UP until the last few decades, clogs and clog dancing have been as synonymous with Lancashire as potato pie and black pudding. Gradually, however, it has faded into the background, until there is now only one remaining clogmaker in business in the whole of the Hyndburn.
Most of the Hyndburn townships - Church, Oswaldtwistle, Clayton-le-Moors, Rishton, Great Harwood - had one or two clogmakers plying their trade from small cobblers' shops, but since the last war the trade has declined so much that there now remains just one - Mr John Peters of Walmsley Street, Rishton.
His engaging personality and willingness to oblige has won him many friends in the area, and certainly his skill in the art of clog making is spreading. I watched him fashion the irons to fit a pair of 'working clogs' and he spoke to me as he worked. 'Well, this shop's been going for 115 years. I bought it from Mr Talbot in 1954; he'd been in it for 30 years. Before him, Mr Brown had it for 15 years, and Mr Ashworth, who actually started the shop, had it for 30 years – so it's got quite a tradition.
When I started, I only intended to repair shoes - I'd no intention of making clogs - I didn't know how to! Anyway, one day a women came into the shop and asked me to make her a pair of clogs. I said I couldn't but Mr Talbot was in the back of the shop at the time. He heard her, so he said, 'If you want to know how to make clogs, then I'll show you'.
That's how it all started almost 30 years ago. As a boy I'd always been interested in clogs. I saw a clogger once in Taylor Street, Blackburn, and he really inspired me, but I never thought I'd get the chance to learn the craft, as I served an apprenticeship only as a shoe repairer.
'Anyway, Mr Talbot said he's show me - but it was rather difficult, because Mr Talbot was paralysed down his right-hand side. During the First World War, he's been shot in the head, and left for dead at the side of the road, but when they came to collect the bodies - he just managed to raise his left hand - so they knew he was alive.
Amazingly, he recovered, and later was sent to Leeds on a rehabilitation course, where he learned about shoe and clog repairing, in spite of his disability. He couldn't hold the clogs himself - because of his paralysis but when he had the shop in Rishton, he supervised the cloggers who worked for him, and so he was able to tell me how to make them. He could hold clogs in his left hand and repair shoes with his left hand as well - he was very versatile.
Trade declined after the war, because people thought it was degrading to wear clogs, and also leather was hard to get. During the Depression years everyone wore clogs - they were cheap and comfortable - but as people got more money, they turned to fancier types of shoes, so clogs went out of fashion.
It's a pity, really, because clogs are good for your feet. They're hard-wearing and waterproof, and often children with foot disorders or weak ankles were told to wear clogs for support. Also, children wore them when they were very young, and it helped them to walk quickly. One little girl would only walk on her toes - so they put her in clogs with irons on, and she soon walked properly.
Clogs can have either rubbers or irons on them. I buy the wooden soles and uppers, and make the clogs from these. The clogs I make now are mostly for 'fancy' or work. I make heavy-duty ones for engineers and farm workers, and some of the ladies at Lion's Brewery in the bottling department wear black-tied ones with a soft top. They find them very comfortable and they keep their feet dry. Clogs aren't all that expensive either when you think they can last up to ten years - about £33 for heavy-duty clogs; ladies' are £20 plus; children's £15. When I started, they were 13/- to 30 shillings. I used to work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, and sometimes old men would come in and watch me fashion the irons.
There's also different kinds of 'toes' you can get on clogs. The 'Duck Toe' is pointed and is used mostly in the Blackburn - Colne areas; whilst the 'Common Toe' is round and is used in the Wigan Chorley area. Men's working clogs are called 'Derby's' - they're very hard-wearing. (He makes pairs of heavy duty 'Derby's' for the Hyndburn gravediggers - with a double set of irons to facilitate digging and pushing the spades into the earth.)
Nowadays, students ask me for 'fancy clogs' - with different colours and soft leathers; they also use brass nails to make them more 'dressy'.
No two pairs of clogs are exactly alike', John says, and you can see the love and pride in his face as he fashions a clog with loving care. Sometimes he makes clogs for the whole family - grandfather and mother, parents and children - and you can tell by the way he works how proud he is of his trade. John is also learning the art of 'crimping', i.e. cutting out and making patterns in the black or brown leather. A friend of his, who is a clogmaker in another area, is showing him this art. He has also started to make clogs in different coloured leathers - dark and bright red, white, green, navy blue and tan, as well as the more common black. There are also clogs made with extra long tongues to cover the laces - these are with the 'fashion clogs', which are becoming more in demand. Rubbers on clogs are used by lorry drivers to stop them catching on the pedals. Irons were used by engineering workers to stop them sliding.
Although John has no sons to follow his in the business, there is one glimmer of hope for the future. His ten-year-old grandson, Ian, sits by him as he works. I saw him eagerly handling tolls and banging nails in wooden soles. Complete in his leather apron and clogs, Ian already looks like a future clogmaker. His constant chatter was of questions about clogs and what was going on around him.
'He prefers leather and nails to ordinary toys', said John, 'I've always enjoyed clogging because it's not just work - it's also a hobby, and I always think you should enjoy what you're doing, otherwise it's not worth anything, is it? And I hope Ian will enjoy it, too, then he can take over from me and the shop will go on for another 115 years.'
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