Richard Hopton asks Jonathan Jones just what is takes to make a pair of Crockett & Jones Shoes...
Jonathan Jones is the fourth generation of his family to run Crockett & Jones, shoemakers by appointment to the great and the good. The company is based in Northampton, still occupying its Victorian factory, a period piece holding its own in the modern age.
Crockett & Jones was founded in 1879 by the formidable Sir James Crockett – an archetypal Victorian worthy, a prominent local employer and philanthropist – and Charles Jones. Sir James’s standards of quality and craftsmanship still animate the company today. It pioneered the Goodyear welting machine, which chain-stitches the shoe’s upper to the welt. The machine was introduced at Crockett & Jones in 1911, causing a strike by the workforce, who feared for their jobs. A tour of the cramped, busy factory is a fascinating, if dizzying, experience. Following the manufacturing process, from the calf-shaped hides to the finished, boxed shoes, makes you realise how complex a process shoemaking is. Each size of each design of shoe has patterns for all its component cuts of leather and a last. Consequently, the factory houses thousands of them; in the case of the lasts, drawer after drawer of wooden or yellow plastic feet, all jumbled up. Each shoe takes between six and eight weeks to make, involving more than 200 separate operations. This is what Jonathan calls ‘craftsmanship working with machines’. A cheap, mass-produced shoe, by contrast, would be finished in two days.
Since 1997, Crockett & Jones has had its own shops; the first was in Jermyn Street, the second in Paris. There are now a dozen in all. Exports account for 65 per cent of sales: ‘Japan is,’ says Jonathan, ‘the biggest market, but it’s sophisticated, fast moving and demanding.’ Crockett & Jones hit the headlines recently when Daniel Craig wore their shoes in the latest James Bond film, Spectre. This was not, however, a conventional piece of product placement. While making Skyfall Daniel Craig was given some flimsy foreign shoes to wear, insisted that Bond should sport a solid British make and recommended Crockett & Jones. Bond’s worldwide following ensured this was ‘fantastic’ publicity, says Jonathan. Crockett & Jones remains a family company; Jonathan has run it since 1980 and the next generation – the fifth – is already at the helm. Northampton is a traditional stronghold of the English shoemaking industry, albeit a now a shadow of its former self: in 1950, the town boasted 50 shoemaking firms, now there are just five. Skilled labour in a declining industry is a problem as the workforce ages and the pool diminishes but Jonathan makes great efforts, through training, to keep rejuvenating a skilled workforce. Despite this, the seemingly inexhaustible demand for well-designed, beautifully made English shoes – Crockett & Jones could sell twice as many pairs as they make – bodes well for the future.