It's only when we're amongst fellow shoe folk that we really start to appreciate that it takes quite an extraordinary person to pursue this specialist craft...and what young upstarts we are in such a venerable trade!
So it was with much anticipation and some dread that we pitched up to the rather imposing Latimer Place in Chesham, for the 12th Annual Independent Shoemakers Conference. We joined about 50 fellow shoemakers, cobblers and repairers in leafy Bucks to discuss all things shoe related and having located a good coffee machine and snaffled some breakfast, things started to look up.
Kindly hosted this year by Peter Schweiger of James Taylor & Son, it was in fact a fantastic day and literally flew by. We began by each introducing our favourite shoe (in our case the Half Cut and ladies brogue) and this was Mr. Schweiger's - his shoe when he was a very well-shod little boy! Leather upper, sole and heels and hand stitched...I only hope our children aren't reading this!
We met the amazing shoe historian June Swann (she of the Northampton Museum); we sat in awe at the resourceful, skillful and expert orthopaedic shoemakers who work miracles to help improve their customers' mobility and wellbeing; and we met shoemaking legend Bill Bird - sorry Bill, but it was a delight to finally meet you and congratulations on the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers acceptance!
We discovered something of the history of the Conference (it was our first visit); enjoyed a riotous dying demo by Arty Achilleos;
had a go at hand-stitching as demonstrated by Dominic Casey (pictured below with June Swann);
and saw how height is built into a trainer by Andrew Twigg - the fastest knife in the north!
As you can see James couldn't resist having a go at the hand stitching but wasn't ready to try the trainers!
By 5pm with new contacts and friends made we wearily headed home - leaving the stalwarts to swim, watch Hobson's Choice ( a David Lean comedy starring John Mills, about a bootmaker and his unruly eldest daughter) and generally make merry into the early hours!
So, until next year fellow repairers, cobblers and shoemakers (or Snobs as we were once known!)!