The story of Samuel Edge
|Paul Leadbeater recalls much of the later twentieth century progress
of the firm from his own experience but, with the added benefit of all
his father told him of the earlier years, almost the entire life of the
firm is within memory. It is believed that Paul's father was one of
"Sammy's Rabbits" to begin with and joined the firm officially
as he left school. Our Edge story can also be supplemented from the
memories of many other past Edge employees. The majority of them were
women, with the obvious increase in proportion during the war years. One
lady recalls her mother's Second World War experience, telling of a
return to work, along Wolverhampton Street one lunchtime, and seeing
aircraft engaged in a "dog fight" overhead!
The Edge family had a particular love of Torquay, where many of the family holidays were taken.
Samuel Edge died on the first of August 1934 and was buried with his first wife, Naomi, at Bilston Cemetery. His son, Howard Nume Edge, succeeded his father. Unlike his father he was a tall figure walking around the works.
Howard's reign as owner was not without its problems. It is believed that a case of embezzlement arose within the senior staff and the culprit successfully absconded with the proceeds. But the trade of most shoe manufacturers was in decline during those years. Howard retired and endorsed the family preference by retiring to Torquay, where he died on the 21st August 1968.
During the years that followed Edge's became part of Neville Developments, who put in a former London factory owner, named Scotton, as manager. Whilst at Edge's Mr Scotton was taken ill and the management was taken over by his son, John Scotton, who had been brought in as a designer, having Art qualifications.
The Edge family obviously had retained a financial interest in the firm and the Rose-Prices held shares. After Howard's death it appears that his daughter sold her shares to Neville Developments. The Scotton family were not able to purchase the firm at this point.
Neville Developments put one man on the Board of Directors, a Lotus man and related to a well known name in the trade, the Bostock family of Stafford. This appears to have been a very successful period in the Edge Shoes history.
During the Second World War both Phillipa and Frederick Lett died, Phillipa in 1941 and Frederick in 1944. Both were buried at Bilston in the family grave.
It seems that for a large part of the life of the business an outlet shop existed in Bilston Town supplementing, by retail sales, those achievements of sales progressively increasing through the wholesale trade. During the Neville's time a Factory Shop was built on the site of Billy Rock's cycle shop on the corner of Wellington Road and Wolverhampton Street. Later a warehouse and basement store for the boxes was added. The girders are still in place that would have accommodated a further floor.
In the early 1960s millionaire Charles Clore began building up the British Shoe Corporation and many of the larger shoe firms, with factories, became a part. Truform were at Northampton, while Freeman, Hardy and Willis were at Leicester. These were two of the larger components of the alliance. The Corporation decided to buy-in shoes from smaller manufacturers too, and Edge's became involved in this way. There was, however, a restriction on the types of shoes manufactured to accommodate the B. S. C. plans, e.g. Littles of Netherton made walking boots. Bakers of Wolverhampton had their own lines and Edges theirs, so that there would be no overproduction and undue competition amongst the members.
Workmen entrusted with cutting the valuable leather were traditionally known as "clickers" throughout the trade. This was because of the clicking noise the knife made when being withdrawn from the leather laid out on its good solid board that had previously been soaked in linseed oil. On this wooden board, with its grain uppermost, the skin was scraped flat, usually by using a piece of broken band-saw blade.
Originally the suppliers of the leather marked the skins with wax crayons in 1/4s of a square foot and on this basis they charged. The irregular shape of any animal skin made it extremely difficult to measure in 1/4s of a square foot accurately.
Paul remembers the day when he was entrusted with handling a new machine, purchased by the firm, which could calculate the area accurately. It was at his father's prompting that he asked for the job! He recalls that, in the days when the suppliers quoted the area, overcharging was rife, while with the new machine he was able to save the firm �100 on the very first consignment of leather he measured! Another recollection was that Saturday mornings were used for the gathering together of small clippings of leather and their conversion into bows.
The Second World War interrupted Paul's time at Edge's but he returned there from the navy on demobilisation.
Paul had seen the transition in manufacture from being built piece by piece to components being bought-in. He recalls the Military Heels being built, piece by piece, and shaped actually onto the shoe. He does recall one embarrassing consignment, bound for Madagascar, which was returned owing to an unfortunate choice of adhesive. The heat of the country proved too much and resulted in the glue melting and the shoes falling apart. A different formula glue had to be found and was used after this.
In addition to Madagascar foreign exports included Russia, America, Scandinavia and France. Consignments to the cold climates had to be securely packed in strong plywood boxes and were shipped by Lloyds. The period after the Second World War began with shoe assembly being carried out in the traditional way, with all parts made on the ground. Yet soon factory procedures changed with the times to meet new requirements. Insoles changed from being cut on site to being bought in. Shoe design was still undertaken at the factory by Edge's staff.
There was another influence for change in the arrival of new materials, all of which affected the design and construction of the shoes. There was the introduction of resin soles and, as an alternative to leather, plastics, which were shaped using infra-red heaters. The shoe parts arrived simply needing assembly. Often unseen are the metal shanks giving strength to the shoes, previously unnecessary in all leather old style shoes.
With the exception of local deliveries, contractors now took long distance consignments, Dawson's of Walsall being one of the companies used.
The years of heavy industrial decline in Britain seemed to be reflected in Edge's production. The factory base weakened and John Scotton sold out his interest in the firm to a Mr Singh but became a freelance salesman acting for the firm.
He described the problems in 2000 AD as being brought about by the influx of cheaper goods from abroad. This was affecting the shoe market as much as any other industry. At this time the workforce was markedly reduced and some of the machinery seemed to have been sold on. A quieter atmosphere pervaded the workrooms. The Brewery Side had been sold for some years and is now a Sikh Temple, as can be seen in the illustration on the previous page.
However, whenever speaking to Edge's workers there seems to be a real sense of pleasure in recalling their time working for the company, particularly that a family atmosphere seems to have existed there. Works coach outings to the seaside are recalled with nostalgia. One of its lady employees recalls an experience as her wedding approached when the manager asked if she had everything ready? After conversation a pair of shoes was made up for her on the spot to match her wedding outfit!
One fascinating find recently made in the town of Whitchurch has been an archaeological examination of two shops in Watergate Street with a square arched entrance between them. The roof beams of both shops have been examined and dated by dendrochronology. The dates of the timbers were identical and used in a construction of 1615! They must be of the lost Raven Inn and the arch between would have led to the yard around which were the dwellings in which Samuel Edge was born!
In the Summer of 2002 the business premises in Wellington Road carried the notice "To Let". If this marks the end of Edge Shoes it has survived for a Century - not a bad record in today's world!
I wish to thank all those who have contributed to the story as shown, particularly to Phil and Gordon Edge and other members of the family; Mr John Scotton; Paul Leadbeater, Derek Barratt and other workers who have shared their reminiscences with me; and Tom Larkin who persuaded me to attempt the investigation.
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