HERITAGE - MADE IN ENGLAND SINCE 1886
Cheaney established the company in 1886, and in 1896, along with his son
Arthur, they moved to the site which the factory occupies today.
first 80 years of business, the factory made shoes exclusively for some of the
finest retailers around the world, branded to their individual company
Humfrey Cheaney, the founder’s grandson who worked for the company for 51
years, realised that the company’s future lay in building up its own Cheaney
brand for its home and export markets. In 1964, determined to see the legacy
built up by the family continue, the decision was taken to sell the business to
Church’s English Shoes. The Cheaney brand then became available to retailers
all over the world, backed by a comprehensive instock service from the
Cheaney won the Queen's Award to Industry and in 2016, the Queen’s Award for
Enterprise in International Trade.
Jonathan and William Church bought the company. Their family has been making
fine shoes for five generations and they are fully committed to producing the
finest footwear entirely made in England.
shows Cheaney's Northamptonshire factory circa 1900 (same factory as today)
TRADITION IN NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
is renowned as the home of quality English shoemaking, and it is interesting to
explore what prompted this industry to develop in the first place. The popular
theory is that in the 1600s there was ample availability of materials for tanning
leather. This, so the story goes, coupled with the need to re-shod the armies
about to fight the Battle of Naseby, spawned the nascent shoe industry. It’s a
nice folk tale, but the reality is more prosaic.
no factories in the 17th century, and it was around 200 years later that the
oldest shoe families began to become more organised, which led to the
establishment of manufactories. So it was with Cheaney. Joseph Cheaney had been
the factory manager of B. Riley, but in 1886 established J. Cheaney, Boot &
Shoemakers in a small premises in Station Road, Desborough. At the time, many
people were engaged in the making of shoes, but rather than carrying out the
whole operation, they would specialise in a part of the process. This would
typically be done in outhouses, known as shops, at the bottom of their gardens.
At each stage of the making process, the shoe would move to a different ‘shop’
until the end product would go a collection point for distribution, which was
facilitated by the burgeoning road and rail network. Before this, a local
shoemaker would only supply customers in his immediate vicinity.
about seven shoe factories in Desborough at this time, and in 1890, Arthur
Cheaney joined his father’s company. In 1896, the business moved to the site it
still occupies today in a purpose built factory to house all aspects of
shoemaking, from the cutting out of the leather (clicking) to the final
polishing. Although some manufacturers now outsource the initial production of
the uppers to the Far East, Cheaney shoes are still cut out and ‘closed’ in
Desborough, Northamptonshire as they have been since 1886.
Cheaney was a prominent local character, being a local councillor and also had
involvement in the Church. He was interested in the welfare of local children,
and it appears that he used to keep them supplied with oranges.
beginning of the 20th century, Harold Cheaney joined his father and brother in
the business, which led to the company name changing to J. Cheaney & Sons
in 1903. It became a limited company in 1920, with a paid up share capital of
£40,000, which was substantial for the time.
There are a
couple of amusing anecdotes concerning the independent nature of the workforce
in the early part of the 20th century. Desborough shoemakers took a lively
interest in the local hunt and requested permission to go and watch the
spectacle. This was refused, but the workforce went anyway, thus finishing
production for the day! On another occasion, a sales representative for a last
manufacturer came to demonstrate a more efficient way of handling lasts (the
three dimensional form on which shoes are made). The workforce took exception
to having their working practices criticised and promptly threw the salesman in
the local duck pond, thus incurring each of them a £5 fine for their trouble!
At that time Cheaney had a 54 hour working week spread over five and a half
was kept very busy in the First World War, producing about 2500 pairs per week
of stitched and screwed boots and shoes. Building on this success, the company
continued to flourish, even through the lean post-war years and the global
depression of the 1930s. Production was modernised, whilst retaining the same
handcrafting methods and the distribution base was broadened to include the
major conurbations of the United Kingdom. Very few shoes were exported at this
Humphrey (usually known as “Dick”) Cheaney, the grandson of the founder, joined
the company in 1930 where he stayed until his retirement in 1981, except for a
period in the Second World War when he served as a pilot in the Royal Air
war, “Dick” Cheaney saw that it was vital to expand the company’s distribution
into export markets, not only for the business but also for the United Kingdom,
which desperately needed to earn foreign currency. He was also committed to
continuing his father’s and grandfather’s policy of maintaining high quality
standards in terms of manufacture and materials. This contributed to Cheaney’s
growing reputation as a shoemaker. In the post war years up to the early part
of the 1960s, the company did not produce under its own brand but made shoes
for major retail groups in the USA and the UK that were then sold under their
names. Whilst this enabled Cheaney to grow the business to a point, “Dick”
Cheaney realised that in order to secure the future of the company, he needed
to have an alliance with an organisation that had retail outlets in the UK and
an established export market.
AWARD TO INDUSTRY
Cheaney won the Queen’s Award to Industry for export achievement and was also
sold to Church & Company plc.
of England brand was launched in 1967 and this was the first time since its
inception that it had marketed shoes under its own name. In 1971, Cheaney again
won the coveted Queens Award to Industry for Export. Overseas sales continued
to grow until the adverse effect of the inflationary pressures of the 1970s,
which affected Cheaney along with many other British exporters. In fact, by the
dawn of the 1980s, many Northamptonshire shoe companies had ceased trading.
this very challenging environment, Cheaney continued to prosper at home,
assisted by the introduction of an instock system of branded footwear. It was
this that enabled the company to sell to independent retailers and promoted the
brand to a growing number of discerning buyers. By the mid-1980s, Cheaney’s
export business had recovered well and, by the approach of the new millennium,
had a very healthy order book in terms of both its own branded product and also
the footwear made for other retailers.
2002, Cheaney opened its flagship store in London, which helped raise the
awareness of the brand.
AND WILLIAM CHURCH
2009, cousins Jonathan and William Church conducted a management buy-out of
Cheaney from Church & Co (by then a wholly owned subsidiary of Prada). They
now own and operate the company and are committed to continuing the production
of high quality shoes entirely made in Northamptonshire, from the cutting out
of the leather to the final polishing, just as it was in 1886.