuse

Our work with other sorts, you know, that’s done in our towns

Like Leicester and Northampton where they call us rustics “clowns,”

Those folks can’t make shoes sir – not as I want to boast

But they know no more of shoe-work than they know the coast

Of the South Pacific Ocean or of China or Japan;

They can’t make shoes from start to finish; us chaps at Ringstead can!

 

“Machines,” d’ye say? Not likely there ain’t one in the place,

And it doesn’t need a score of us to make a leather lace.

We can turn out a shoe sir, made every bit by hand,

Not one of them there cheap lots, that’s only made to stand

About a month in summer; with a real strong cardboard sole

That lets in every drop of wet and soon is far from whole;

I’ll tell you what it is, sir; that to buy such goods don’t pay.

 

Well the train’s just slowing down, now, and I must say ”Good-day”

You’ll come and look me up, sir, when you’re travelling our way?

 

Scene: A Shoe-maker’s Workshop. The shoe-maker with his mate, seated at work,

 rises to welcome his fellow passenger of a few weeks before.

 

Walk up, sir! Mind the ladder and don’t you bump your head!

Well, I’m glad you’ve found your way here and remembered what I said.

Just sit down on that stool there and make yourself at home,

For when you come to Rome, you know, you must do as they do at Rome.

This is my shop-mate, mister. You see we work in pairs;

It’s company and, if we work together, we don’t think of our cares.

 

No, don’t put out your pipe, sir, we don’t object to smoke;

My mate is fond of “bacca” – but he’s a single bloke,

I’ve got a wife and family and so I save the pence

I used to spend on smoking. You see, it’s an expense

 

You’re looking at this shoe, sir and wondering who it’s for;

I quite forgot to tell you that we make them by the score

For our soldiers and our sailors – those lads so brave and true,

Who, when it comes to fighting can show the foe who’s who.

They want a well-made shoe you see, and one that’ll stand some wear.

You go and ask Lord Wolseley how those poor chaps would fare

Campaigning out in Egypt, or in any foreign land,

If they had to wear “machine-mades” and there were none made by hand.

They don’t perhaps fall to pieces but they don’t give to the tread.

If soldiers had to march in them, they’d soon be good as dead.

 

“Hard work?” Why, yes, of course it is. Just try to pull this thread.

Can’t manage it? I thought not. Try something else instead.

Hammer this bit of leather, on this iron, on your knee,

It don’t hurt me a blessed bit – but you just try and see!

“Don’t want much of that” you say? Ah! You haven’t learnt the trick,

I’ll tell you about it sometime. Can’t learn it all so quick.

You’re right, it is hard work, sir and more than that, it’s Art

To do it all yourself like, and fit in every part.

The missus sews the tops, of course, but then that’s not so tough,

But if you had a day at that, you’d say you’d had enough.

“Did we go on strike last summer, when the chaps in town were out?”

No bless you, we don’t want to strike; we get on best without.

I’m not going to say, though, that many would refuse

(If they chanced to get the offer) sixpence more a pair of shoes.

 

“Have to do our work well?” Yes, you see it’s all inspected

By fellows from the War Office, and, sometimes it’s rejected

For what you wouldn’t notice, just some little tiny flaw.

You can buy them when they send them back for very little more

Than what they cost for making. And if you want to wear

Something that’s strong and durable, you’d better buy a pair.

Our parson’s got a pair or two, made of the best of leather,

And he says there’s nothing like ‘em for wet and dirty weather.

He lives about a mile off and he mostly has to walk,

He can’t afford a carriage. Yes, he’ll come up here to talk,

An' talk about all sorts of things, ‘most anything you choose.

You bet we ‘ave him on a bit about our work and that,

But he knows as we don’ mean no harm an’ he loves a bit o’ chat.

 

Now, if I can be so bold, sir, what’s your special trade?

I see it isn’t shoemaking, and I guess it’s better paid.

 

Oh, “writing for the papers,” that’s it, is it? That’s your line,

Well, I don’t think I could manage that. But you couldn’t manage mine.

But look here, I’ll ask you one thing. Don’t you put us in print.

I don’t expect you will though; but there’s no harm in a hint.

 

Must you be going? Well, good-day, I’m very glad you came,

“Merry Christmas?” Thank you, sir, I hope you’ll have the same.

 

Scene: The same Workshop a few days later. The two shoemakers,

one of them reading a newspaper.

 

That chap’s got us in the paper, Bill. Look here, it’s all in rhyme,

You can’t trust them there journalists! We shall know another time.

 

Northampton County Magazine Volume 2 Jan – Dec 1929 Editor Arthur Adcock

(Northampton Central Library)

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