Clogs and Clogmakers

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FOR many years, clogs have been associated with the Lancashire Mills and the cotton trade, and, indeed, they were said to be very beneficial for the feet. Children had to wear clogs because of the war, Years later, with the demise of the cotton industry, clogs faded into the back ground being superseded by heavy boots for industrial workers like brewery and engineering tradesmen. In the last few years, clogs have enjoyed a return to popularity and quite a few clog dancing groups have been formed, which have aroused new interest in an old Lancashire tradition.

One of the best known groups is the ‘Ossy Cloggers’, led by Theresa Hindle and her daughter, Deborah Riley, who have both danced with the cloggers. Deborah’s daughter, Caroline, makes it three generations of clog dancers in one family. The cloggers have travelled all over Lancashire, demonstrating their dances and techniques and have done a lot to help revive the popularity of clogs.

Sadly, there are only a few craftsmen left, still making clogs in Lancashire. Some of the best known names are: Bill Turton, based in the Fylde, John Peters of Rishton and Walter Hurst of the Wigan and Hindley area. Winfield's of Haslingden also have a demonstration of clog making by Tommy Roe, who has been taught by Mr. Turton.

So here’s to the clogs of Lancashire. May they never die!

SEVERAL TYPES of clogs were in use. Pit clogs (or boot clogs) corresponded to boots and came well up the ankles, being secured with natural leather laces. The toes were protected by a heavy steel plate. Such clogs carried no decoration; they were strictly for business, heavy business, such as you would find in a foundry. Ordinary clogs for men fastened with a clasp. Women’s clogs, less substantial, were decorated all the way round between the alder wood sole and the welt with brass tacks. A woman’s clog had a strap across the instep.

The fastener for a child’s clog was a button, and the clog had more ornamentation, the half-inch broad toe piece of brass being largely a decorative touch. There were even red clogs for a baby. It was the only time that a departure from the traditional black was permitted.

Clogs were not worn in the spinning mill; the iron soles would have knocked up wood on the floors. The operatives often wore their clogs and shawls when going to and from work. Clogs were the customary wear in a weaving shed, where the weaver stood on a flagged floor that was cold and often damp. The clog iron, lifting the wood base clear of the wet floor by a simple one-eighth of an inch, was salvation to the weaver from a health point of view. In the clatter of a shed the little extra noise caused by clogs did not really matter.

Cloggers’ shops stood at every street corner. A clogging service was provided by every Co-op. Clogs were, of course, hand-made to the measurements of each customer’s feet, and many retail outlets in the Burnley area were supplied with clog blocks by Sam Smalley, a farmer living at Grindleton, who bought up all the alder he could, cut the blocks, and delivered them on a flat cart drawn by a pony. His best customer was the Burnley Co op.

Many of the irons attached to the clogs came from forges at Silsden. The blacksmith, who had provided iron shoes for horses, naturally did this work. Nearly every clogger had a set of bad teeth; he was fond of holding clog tacks in his mouth.

The shawl, an integral part of the Lancashire mill town image, was made of wool, and generally dark in tone. Every clothier sold shawls. Some of the new owners attached a fringe or decoration. The shawls, large and warm, were capable of covering the head and were frequently kept in place at the chin by a large safety pin. The Lancashire shawl was possibly a development of a smaller shawl used in conjunction with a poke bonnet. The bonnet went out of fashion. The shawl grew in size until it was capable of covering the head.

Traditional clothing for weavers included an apron known as a "brat". It was of constant length, almost reaching to the ground. Men’s fashions were not exceptional. Last century a factory operative was reported to be wearing a cloth cap, red neckerchief, check shirt, fustian trousers, waistcoat and clogs.

Shopping at the Market Hall was a lively experience, and in the days before supermarkets evolved every street seemed to have its "corner shop". There were street vendors, too.

One street trader made a living out of clothes props, nothing else. He walked down every back street in town. As he passed a door, he kicked it with his clog. Clonk! Simultaneously he shouted: "Props!" Five seconds later, the next door was reached, and one heard another loud clonk, followed by a shouted "Props!"

Few people stirred in the streets on winter evenings. A trader remembered clearly by a Nelson man was the hot- pea man who arrived swinging a bell and inviting custom for his mushy peas. The pie and pea man made his rounds with a little handcart. A brazier kept the food warm. The hot pie vendor had his wares wrapped in cotton cloths, held in a large basket, which he balanced on his head. "My brother and I could either have a cream horn from the confectioner or a hot pie. We had a bath on Friday night and — clean and tidy — we sat up in bed with mounting excitement, waiting for the pie man. We ate the pies while sitting up in bed.


Extracts from Lancashire Mixture by Benita Moore, ISBN 1-873888-65-1, Published by Owl Books 1993

Life In The Lancashire Mill Towns, by W. R. Mitchell. Dalesman Books 1982. ISBN 0 85206 704 6