Lancashire's love affair with the humble clog

They are a symbol of the county’s rich industrial heritage but the humble clog still holds a special place in the heart of some Lancastrians as local historian and Morris dancer Michael Jackson explains

Friday, 22nd February 2019, 12:31 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd February 2019, 12:33 pm
Leyland Morris Men get their new clogs in the 1970s

Clogs were once worn throughout England, but were most popular in Lancashire and adjacent counties.

In the 19th century and into the 20th, large towns had several cloggers with their own shops in retail districts. Even villages had a clogger, or a boot and shoe repairer who could add clog soles to worn out footwear.

The clog making trade in Lancashire grew considerably from the late 18th century onwards. The earliest cloggers mentioned in parish records in the Leyland area were in Penwortham and Leyland in the 1780s.

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Clog maker Harold Rogan is pictured at work making clogs in his workshop in Churchgate, Lancashire

Trade directories began to list tradesmen in Leyland in the 1820s, and the first clogger to appear was John Baron. The Baron family continued in clog making into the 20th century, not only in Leyland but also in nearby villages.

Cloggers offered a product which was cheap and hard-wearing. The wooden soles were protected with clog irons, to stop the wood wearing down. Larger towns such as Preston had clog iron makers, who supplied the cloggers in adjacent towns, or cloggers could order supplies from manufacturers in Sheffield. Clog irons were known as caulkers (pronounced “corkers”) in some towns, but in others this name is unknown.

Leather was also nailed to clog soles, and in later years rubber was used to make what some called ‘rubber irons’. Redferns of Manchester was a well-known brand, but Wood-Milne Limited of Leyland, though tyre manufacturers for the motor trade, also made rubber soles and heels.

Cloggers developed several different styles of clogs, some for use in specific occupations. People tend to associate clogs with Lancashire mill girls and coal miners, but people in many different jobs wore them. The thick wooden soles were excellent for keeping feet warm and dry, so clogs were popular with farm labourers and brewery workers alike.

Coppull clog maker James Smith hard at work in 1969

Clogs were the safest footwear to wear in a foundry, and such safety clogs continued to be made into recent times. Housewives wore them to do the laundry, and some found them better than shoes for kitchen work.

Many of old clogs which have survived to the present day were made for young children. Sometimes they are very worn, having been passed from child to child in large families. But others are in perfect condition, having been treated as family heirlooms.

Older children loved their clogs, especially if they were allowed to have irons fitted. The reason was that they could ‘spark’ them by striking the irons on the pavement. This was not appreciated by parents, because the irons needed to be replaced more frequently. Less damaging were ‘cloggie boggies’.

When walking in the snow, it would compact against the wooden clog soles. By walking around carefully, a child could gain six inches in height. They were sometimes copied by children in shoes, who probably thought their classmates had found a special patch of snow. But snow just would not stick to leather soles in the same way it did to clog soles.

James Hopkins & Son, Clog Iron Manufacturers, Hermon Street Works, Preston, in 1936

In towns such as Leyland, Penwortham and Bamber Bridge, the number of cloggers increased throughout the 19th century to meet local demand. Nowadays there are barely a dozen cloggers in England, but when Victoria was on the throne there were more than that in Leyland. Some had started work as apprentices before they were in their teens, and many continued working until very old by today’s standards. Not all were self-employed. Journeyman cloggers would work for a master clogger, and the local co-operative societies often employed their own cloggers and sold clogs through their branches.

By the 20th century, clogs were regarded as being old-fashioned and their wearers the subject of humour. Seaside visitors would find postcards of clogs and their wearers which tended to associate them with hard work and poverty. People became more fashion conscious and as incomes increased they were less concerned about buying footwear which would last for years with careful repairing.

Demand for clogs diminished and the clogs shops disappeared from the high streets of towns where they were once popular. However, people still remember the last of the clog makers in Leyland and Bamber Bridge, in particular Tommy Anderton, Bob Cropper and James Hornby.

As demand for clogs to be worn to work died down, a new market was found. The clog making trade survives to this day by meeting the requirements of Morris and clog dancers for fancy clogs. In the late 19th century, only a few teams of Lancashire Morris dancers wore clogs, and these included those such as Horwich and Royton who were popular and successful in competitions.

Their fancy dancing clogs may have given them the edge over some of their competitors. Stamping out a rhythm in clogs fitted with irons and bells attached adds something to the dances which is appreciated by audiences.

When Morris dancing was revived in Lancashire after the Second World War, new and revival teams took inspiration from the old teams which danced in clogs. At first the Leyland Morris Men danced only in shoes, but when they learned the Royton dance in the early 1970s they turned to Tommy Anderton for fancy Morris clogs. A few years later, a team of women Morris dancers called Lancashire Rose started in Leyland. They danced in clogs until the late 1990s.

* Michael Jackson danced in Leyland in the 1990s with the Royal Lancashire Morris Dancers from Preston. He is currently taking account of feedback to update it and intends making it available free of charge via Facebook groups, in particular those relevant to the Leyland area or Lancashire family history.