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Edges Shoes

The story of Samuel Edge
and his shoe factory
by Trevor Genge

part 1
Edges Shoes

Trevor Genge is researching the history of Edge's shoes and these are his findings so far.  Information from anyone, about any aspect of the Edge family, the firm and, especially, the employees would be more than welcome.  There is a page of some photos of employees which you can reach by clicking here.  If you can identify any of them, or the events where they were taken, please let us know. All and any information should be sent to Trevor.  His email address is:  t.genge@blueyonder.co.uk 

In the busy country market town of Whitchurch, North Shropshire there were many clog makers.   It must have been quite a prosperous trade, for the hard working people of the town and its surroundings, whether working on farms or in factories, would all have found use for the robust clog.

George Edge had relatives in the town but for himself had chosen the trade of bricklayer.  He had married his wife Harriet Phillips in 1858 and they lived in Watergate Street on the Raven's Yard.  Their first child was a son, Samuel, born 18th October 1861, and he was followed by William 1862, Mary Ellen 1865, George 1866, Albert Arnold 1868, Cornwallis 1874 and Georgina 1877.   They were probably baptised in the Parish Church, within easy reach of their home.  Eight other families lived on Raven's Yard including the innkeeper and baker, William Madeley.

Whitchurch High Street High Street, Whitchurch.  The buildings here have not changed much since Samuel's day. 2 ShopsThe Raven Inn.  Today two shops make up the frontage.  

The entrance to the yard, now built on, where Samuel Edge was born.

Former Yard Entrance Pepper Street today.  Many cloggers had their workshops here. Pepper Street

James Edge was a clog maker of Whitchurch where he met his wife to be Catherine, also a local girl, as was Harriet.   After his marriage he took a house in the recently built small street, named Newtown, just around the corner from his workshop in Pepper Street.   Newtown was little more than an extension of Watergate Street and Castle Hill and Newtown begins where Pepper Street joins.  This was an area of the town where many clog makers lived and worked.  Eventually his extended family would occupy both Numbers 13 and 15 Newtown

Newtown Newtown today.  Edge's relatives lived here.  Samuel moved from Newtown (Whitchurch) to Newtown (Bilston). Watergate Street Watergate Street, Whitchurch.

At some point in his life George and Harriet's son Samuel would have to choose a trade and, unlike many first sons of the day, he chose not to be a bricklayer like his father before him. From an early age he could not have helped being aware of the other family members engaged in the trade of clogging.   He must have visited the extended Edge family frequently, particularly as they lived nearby.

From an early age he would have known the continuing noise of the hammer, smelled the recently tanned leather and, in the yard behind the houses and workshops, gazed at the high, church-like, pillars of wooden soles.   They were arranged there for storage whilst awaiting the craftsman's choice of the appropriate size for the order in hand. Perhaps the day came when he was given the chance to make a pair for himself, under the watchful eye of his uncle, who would not have wanted any of his materials wasted!

When Samuel reached his teens he was to make a journey that would remove him from the close family ties of his hometown; but there would be a strangely coincidental similarity in his address.   The now well-established Holyhead road, (our A41) constructed by Thomas Telford, meant that Samuel could make the journey, without a deviation from this one road, to his Aunt Sarah's home in Bilston.  

His father's sister Sarah, had married a William Preston. The Prestons had spent some time in the registration district of Rochdale; William was born there, but at the time Samuel made his journey there were  Prestons working in clogs and boots in Whitchurch too where, it is possible, Sarah first met William.   Their marriage in 1852 was in Manchester Cathedral.

Even fifty years earlier, in the Whitchurch of 1830, a family of boot and shoemakers had a shop right in the High Street.   Their name was Preston too, so perhaps a member of William's family had experienced trying to make a start somewhere else, as he and Sarah were doing. 

Samuel, on his way to live with the Prestons, was really joining family.  From the birth dates of the Preston children (Georgina in Manchester in 1862 and Nancy in Bilston in 1867) the Prestons must have arrived in Bilston between 1862 and 1867.  In White's Birmingham & District Directory for 1873 William Preston is shown as a Clog and Patten maker at 63 Oxford Street.

Now, in the Bilston of 1881, William Preston is still shown in business as a clog maker at that address, and is shown, in the Census of that year, to be employing four men and three boys.  His clog making business was in Oxford Street. Bilston.   Coincidentally the whole of this part of Bilston was known as Newtown, and to some of its residents still is.   Whitchurch was also in Staffordshire in 1830.   Add to that the nearby churches and it must almost have seemed like home from home. It is not surprising that the Prestons, and the Edges, settled to pursue a trade, that they were so well acquainted with, in a part of Bilston that held so many associations with their home town.

In 1881 Samuel, now 19 years of age, is described in the census as "assistant to clog maker".   Whether he was officially certificated or not, we can say that Sam was serving an apprenticeship.

Samuel was living in what was then Coseley Street when he met Naomi Nume, daughter of a High Street grocer.   The wedding took place on 25th December 1885 at the Primitive Methodist Church that stood at the top of the High Street, just round the corner from Coseley Street, and near to where he would have his new workshop.

The Primitive Methodist Church, High Street.  Samuel Edge married Naomi Nume here on 25th December 1885. The church is on the left. 
The buildings to the right and along Thompson Street are the old day school. After 1905 they were used only for Sunday School and social events.
On the front wall, just to the left of the school building, there is a drinking fountain.
The photograph shows tramlines so was presumably taken before 1925.  The buildings were replaced by retail development around the 1960s.
The Primitive Methodist Church The memorial to Naomi Edge in Bilston cemetery. 
Later an inscription was added, on the left side of the plinth, for Samuel Edge himself and,
even later, on the right side of the plinth, inscriptions for his daughter Philippa and then for her husband Frederick Thomas Lett.

He was certainly listed in 1904 in Kelly's Trade Directory as a boot and shoemaker at Millfields Road.   This was at the Bilston end of the present Millfields Road and then known as Union Street, near to the toll gate house at the entry to the town.   In more recent times the site is best remembered as being not far from the warehouse of Job and Thomas Wallett, fruit and potato merchants. Both this and Edge's works were on the north side of Millfields Road, just west of the crossroads formed by today's High Street, Coseley Road, Wolverhampton Street and Millfields Road.

In 1904 William Preston had moved from 63 to 135 Oxford Street when he advertised himself as a boot and shoemaker. Was the clog now out of fashion in these Edwardian times?   Changes in industrial practice could have reduced demand.   There may have been few Bilstonians able to afford to dress like their adventurous new king but perhaps there would have been some who tried.   In 1904 there were still some clog makers in both Bilston and Wolverhampton, presumably still with an industrial market to serve, and even William Preston let it be known that he would make a clog for anyone who asked him.

There can be no mistaking however, that Samuel Edge Shoes is now an independent business, and a competitor, even if the firm was still in its infancy.

The stories of those early faltering days have been told and retold, passed on through family generations who have found their workplace at Edge's.   It was possible to find three generations of a family who had worked at Edge's. It is said that Sammy climbed onto his horse and trap, late on a Saturday afternoon, and toured the town, and its market area, as the stallholders closed.   Any sizeable piece of card, particularly the white, was gathered and taken back to Millfields Road to be stored until it was cut to provide insoles for those first shoes.

Children's employment had been a source of concern since 1841 when Government Inspector R. H. Horne visited the Black Country and, following his report and increasing Parliamentary concern, legislation was introduced to outlaw the employment of young children. It was legislation requiring the most stringent of inspections continually taking place, and this was beyond the Inspectorate.    Their task was made more difficult by the active encouragement of the employers by the children's parents who were only too glad of the few extra coppers their children's work brought in.

All sorts of arrangements were made to counter the threat of the Inspector.   The Inspectors themselves said it was only possible to visit one works in a day in any one town as the parents spread the message of their presence so quickly.

Its workers best tell some of the Edge story.    Paul Leadbeater joined his father in the business and recalls much of what his father could tell him of the old days.   One story was of the times, particularly on a Saturday, when there was no school.   Children were brought in to work at softening up the soles in tanning liquor ready for Monday morning.   The liquor was stored in barrels.    At the approach of the Inspector the children had to hide in the barrels - one hopes the empty ones!   These children were jokingly nicknamed "Sammy's Rabbits", perhaps because of the smart way they could disappear down their holes!

Samuel and Naomi were to have three children.   All of them carried the Nume name!   These were Howard Nume Edge,  Dorothy Nume Edge, and Phillipa Nume Edge.   Howard Nume Edge would become the "& Son" of the later years.

Wellington Road Factory The "new" factory in Wellington Road Former Edge's BreweryThe brewery buildings which became Edge's "Brewery Side".  Now a Sikh temple.

Paul Leadbeater believes that it would be around 1914 that an expansion in Edge's trade lead to his setting up the new factory on Wellington Road, the same road that linked the Edge family with their home town of Whitchurch!  Samuel is remembered as a small man, who was usually seen wearing a bowler hat as he walked around his workshops.

Naomi died on the 25th November 1918 aged 52 years. She was buried in Bilston Cemetery, just across the road from the new factory. A significant Edge memorial was erected and it was said that Sammy could see it from the front windows of the firm.   This would be before the hedges grew.   For many years one of his female employees, Mrs. Goodyear, was sent, once a week, to clean the grave.

Business was good and a nearby independent brewery was purchased for its buildings, to provide more workshop space.   This was always known, and remains, as "The Brewery Side."   It does show a firm that was steadily expanding and far removed from the little workshop on Millfields Road.  This purchase also created the opportunity to provide administrative offices at the frontage on Wellington Road.

Meanwhile, Tom Larkin believes that one of the Prestons became Church Warden at St.Mary's, Oxford Street.   If so this was likely to be one of the two sons who appeared to be running the shop early in the twentieth century.

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