The Northampton Legacy
If you’ve ever seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and switched sweets for handcrafted footwear you would start to get a picture of Northamptonshire, the birthplace and heart of English footwear manufacturing. In the Midlands north of London by an hour-and-a-half train ride lives Northampton, where some of the world’s finest shoes have been made for the better part of two centuries. With the “Big Six” of handcrafted English Shoe manufacturers residing in this town that shoemaking built and still producing some of the world’s best, there is indeed a unique knowledge about footwear here. When the Goodyear welting process was developed in the late 1800’s, Northampton makers were some of the first to adopt the technique and consequently built a lasting legacy around its usage. In shoemaking there are defining characteristics between different national traditions and philosophies, and the English have prided themselves on making the finest Goodyear welted shoes that can endure literally lifetimes of urban and rural wear.
The Tricker’s identity is in what the English refer to as the Country Boot: defined not by cowboy hats but by hounds, vintage shotguns, and marshlands for the Gentleman embarking on rural excursions who refuses to lose style in the wilderness. The original brogue boots are known for their water wicking properties, designed to be used for hunting, logging, and wetland activities, though in the mid-20th century they transformed into a dress style popularized across the developed world. While many brands chased other style trends, Tricker’s stayed true to producing durable footwear that could be used for its original purposes with an elegance appropriate in the most formal situations. Making boots with a dress sensibility that simultaneously will handle outdoor conditions with ease is the core characteristic that Tricker’s has maintained since 1829: a date when Mr. Benny Parks stubbed his toe on a nugget and kicked off the first gold rush in the US, when Queen Victoria’s ascent to the throne was still eight years away and Abraham Lincoln gave his first political speech. This makes Tricker’s the oldest family-owned English Shoe manufacturer in existence today. The “new” factory located on St. Michaels Road in this cobbling shire was opened in 1904 with an unwavering commitment to produce the best looking, hardest wearing country boots in England. To this day (now five generations and over 180 years later) it is still apparent that the great spirit of the age and the core principles of quality, innovation, durability, skill, style, adventure and success are stitched into every single pair that leaves the premises on St. Michaels Road, and this philosophy not only endures but is explicitly maintained.
This steadfastness and commitment to quality has not gone un-respected throughout the years. Walking through the customized Last section of the factory you see many famous, royal, and iconic names attached to the hand-shaped wooden lasts. You cannot help but wonder how many and what type of made-to-measure bespoke Tricker’s some of these gentlemen have in their wardrobes. Close by is the apprentice room where Johnny can be found hand tacking an upper; he’s been working in their training regime for over half a decade. Nearby is Scott, the master shoemaker who can custom fit and hand build a pair of lifetime shoes right in front of your eyes. It is understandable why heads of state, industry, and entertainment have entrusted their feet and wardrobes to this legacy manufacturer. In a market where there are influxes of cash, false labeling, heritage marketing campaigns, and the purchasing of old brands to create new halfhearted attempts at leveraging the original era, Tricker’s remains resolute: esteemed by those who have the knowledge and appreciation for what lies beyond a trend or look.
A pair of Tricker’s goes through over 260 individual processes, all carried out by skilled craftspeople who have shoemaking in their blood accompanied by years of training and decades of experience. It is not uncommon to find shoemakers on the floor whose parents and grandparents have not only made shoes, but worked for Tricker’s or operated that exact station in their day. There is a corker (who is referred to as exactly that, a “corker”) taking tremendous pride in the precise compound, grain specifications, and even spread of cork under the insole and covering the wooden (yes, wooden) shank on every pair of footwear; a welter, who’s been owning that station for 25 years, having mastered a single movement in accordance with a rapid stitch machine to achieve a 360-degree welt; a finisher who is assuring just the right amount of polish and pressure on the brush, not to mention the clicker, closer, and trimmer who know they are producing the most durable country boot that can be conceived.
The steam room, or to give its true technical name the Mulling Room, is one of the best examples of how the Tricker’s past and present intertwine. Constructed of decades-old framing that supports plastic sheeting held together with duct tape that’s been re-applied over the years of wear, inside exists a constantly topped up industrial grade catering tea urn where water boils away thus humidifying into the space where closed uppers hang and absorb the distinctive mixture, with the end result of enhancing the already premium European leathers used in all Tricker’s footwear. Even with the modern machinery, exceptional hardware, and refined processes used today, you can feel the genetic epistemology of the factory floors and those men and women operating it in perfected unison. This is where the first Kinky Boots film fittingly depicted its factory, because there exists here a distinctive heritage that most manufactures will never achieve.
In the finishing and shipping room we see the resoles and rebuilds, of which several uppers are over a half-century old, yes, a half-century – which underscores the definition of true lifetime footwear and reinforces the complexity and care that goes into each step. We at Division Road have the experience of trying to wear a pair of Tricker’s to death by taking what most people would consider a dress-only piece of footwear and riding our bikes, working on our vehicles, hiking in the woods, traversing cities in sleet and snow, and generally trying to beat them into submission. The singular constant is that with a good cleaning and shoe cream, an aggressively elegant pair of boots or shoes is once again revealed despite what you put them through. We find that you cannot do anything by foot to break a pair of Tricker’s, and as a finely finished dress style boot this is completely unique. The break-in period reinforces this fact, as one of the most memorable things about them is how rigid and heavy a true country boot feels upon the first wearing, and the subsequent change to when finally, you have compounded the cork, stretched the welt stitching, and softened the leather to the point where they feel like an armored glove for the foot.
For these reasons, Division Road has brought in Tricker’s as a core brand to our offering, to the Northwest and to the US in full force. We bring our own fundamental individual styles of the well-known Stow with signature Division Road details, as well as adaptations to the Longwing, Low Leg Logger, and Cap Toe Boots for those looking for something classically adventurous and different. There are many Goodyear welted shoes and boots out there, and to exemplify that not all are created equal we built our core representation upon the back of true heritage, quality, and distinctiveness. Tricker’s are not trying to be anything but themselves: we wanted to bring this individuality to the Division Road where we feel it belongs amongst those driven to cityscapes and landscapes equally, and always authentically. Communicated in each one of our styles is the core of the Tricker’s x Division Road personality and an excellent place to start or add to your collection, and to remind you of this we announce the Textured Stow – a Blackout Brogue using three types of leather that yield a comfortable, durable, and supremely stylish Stow Boot that features all of the signature details that define our collaborations with this legacy manufacturer.