Joseph Cheaney & Sons: Creating a lasting impression

The Rake meets William Church, Joint Managing Director of Joseph Cheaney & Sons, and goes backstage to the firm’s Northamptonshire shoemaking facility.

The county of Northamptonshire is as synonymous with shoemaking as Savile Row is with bespoke suiting. The availability of plentiful raw materials nearby, including oak bark and water for tanning, and leather from local cattle markets made the county's central location in England ideal for trading - alongside the need to re-shod the armies engaged in the Battle of Naseby in 1645, all of which spawned a nascent shoe industry.  Indeed “Northamptonshire remains the shoemaking capital of the world”, the BFA (The British Footwear Association) - who have represented the industry for the past 120 years - proudly announced as it gathered together the county's leading manufacturers for a party to celebrate its 120th anniversary in 2019. Chairman Robert Perkins said despite Brexit uncertainty and increased global competition, British shoemaking was in the ascendancy. 

One of the companies to reap the benefits, and also in attendance that day, was Joseph Cheaney & Sons. Let’s rewind 134 years to the time when a certain Joseph Cheaney established J. Cheaney, Boot & Shoemakers. Cheaney, a skilled cordwainer,  was a local councillor, prominent local figure, and churchgoer. The company changed its name to J. Cheaney & Sons in 1903, after Cheaney’s two sons joined the fold. Eventually Cheaney was sold to Church & Co of Northampton in 1964. Of the original seven shoe factories established in Desborough, Cheaney, with its red-brick Victorian headquarters and Union Jack soaring proudly above, is the last surviving in the town. “There were many dozens of shoe factories throughout the town of Northampton and the surrounding county,” says Cheaney Joint Managing Director William Church. “Cheaney chose to focus on quality and as the cost pressures increased from competition from the Far East, Cheaney and a handful of other brands were able to survive.” While some manufacturers have outsourced the initial production of uppers to Asia, Cheaney shoes are still cut out and ‘closed’ in the same factory on Station Road in Desborough, as they have been since 1886.

Published

January 2020

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