It could be said that Northamptonshire is a fairly unremarkable county. That it sits, rather unremarkably, in a not too remarkable corner of England. Its biggest towns, Northampton and Kettering, have never been considered exuberant metropolises. Its scenery, although pleasant, would never be considered spectacular. But Northamptonshire does have a trick up its sleeve; an ace that keeps its name firmly on the map. In an otherwise unremarkable county, the fine folk of Northamptonshire have a remarkable knack for shoemaking.
"...by the 1700s the history books resoundingly point to the county being regarded as the place to go to be shod."
Northamptonians have been regarded as the shoemakers of Great Britain since as far back as the 1600s. Folklore has it that the county originally developed its finesse for fine leather work when the foot soldiers fighting in the Battle of Naseby needed re-shoeing betwixt bouts. Whilst this origin of the heritage is a little dubious in terms of solid historical facts, by the 1700s the history books resoundingly point to the county being regarded as the place to go to be shod. By the 1800s, when the factories of the industrial revolution started to bespeckle the nation, it was shoe factories that Northamptonshire became bespeckled by.
It was in one of these factories, B. Riley’s, that a factory manager by the name of Joseph Cheaney began dreaming of bigger and better things. In 1886, ambitious and inspired, Joseph left B. Riley and set out on his own, establishing J. Cheaney Boot & Shoemakers in a small premises on Station Road, Desborough, a few miles north of Kettering. Well thought of in the community, it wasn’t long before he needed to hire his son, Arthur, to cope with the local demand. By 1896, as orders were received from further afield, the business needed a bigger premises and moved to a purpose built factory down the road in Desborough.
"...it was this approach that secured Cheaney a reputation for attention to detail and rock-solid handcraftsmanship."
Unlike other factories at the time, Cheaney and Sons was dedicated to producing the whole of the shoe. From the cutting and sealing of the leather uppers, to the last screw and nails, to the final attentive polish, the entire manufacturing process was completed within the walls of the Cheaney factory.
By the First World War, as soldiers needed to be shoed once more, Northamptonshire was again the first port of call, and this time Cheaney was up there with the best of them. Despite making as many as two and half thousand boots each week during the war, Cheaney stuck to their values, producing handmade footwear that could withstand the worse the trenches had to throw at it. Post-war, and picking up where they left off making formal and casual shoewear, Cheaney built on their reputation and continued to grow. Even when they modernised their production methods to cope with the demand of a more connected country, they never strayed from their commitment to fastidiously hand-finishing all aspects of production.
The Cheaney factory circa 1900
It was this care and love for the craft of shoe production that helped them survive the great depression in the 30s and yet another world war in the 40s. Now joined by Joeseph ‘Dick’ Cheaney, the grandson of the company’s originator, the Cheaney factory continued to flourish but the Cheaney brand had had to take a backseat. The original factory, still based in Desborough, now functioned as an overspill for more well-known brands, with the Cheaney craftsmen and women producing shoes for a range of names.
"A brand true to its roots but that could meet the demands of a global audience..."
In 1966 it was one of these brands, Church & Company, that bought a controlling stake in Cheaney. But far from spelling the beginning of the end, the buyout gave Cheaney a chance at a new lease of life. Dick Cheaney stayed with the company and in 1967 they launched The Cheaney of England brand; a brand true to its roots but that could meet the demands of a global audience.
The Cheaney Berkley Whole Cut Tan
Today Cheaney are doing better than ever. Independent and family run once again thanks to two cousins from Church & Company, their shoes now represent a pinnacle of British heritage manufacturing, with the whole process still undertaken at that same factory in Desborough, Northamptonshire.
The Cheaney Wilfred Brouge Tan
Their collections include classic styles with contemporary nods and more contemporary styles inescapably rooted in a leather-bound history. Cheaney is the product of a British county’s remarkable shoemaking legacy, but it’s down to generations of persistence that's meant they’re still making their remarkably good shoes to this day.
Want to see more Cheaney? Shop our full collection here.