A walk through part of Kettering Town's industrial history

Woad to Munitions


This walk, led by NIAG's Ron Hanson in June 2012, visits some of the sites which were key to the development of Kettering's industries. It starts at the top of the Commercial Road car park; two hours should be allowed to complete the route as described. In the description the numbers in brackets, e.g. (3), refer to locations on the plan; clicking on the number will cause the page to scroll to the description.

Woad and dyeing

Wadcroft (1), at the top of the Commercial Road car park, has now become a service road to shops on the High Street but its name is a pointer to the town’s former wool worsted industry. Although there is very little visible evidence left for us to see, it was once the lane leading to the place where woad was grown for dyeing wool. A map of 1721 by Thomas Eayers shows four rows of tenters in Dam Meadow. A tenter is the frame on which woven cloth was stretched on tenter hooks to be bleached and shrunk in the open air. If you look down the car park across Commercial Road and slightly to the left, this was the sight of Dam Meadow. Weaving was expanded from a domestic activity to an industry (making goods for sale) around 1655. It was particularly active between 1700 and 1750 when weavers would be supplied with yarn by merchant middle men. The yarn was made up into cloth and taken back to the merchant who would sell it on to other merchants in the larger towns and cities such as London. The trade was killed off during the Napoleonic wars when the continental market dried up, although it limped on up until 1820-1830.

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Bells and beer

Thomas Eayers (the above mentioned map maker) was also a bell founder and conducted his business in the adjacent Bellfoundry Lane (2) between 1710 and 1762. Approximately 200 bells produced here have been accounted for in and around the county.

the tower vent of former malting house used by John Elworthy
The tower vent of former malting house used by John Elworthy.

From Bellfoundry Lane, turn left onto High Street and bear left into Lower Street, passing the Post Office building. On our right is the tower vent of the former malting house (3) with datestone 1904 used by John Elworthy (1875-1940) as part of the Crown Brewery.

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Boots and shoes

Chesham House
Chesham House.

Just beyond the next set of traffic lights (at the entrance to Morrison's supermarket) on the left is Chesham House (4). Thomas Gotch started his boot and shoe business here in 1778 but it took until 1810 before it started to play an important role in the town. Looking from the front of the house there is what is possibly the remains of the 'factory' wall, only about 12 yards in length but obviously shortened and containing two bricked up windows. This is possibly where the 'rough stuff' (leather hides) was stored and where clickers prepared leather before it was passed on to outworkers for making up.

Factories as we know them today did not appear until about 1860 and even then a lot of outwork was carried out in the home or in the workshop at the end of the garden. William Carey the Baptist minister and missionary at one time worked for Thomas Gotch and would walk from Moulton every two weeks to bring made-up boots to Gotch's warehouse where he would obtain fresh leather for his next batch. The Gotch's went bankrupt in 1857.

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Stays and sewing machines

Turning our backs to Chesham House we see across the road the Mission House (5) where John Turner Stockburn (1825-1922) lived. He and his brother-in-law Robert Wallis started a stay making business in 1856 around the corner in Northall Street and were the first to use sewing machines in Kettering.

1856/1857 was the period that industrial Kettering really 'kicked off', for three reasons:

  • the sewing machine arrived in Kettering;
  • the Midland Railway opened a direct line to London and the northern cities;
  • when the Gotch's ceased business, there were a handful of former employees with shoemaking skills who became the seed-bed of Kettering's boot and shoe industry.

Turn back towards the town centre and just after the malthouse turn left up Tanners Lane. Other parts of the brew yard can be seen from here. Continue up the lane and on your left is Beech Cottage (6), once home of the late Tony Ireson, author of many books on the history of Kettering and to whom I am indebted in parts of this walk.

Remains of the former Ebenezer Chapel
Remains of the former Ebenezer Chapel.

A little further on the right is the entrance to the Newborough Centre; go straight through and out into Gold Street. A little to the left and diagonally across the road enter a small alley (the stone lintel above the entrance bears the motif 'A.H.-1888'). At the top of this alley as it turns left is what remains of the former Ebenezer Chapel (7). After the decline of the Gotch's business, a former apprentice John Bryan, in partnership with two others, started making boots here. They produced 237,000 boots between 1869 and 1874.

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Sewing machines and motor cars

Continue up to Silver Street, turn right, cross the road and turn left into School Lane. A few steps up School lane, Tordoff Place leads off to the left. On the corner is a new block of flats which stands on the site of the former Wallis & Linnell factory (8). Wallis & Linnell manufactured clothing from the 1860s using sewing machines. It was the close proximity of a small engineering works on Dalkieth Place, which prompted Frederick Wallis to ask the proprietor Owen Robinson if he would service and repair some of his machines. Owen Robinson not only repaired and serviced the existing machines but within the year had produced an improved version for sewing leather. This engineering business later expanded into (now demolished) premises in Victoria Street (9) (on a site opposite the junction with Alexandra Street) and developed a range of boot and shoe machinery. Owen Robinson's grandson was to develop and build three motor cars using his grandfather’s facilities, the last remaining one of which can be seen in the Manor House Museum.

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Manufacturing machinery and motor cycles

Walk to the other end of School Lane and turn left into Victoria Street The building on this corner also made and repaired boot & shoe equipment. Walk down Victoria Street to the junction with Montagu Street and turn left. Some 100 yards along and over the road is Newman's hardware store (10). It was here in 1898 that three engineers – Arthur Richardson Timson, Charles Bullock, (both former employees of Owen Robinson) and Charles Barber started building pedal cycles and by 1901 had an engine-driven version - the 'Ketterina' motor cycle - which was produced up until WW1. The company was later to become the Timson Perfecta printing machine company, but more of that further down the hill!

Retracing our footsteps back to the traffic lights at the Victoria Street junction, we continue down Montagu Street past the old Stamford Road Secondary Modern School on the right. On the left at the junction with Wellington Street is a former boot factory (11) built for Henry Hanger (nephew of William Hanger another ex-employee of the Gotch's), at one time the largest in Kettering employing 500 operatives and producing 6,000 pairs per week.

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Printing machines and munitions

Further down Montagu Street, turn left into Bath Road. On the right is the Timson Perfecta Works (12), successor of Timson Bullock & Barber who moved to this site in 1903 and by 1907 were moving their production into printing machines for which they became world renowned. During WW1 they made 4.5" shells and Stokes mortar bombs.

At the junction of Bath Road and Digby Street is the former three storey boot factory of Thomas Bird (13) built in 1891. Thomas Bird was also an ex-employee of the original Gotch organisation. Output in 1911 was 4,000 pairs per week.

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Outworkers' workshops

Turn right down Digby Street and at the bottom of the hill, a few steps along Catesby Street you can see some good examples of the small workshops (14) at the end of the garden where boot & shoe outwork would be carried out prior to the mid 1890s when most of the work was moved into factories as we would know them today.

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Engineering, tools and munitions

Further up the road opposite the junction with Scotland Street are the gates of Charles Wicksteed's engineering works (15), built in 1876 to manufacture tools and equipment for boiler repairs. There was both an iron and a brass foundry. The base of the chimney of the latter can be made out to the left of the gate. As well as boiler tools, they made mechanical hacksaws, bread and butter slicing and spreading machines, and their famous playground equipment. During WW1 they also produced 4.5-inch shells.

We've come to end of this walk, but if you've enjoyed observing things that you would normally miss, why not contact us for details of our weekly walks in the Summer or monthly talks in the Winter.

NIAG acknowledges assistance from a variety of sources in the preparation of this walk, including staff at Kettering Library.

Ron Hanson

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