Sunday, 17 July 2011

New exhibition looks at lasting legacy of town's shoe industry

A fascinating exhibition that explores how the shoe industry has contributed to the growth and development of Northampton and helped create the town we live in today is to open at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery next week (16 July).

Lasting legacies of some of the more prominent shoe manufacturers include Barratt Maternity Hospital, the place where many Northamptonians were born.  In 1934 William Barratt pledged £20,000 to establish the hospital "which shall be open to persons in all stations of life, and not regarded as a charity.”  Allegedly Barratt had witnessed his own mother giving birth in the outdoor privy and vowed that no woman should have to give birth in such circumstances.

In 1921 brothers Charles and Thomas Lewis, founders of shoe manufacturer C&E Lewis, bought two fields between Dallington Village and Harlestone Road that were being sold off by the Spencer family for building purposes.  Rather than building on the site the brothers donated all 23 acres to the town for use as a public park, which remains known as Dallington Park today.

These are just two of the notable contributions made by the shoe industry that will be revealed in the exhibition, which has resulted from a collaboration between Northampton Borough Council’s museum service and the Northampton U3A group.

The idea for the exhibition sprang from a research project U3A was undertaking into the town’s Victorian past.  A meeting to discuss the research with the museum resulted in the idea for a joint family-friendly exhibition that looked at Northampton’s shoe making heritage and how it had benefited the town.

Councillor Michael Hill, Northampton Borough Council cabinet member for museums, said: "Northampton is synonymous with the footwear industry, and it is very fitting that the town’s museum, which houses the country’s largest shoe collection, should pay tribute to the philanthropic work of major shoe manufacturers.  This exhibition will fascinate everyone interested in the history of our town.”

‘What did the shoe industry ever do for us?’ will be showing at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery from 16 July until 6 November.  Opening times are Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 2pm to 5pm.  Admission is free.

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