Making Quality Boots the Traditional Way

William Lennon Boot Factory 130619 (48)
Boots awaiting their soles

William Lennon & Co Ltd was established in 1899 to supply safety boots to workers in local quarries and lead mines. Run since then by four generations of the family, in premises occupied since 1904, the firm still uses the same machinery (some original, some reclaimed from other factories that are no longer active) to produce quality footwear for labourers, farmers, hikers and cyclists. In June 2019, my parents’ village history group were treated to a guided tour of the factory in Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire, and I tagged along.

William Lennon Boot Factory 130619 (16)
A splendid Singer sewing machine

After an excellent buffet lunch at The Moon Inn, we walked up a steep hill to the factory entrance. Built into the hillside, the main door opens into the top floor of the factory (I believe the offices are at a higher level, but we didn’t get to see them). There’s a photo of the building from a different angle to the one I saw it from on this page.

The boot making process begins with cutting and stitching on the uppermost level of the factory. I was pleased to see the Singer sewing machines, albeit on a much larger scale than the vintage (though not nearly so old as those) model that I own. Work is performed by a relatively small staff, who tend to stick to one production area each.

William Lennon Boot Factory 130619 (41)
A boot being stretched and shaped over its inners

Once stitched and fitted with eyelets, the boots’ outers move downstairs, where the ‘new’ part of the building was added in the 1980s to be shaped and stretched over the inner parts, before moving to the middle floor where soles are applied. The boots with fully traditional leather soles can be refurbished back at the factory once their owners have got a great deal of wear out of them, and many of the boots can be customised at the point of ordering, according to customer preferences: including the production of mismatched sizes for those whose feet aren’t exact replicas of each other; however, boots are not made to the exact shape of feet: just the closest pattern to each foot’s dimensions.

I was particularly taken with two designs of boot: those based on WWI army boots, and a new style of ladies’ safety boots in contrasting colours (I liked the green and purple ones). One day I may manage to save up for a pair of one or both styles.

William Lennon Boot Factory 130619 (30)
Practice boot with parts named for reference
William Lennon Boot Factory 130619 (31)
Another view of that practice boot

And if the cost of the boots is too steep, there’s always the option of purchasing a keyring, a coaster. or a mouse mat. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and now have a much greater appreciation of the complex processes and attention to detail that go into making a pair of very good boots.

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9 comments

  1. When I was little (and years before I was born) my Mom worked at the shoe factory in Rolla, Missouri. She would tell me all the parts of shoes and how shoes were made, and I sometimes visited her at the factory. I still remember the sights, sounds, and smells of that place. She loved shoes, and while I don’t share her passion, it seems to have flowed down to my daughter and granddaughter. I do appreciate the work that goes into a well made shoe or boot. Thank you for sharing this adventure!

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    • The group only does one trip a year, although I think some of the groups in the surrounding villages do similar visits.

      The WWI style boots start at just under £200, which isn’t bad, but I have other things to pay for first.

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