Book tells story of Peak District footwear workers' strike

A new book looks at the story of Peak District footwear workers who took strike action against low pay a century ago.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 5th December 2019, 9:00 am
Footwear workers on strike in Stoney Middleton in 1918
Footwear workers on strike in Stoney Middleton in 1918

One of the main sources of employment in Stoney Middleton and Eyam in the early 20th century was the boot and shoe industry.

Four in 10 households had someone working in one of the factories or on a self-employed basis. A third of the workforce were women, and a quarter were teenagers.

Men in Stoney Middleton boot factories in 1918 earned only £1 16s for a 59-hour week. In major footwear manufacturing towns, like Leicester, men could earn between £3 10s and £5, plus a war bonus.

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Women were paid 12s to 16s a week for a 55.5-hour week, whereas in Leicester they earned £2.10s to £3 plus war bonus for a shorter week.

Workers started to join the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives (NUBSO) despite attempts by employers to get workers to agree not to join a union and threatening to close factories down.

Following the sacking of 11 women and men for alleged union membership, and the refusal of local employers to talk, workers at eight boot and shoe factories came out on strike in March 1918.

The strike went on for nearly two-and-a-half years. It is believed to be the longest ever in the footwear trade in England and one of the longest in any industry involving a group of women workers.

Union organiser John Buckle and the strikers, with financial support from Sheffield trade unionists, set up a co-operative factory in Eyam that lasted two years.

The Air of Freedom by Philip Taylor and Steve Bond is on sale for £6 from Kelham Island Books, Rhyme and Reason, W H Smith on Fargate and Sheffield Museums.

To order by post, send a cheque for £8 made payable to S Bond to The Cordwainer, Unit 8, Brough Business Park, Bradwell, Hope Valley S33 9HG.

An exhibition is available and the authors are happy to give talks. Email [email protected] or [email protected]