Sense of Design

Sense of design

By Kate from Poland

(A first time volunteer in the museum)

I decided to be a part of the Virtually Shoes project because I used the shoe archive as a student when I studied fashion, footwear and accessories in Northampton. So it felt natural to follow my passion and interest. Designing for me is not only following trends but researching inspirational places. The historical context is very important for deep and strong design.

Exploring shoe boxes is like opening chocolate boxes; hiding little or big surprises. Finding different styles of shoes; discovering unexpected silhouettes, eye-catching styles, colours or even brand names. Fashions have changed over time with combining developments in shoe components and leathers.

Handmade shoes are most exciting for me because they are designed and made with extreme attention to detail. For example a hand painted heel, stitching details, carefully chosen leather or even the colour. Each box of shoes has personal story and we are discovering them from museum archive. Being here is incredibly rich sources of deep and visual research inspiration with all sorts of historical references.

During of my work with the project, I found wonderful pair of woman’s shoes dated 1960 (maker: Merrywell) that reminded me Marc Jacobs a pair of contemporary ‘reverse” heel at his Spring 2008 collection.

Merrywell Shoes

Merrywell Shoes

His variation of the backward heel shoes are excellent example of re-interpretation of the past design into the modern fashion industry.

For another example of detail transformation, I found a pair with amazing gold leather wings details on very classic woman court shoe style. The gold wing detail reminds me of Jeremy Scott’s collection for Adidas.

Gold Wing Shoe

Gold Wing Shoe

Click on the link below to see the shoe below:

In both examples I see inspiration of the themes concept developed into a final product in a new and different ways of design. The most obvious details, like heel or wing, can be subject of creative process of designing. And my favourite quote shoe designer Salvarore Ferragamo explains sense of design.

How else I explain my sense of design?

I do not have to search for styles. When I need new ones I select from those that present themselves to my mind as I select on apple from the dish upon my table”

Salvatore Ferragamo. 

If you are interested in volunteering on the Virtually Shoes project please get in touch at


Shoe of the Month – JH Design Studio

Our Shoe Digitisation Project involves taking images of all our shoes and we are unearthing some wonderful examples including this delightful shoe by JH Design Studio from the 1970s.

JH Design Studio T Bar Shoe

JH Design Studio T Bar Shoe

You would certainly step into spring in style wearing this suede T Bar with striking sun motif.

Shoes can be practical, they can be truly fabulous and in the 70s they could almost be pieces of art. The 70s saw a passionate fascination with shoes as sculptural forms, a little tongue in cheek but always playful and fun. Some could still be worn though others were purely decorative.

From Wives and Daughters to Citizens

From Wives and Daughters to Citizens By John Buckell


During World War One my maternal grandmother and her sister, my great aunt, worked in a munitions factory at Braintree in Essex. Knowing both of them while I was growing up prompted my initial interest in women’s role in that war, but as is so often the case, they had died before I became sufficiently interested to ask them about it.

As I discovered when researching my books on Little Wratting, Suffolk, (my grandmother’s village), and Weston Favell, women’s experiences are far less well documented than those of men. For men who served in the forces there are medal rolls, and sometimes service records. Entries in the absent voters’ lists give their military units, which can then be researched in battalion war diaries or on numerous websites. For women there is the 1911 census, but electoral records only list women who were at least 30 years old in 1918, while newspaper reports tend to be confined to upper class women, usually identified by their husbands’ names or in relation to their fathers. For the researcher it is therefore very difficult to provide anything like a satisfactory gender balance.

Yet women played a significant part in the First World War; significant enough to modify existing attitudes to their capabilities. In Northampton, as elsewhere, women supported the war effort by replacing men who had gone to the front. They worked in factories and on the land, served on committees and drove vehicles. Even some of those in traditional roles, such as nursing, broke new ground by serving in hospitals in France and other theatres of war. Women were also active in the anti-war movement. Such female peace activists often came from a background in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, even though the main suffrage organisations supported the war. In Northampton, an active branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom held meetings addressed by speakers of national renown, such as Charlotte Despard and Margaret Ashton. A minority of women also continued to play an active part in politics, in all the main parties in the town, as they had before the war. At its end women were given the vote, though not yet on the same terms as men.

The expansion of women’s role was not without difficulties. How were women to be trained, and how should women land workers be housed on farms? The introduction of women into occupations formerly seen as male, “substitute labour” as it was called, inevitably created tensions. As they were generally paid less than men for the same work, there was understandable concern by trade unions about the undermining of wage levels, and the fear that men returning at the end of hostilities might find their jobs taken by women.

Of course, many women remained at home, running households and feeding families at a time of shortages and rising prices. Their story also deserves to be told.

This research into Northampton women’s experiences in World War One is an attempt, as far as is possible, to redress the gender balance in accounts of the war, explore more fully the role of local women, and examine some of the difficulties, strategies and consequences of women’s role in that conflict. If women were largely seen as wives and daughters in 1914, to what extent had they become citizens by 1918?


Women Munitions Workers

Women Munitions Workers

Women munitions workers at Smith, Major and Stevens Ltd., Abbey Works, Northampton. From Memories of the War, a scrapbook compiled by the company in January 1919. Northamptonshire Record Office (uncatalogued).

War Memorials in Northampton

War Memorials in Northampton

As part of the Conflict and Communities Project, I am researching the War Memorials in the centre of Northampton.   It is interesting to note that almost as soon as hostilities ceased in 1918, the civic and church authorities starting to think about how best to remember those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. It is fascinating to uncover the different stories and the different ways in which soldiers are remembered and commemorated. As to be expected with any committee, there was much debate, a lot of bureaucracy and not always a lot of action.

In some of the town churches are various stained glass windows, clocks, chairs and other church furniture given in memory of loved ones lost. The main memorial for the county is that in the garden of All Saints Church, Northampton. This is a central stone of remembrance flanked by two obelisks which was unveiled on 11 November 1926.

County Memorial All Saints Church

County Memorial All Saints Church

My talk on 18 July at Northampton Museum will be looking at the stories behind these memorials and also the location of the various rolls of honour that give information on the soldiers who served as well as those who died.

Angela Malin

Wreaths at All Saints Church County Memorial

Wreaths at All Saints Church County Memorial




Attached: Photos (taken by me)

Wreaths at All Saints

and All Saints Cenotaph memorial

Media and Propaganda

Media & Propaganda

Hello readers. I’m Kate Wills, and I have been fascinated by the Great War since my teens. I have written articles and present talks on the subject, and am Speaker Secretary of the Northamptonshire branch of the Western Front Association, and trustee of the Great War Forum. I happened to mention that most of my working life had been spent as news librarian for the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, which resulted in me being earmarked for the Media & Propaganda brief for Conflict & Community. Where better to start than with one of the greatest propaganda images of all time (the work of a Northamptonshire-born artist), and its effect in hurrying a young Northampton man into the army.

Let’s set off for war with 19 year old Charles Crutchley, of Wilby Street, Northampton:

“In early 1914, I was employed as a junior clerk in a bookbinding office. Each morning I had to pass the window display of the Army Recruiting Offices. Nobody in his right mind thought of war. The Spring of 1914 was, or so it seemed, such a tranquil period. It was the greatest pleasure to go for a bicycle ride in the country. Life was steadier. None of us could visualise four years of war, with all its beastliness and filth, its wholesale slaughter.

Kitchener made his famous appeal to the men of Britain. Great posters were displayed everywhere with his Lordship’s finger pointing accusingly. “Your King and Country Need You”, it read.

Many of my workmates enlisted. Few employers objected. Everyone felt they wanted to be in the fight of “right against might”. I felt proud to be accepted as a recruit in the 4th Northants Territorial Battalion”. (i)

Images with slogans that tugged at the heartstrings appeared everywhere. “Remember Belgium”, “Women of Britain say GO!” and “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” Charles Crutchley responded to a poster carrying what became one of the iconic images of the 20th Century, Kitchener’s pointing finger; and we in Northamptonshire can be very proud that this image was created by Alfred Leete, a native of Thorpe Achurch near Kettering.

Leete was born into farming family in 1882, but his father’s poor health prompted a move to Somerset when Alfred was 11. Mr and Mrs Leete swapped the rigours of agricultural work for the more genteel life of running a boarding house on the seafront at Weston-super-Mare. Alfred had a talent for painting and drawing, and by 1914 his illustrations were appearing in quality magazines such as Tatler, The Bystander and Punch.  Leete’s most famous work was published on the front cover of London Opinion on 5th September 1914.


Alfed Leete: The Kaiser Holds a Council of War

Alfred Leete: The Kaiser Holds a Council of War

Charles Crutchley was just one of many thousands of men who succumbed to the inducement of Kitchener’s fixed gaze and stern message, made all the more urgent by Leete’s use of bold colours and the unsettling reach of that accusing finger. The war would take Crutchley to Gallipoli, Palestine and Mesopotamia. Leete would heed the message too, and see action on the Western Front, though not before he had done more work for the war effort with his pen, by sending-up Germany and the Kaiser in a series of humerous cartoons.



Battle of Aubers Ridge

The Slaughter of the county regiment, the Steelbacks – the fateful 9th May 1915.

Geoff Grainger is a member of the international Western Front Association and has an MA in First World War Studies from the University of Birmingham. He specialises in family research about the Great War.

As part of Northampton’s Conflict and Community program I will be delivering a talk at Abington Park Museum on Saturday 9th May to commemorate the centenary of the Northamptonshire Regiment at the battle of Aubers Ridge, in Northern France. One hundred years ago to the day, the old regular 1st and 2nd battalions of the Regiment were on the Western Front near the villages of Neuve Chapelle and Fromelles respectively. Part of the British First Army, they were to go ‘over the top’ at 5.50am, in a general pincer offensive to break through the German front and seize the relatively higher ground of Aubers Ridge.

For the British Army, the 9th May 1915 was to prove a disaster. For the County of Northamptonshire it was to be arguably the blackest day in its history, yet the battle has been largely forgotten.

During the night of 8th May the men of both battalions had moved-up to their front-line positions. The hazy dawn promised a sunny spring day, as the Northamptons peered over the flat, marshy terrain to the enemy trenches some 350m away. Rum rations had been issued, morale was high and all ranks were eager for the coming battle.

Precisely on zero-hour, 5.00am, the British artillery unleashed a fierce bombardment onto the German front lines. The shelling seemed so ferocious that little resistance was expected- but resistance there was, and it came as a terrible surprise to the attackers.

The Northamptons and other regiments waited with fixed bayonets but things had already started to go wrong. Some units were hit by their own artillery shells that were falling short. Fifty minutes later the guns fell silent and whistles signalled the infantry attack. As the Northamptons climbed their ladders to charge over No Man’s Land they were hit by hurricanes of machine-gun, rifle and artillery fire. Within a short time both battalions suffered immense casualties and very few men reached the enemy positions. Those who did, unable to advance or retire, came under constant attack by the German defenders. Finally, after some fourteen hours and under cover of darkness, remnants of these isolated groups managed to regain their lines, crawling through heaps of dead comrades.

In total the Northamptons suffered 984 casualties, or nearly 60% of the soldiers who had seen the dawn. Apart from the wounded and the dead who could be named, many hundreds disappeared in No Man’s Land, never to be identified, except as ‘The Missing’.

My talk will explain why it all went wrong, who was blamed, and the repercussions. It will also focus on some of the effects on the County’s communities.

In order to fully understand the landscape and military situation, I have just been over to research Aubers Ridge myself. Kindly received by the Mayor of Aubers, and guided by two local historians, I was able to visit many of the features of the area.

But I had also gone to Aubers in an attempt to discover if fate had played another role during the tragedy. Might the whole destiny of the modern world have hung in the balance on that one day in May 1915?

I will be pleased to share my findings at Abington Park Museum on 9th May.

For tickets please contact Northampton Museum & Art Gallery on 01604 837397.


Geoff Grainger at Aubers Ridge, 22nd March 2015

Geoff Grainger at Aubers Ridge, 22nd March 2015


Shoe of the Month – Great Exhibition Boots

Great Exhibition Boots

These fantastic Wellington boots were made for The Great Exhibition of 1851. They are made from beige and black leather. They have a wide flat square toe. The front of the leg is decorated with an appliqué design of black leather and coloured silk -now missing – of a crown, national emblems, crosses, starts and a scalloped border.

They were handmade by John N Hefford of Derby. The stitching on the boots is so fine that there are 53 stitches to the inch. They won a prize medal at the Great Exhibition.

Great Exhibition Boots

Great Exhibition Boots

Shoemakers were craftsmen. They had served an apprenticeship to learn their trade and were proud of their skills. Special boots and shoes were made for exhibitions starting with the Great Exhibition of 1851. They were full sized shoes and all show a high quality of standard and workmanship.