Shoe of the Month – Happy Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year

Among some Chinese people, particularly in Southern China, it is believed that children wearing shoes with faces on them hold evil spirits at bay. These faces fool the spirits into thinking that the child is a powerful tiger and so cannot be harmed. The faces not only repel evil spirits, but also provide the wearer with greater strength and protection. These tiger shoes date to 1900.

Tiger Shoes

Tiger Shoes

The Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. In 2017 the Chinese year starts on 28 January and it is the year of the Rooster

Shoe of the Month – Child’s Leather Polish Kierpce Shoes

Shoe of the Month – Child’s Leather Polish Kierpce Shoes

Child's Leather Polish Kierpce Shoes

Child’s Leather Polish Kierpce Shoes

These traditional Polish shoes have an 18th Century style design known as Kierpce. They are made from one piece of cowhide and handcrafted by individuals of the Górale tribe, from the southern mountainous region of Poland, who are famous as expert craftsmen in leather and wood. The Górale footwear is specifically designed to be comfortable in both flat and mountainous terrain.

This pair of handmade children’s brown leather Kierpce moccasin style shoes have a bar strap fasten with metal buckles. They have been decorated with fire branding and are hand-embroidered whipstitch around the toe in traditional Polish designs.

These shoes were donated in 2012 by a local resident, Kate, who bought them for her three year old daughter during a trip home to Poland. Kate has been volunteering with the Virtually Shoes Project and got a lovely surprise when she unpacked the shoes she had donated to the museum.

Kate said: “These shoes are every day for me, I have bought lots. It will be exciting to take my daughter to see her shoes on display in the shoe galleries at Northampton Museum.”

These shoes, which are part of the World Footwear Collection, have now been photographed from eight different angles and will be included in the online Virtually Shoes database when it launches in Spring 2016.

If you would like to volunteer with the Virtually Shoes Project then please visit the volunteer opportunities page.

Northampton and the First World War: Tourist Information Centre Display

Northampton and the First World War: Tourist Information Centre Display.

In December 2014, I was tasked with putting together a display to showcase the Conflict and Community Project, a Heritage Lottery Funded initiative that focuses on Northampton and its involvement in the First World War. The display can be found in the Tourist Information Centre at Sessions House, and has been running bimonthly ever since. The display has covered themes like Christmas on the front line and life on the home front, as well as showcasing the lives and achievements of local soldiers through personal artefacts. As Autumn grows nearer, it’s time for the display material to change yet again; for the latest set of objects, selected from the Northampton Regimental Collection, the emphasis has shifted to trench warfare.

Trench warfare is the aspect of WWI we perhaps are the most familiar with. A landscape of horror, constant shelling, and the oft romanticised notion of ‘going over the top’ were the bread and butter of wartime poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Despite this, only a relatively small proportion of the army actually served in the trenches. Of these soldiers, only around fifteen percent would have been in the firing line at any one time. The British Army regularly rotated troops between the trenches and other stations behind the lines, with the average soldier spending only a few days in the trenches with each rotation. The BBC quote an incredible statistic regarding trench warfare: on average, not including days of exceptional loss (for example, the Battle of the Somme), nine out of ten Tommy soldiers survived the trenches (link here: Nonetheless, the unpleasant environment of the trenches and the lingering threat of battle and death remained constant for those on the front line.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—

Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

– Dulce Et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen (1920).

All of the items on display throughout September and October represent aspects of trench warfare, each having a unique resonance of an experience so unimaginable that we can hardly begin to picture it.

The first item I chose for the display was a pair of German-made Emil Busch binoculars. These found their way to Northampton in the care of Private William Green – my great-grandfather (you can read my previous blog, telling his incredible story here binoculars originally belonged to a German soldier, and were taken as a souvenir of the battles William fought on the Hindenburg Line. During the final assault on the line, William earned a Military Medal for acts of bravery under fire, the highest commendation an Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) could receive. I have often wondered about those binoculars and how they came to William’s hands, the grisly circumstances only too easily imagined.

Also on display is an officer’s Derby boot. This boot was probably made as a government sample, and almost certainly never saw action on the front line. However, millions of similar, locally manufactured boots did. Northampton played an important part in shoeing the soldiers, even making boots for the allies. Approximately two thirds of the seventy million boots produced for the British forces were made in Northampton. The First World War was a lucrative time for boot makers, with business booming and women being employed to help with the workload. Boot makers and repairers were vital on the front line, relied upon to mend soles and keep the soldiers marching.

The display also features a selection of artillery, including shell cases, a grenade, and a 1lb brass shell. The term ‘shell case’ refers to the outer part of an artillery shell, which would have housed the charge and ignition. Shells contained explosives and were fired behind enemy lines. The shells on display were probably never fired, given their excellent condition. Unused shell cases were often transformed into pieces of trench art, referencing theatres of war or locations of battles. Such pieces were usually kept by soldiers as souvenirs and brought home to England. Dramatically smaller in size were the 1lb brass shells, used with early anti-aircraft guns throughout WWI as a part of the home defence. They were nicknamed ‘pom pom’ shells for the sound they made when they discharged. Smaller still, but no less deadly, were the factory-built white phosphorus grenades that were introduced in 1916. Following this, around 250,000 grenades were produced per week. Phosphorus was popular in incendiary munitions as it burns quickly and produces a smoke blanket to offer camouflage.

Finally, the signallers’ whistle is perhaps the most iconic artefact of WWI. One blast would signal the troops’ advance over the top, something featured frequently in films, drama and poetry. It is difficult to imagine waiting to hear the whistle, knowing that it could signal your death.

Choosing and researching the artefacts for display was a privilege. During my second year as an archaeology student, I travelled between WWI battlefields and memorials in western Europe, writing a research project. I was trying to learn about different types of memorials, and how they engaged the public. I personally found that museums were the most effective form of memorialisation. As a young person with no concept of what it truly means to be at war, I found it very difficult to connect with stone monoliths and bronze statues. They did not bring history to life like the museums did, each display showcasing remnants of soldier’s lives. For me, this was far more emotive than standing upon long-healed, empty fields. So, with this display, I have tried to bring memories of WWI to life, so that we may continue to remember it.‘If I should die, think only this of me;

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England.’

– The Soldier, Rupert Brooke (1914)

Name of author: Vikki Green

This article has been written as part of the HLF funded Conflict & Community Project. The project commemorates the contributions of the people of Northampton to World War I. To learn more about the project please visit–and–exhibitions/2139/conflict-and-community

Leading the Way: How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded

Leading the Way: How Northampton Welcomed the Wounded.

By Ellen Hackett.

Previously I have written about my upcoming talk on how Northampton cared for injured soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War 1

With the talk drawing nearer (22 September at 7pm at the museum) my co-presenter Liam and I have been delving deeper into the stories of local soldiers. There are some fascinating tales of the lives of Northamptonians against the backdrop of world-changing events, and we cannot wait to share these with you.

As a taster of what is to come I thought I would write about how very early on in our research a local person of interest emerged. His father was a former mayor of Northampton and his brother ran a town centre shop which still operates today and is still family run. He was a young man of fighting age but was not an enlisted man, another curiousity. He was very involved in fundraising and was prominent in Northampton General Hospital. Further research revealed that his family was extremely active in the war effort. But they weren’t alone.

You may be itching to hear the name of this person, but we’re keeping this close to our chests at the moment!

From Earls to Alderman and ordinary citizens alike, the town of Northampton reveals the stoicism of its citizens and a determination to win the war and contribute to the war effort. We can all be proud of what our town achieved. The efforts made by people in all walks of life are what won through in the end.

Our talk will demonstrate how Northampton faced the challenge of the War and cared for so many soldiers and will showcase some of the strong individuals whose efforts led to Northampton Leading the Way.

We hope to see you there.

Talk date/time: Tuesday 22 September, 7pm

Venue: Northampton Museum & Art Gallery

Tickets: Just £5, please call 01604 837 397 to book early (and a limited number of tickets will also available on the door)


Against the Tide – Northampton Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Against the Tide – Northampton Conscientious Objectors in World War One

Post talk blog by John Buckell

On the evening of the hottest July day on record (1st July 2015), nine people gathered at the Museum to listen to this talk. They included the granddaughter of a Northampton WW1 conscientious objector, and a Quaker lady from Bournemouth who had grown up in Northampton.

The talk was based on the stories of some of the 60 conscientious objectors (COs) who I have identified in the records of the Northamptonshire Appeals Tribunal. Northamptonshire is one of a very small number of counties that retained these records after the war. I began with an account of the rejection by Northampton Town Council in 1920 of Harold Croft, a nominee for alderman. A majority of councillors refused to accept a man who had been imprisoned as a conscientious objector during the recent war. The background to conscientious objection was then explained – the introduction of conscription in 1916, the insertion of a conscience clause in the legislation and the setting up of local and county tribunals to judge claims for exemption from military service.

Stories of individual COs were used to illustrate their varying religious, moral and political beliefs, as well as different outcomes to their appeals –non-combatant service, alternative “work of national importance,” or dismissal, sometimes leading to prison and the Home Office Scheme. Evidence from a Northampton man’s diary showed what happened to COs who refused to obey orders when conscripted into the army.

Albert Burrows

Albert Burrows


George Nutt

George Nutt

Conscientious objectors who became mayors of Northampton – left, Albert Burrows (1935); right, George Nutt (1959). Northampton Independent Northampton Central Library, courtesy of Northamptonshire Newspapers

Instances of public hostility to COs were given, but also evidence of a local support network – the No Conscription Fellowship, the Quakers and individuals prepared to testify to a man’s genuine conscientious objection to military service. A number of women also gave active moral support, including attendance at courts martial.

The talk concluded with an outline of the future careers of some Northampton COs.

Several questions arose from the talk. How, for example, did tribunals judge the sincerity (or otherwise) of men claiming conscientious objection? Some men were working on military orders for boots, others withdrew appeals and a small number had earlier attested their willingness to serve. These were a minority, however, and it took a strong commitment to principle to face a public tribunal, and possibly the ostracism of neighbours and workmates.

Did the numbers of skilled workers in the boot factories, essential for army boots, result in fewer men being conscripted in Northampton than elsewhere in the country? It is impossible to answer this without comparative figures, but of course many other towns also had their own essential industries. Being a key worker in one of these was certainly firm grounds for exemption, unless substitutes could be trained. Conscience cases were only a small proportion of total exemptions.

Another query concerned the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU), a Quaker founded body which tended the wounded at the front, in parallel with the official Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). At least one Northampton CO served in the FAU, but it was oversubscribed and difficult to get into. A small number of Northampton COs did alternative medical work at home with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) of St. John Ambulance Brigade and Red Cross. Others refused even hospital work, on the grounds that it would release another man to fight and kill.

Once again, I am grateful to everyone who attended my talk, especially on such a fine evening, and for the interesting questions raised and answers suggested. Thanks are also due to the family of Wilfrid, William and Wesley Church for permission to use photographs and diary extracts.


The War Memorials of Northampton Town

The War Memorials of Northampton Town

Reflections of the talk by Angela Malin

I think everyone who attended, enjoyed the talk on the War Memorials and Rolls of Honour that can be found around the town.  Some are obvious such as the Cenotaph in All Saints’ churchyard but did you know that the side chapel at All Saints was also built as a memorial to those who served and died?

It was interesting to see in the newspapers that once the idea for a memorial was proposed, various architects came up with some rather grandiose schemes.. One even looked like the Admiralty Arch in the Mall in London, others involved the demolition of the top of Guildhall Road and part of St Giles Square!   I was also amazed at how quickly the funds within each church or parish were raised to pay for these memorials, especially as many of the veterans found it hard to regain employment after the war.

Abington Square War Memorial

Abington Square War Memorial

On a reflective note, it is humbling to see that all the memorials are well cared for and that 100 years on, the men who gave their lives for our freedom have not been forgotten: we have and will continue to remember them

Northampton Men Awarded a Gallantry Medal for Bravery.

Over the past few months I have unearthed the stories of 15 men from Northampton, awarded a gallantry medal for bravery. In several instances more than once during the First World War. While many were won on the Western Front in France and Belgium, for some we move to the more exotic climes of Jerusalem and Palestine.

An 18 year old lad from Jimmy’s End who drove his tank continuously for seventeen hours in the heat of battle. A ‘Mobbs Man’ from Colwyn Road, awarded a Military Medal when serving with a Special Company of the Royal Engineers. The grandson of the founder of one of Northampton’s most famous shoe manufacturers who led his men against a heavily fortified Turkish position at Gaza. In the same campaign, a man from Artizan Road who rescued four wounded men under heavy machine-gun fire during the capture of Jerusalem.

From the first Northampton man awarded a gallantry decoration, an Irish Guardsman from Perry Street in early November 1914. To the last, a conscripted soldier with a citation which reads like a Hollywood scene from a ‘John Wayne’ film, during the last few weeks of the war. The real tragic story of probably the bravest man of all from the town, awarded the Military Medal as an enlisted soldier and the Military Cross when he was later commissioned as an officer, only to be killed in a traffic accident when serving at home less than a month before the end of the war.

Gallantry Medals

Gallantry Medals

Although no award of the Victoria Cross was won by a Northampton man, I will be telling the story of a soldier with a close connection to the town who won the VC on the Somme in 1916. In addition to explaining the different types of gallantry medals awarded, I will present a summary of the awards conferred to the Northamptonshire Regiment. Also there will be a number of gallantry medal groups to the regiment on display.

David Folwell

If you’d like to come along to my talk on Thursday 6th August at 7pm do call the museum on 01604 837397 to book. Ticket cost £5 and are also available on the door.