England Manufacturing Occupations A to H (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Animal Products

Boot and Shoe Making

Shoemaking occupations that the family historian will come across frequently are:

  • ŸCobbler—a worker in old leather, typically a shoe mender. The village cobbler was an essential link in the community, even after the introduction of machine-made boots and shoes (Wymer 1946).
  • ŸShoemaker (crydd in Welsh) and bootmaker—those who made shoes, mainly out of leather, but ladies shoes were often of silk, satin and other textiles. A shoemaker would usually specialize in either men’s shoes and boots, or ladies’ shoes as the techniques differed (Hurley 1991). A nickname for a shoemaker was a snob; the meaning of a social climber was first used by Thackeray in the 19th century (R.L. Vickers). A shoesmith made horse-shoes.
  • Cordwainer—at first anyone who worked in the fine leather from Cordoba (or Cordova), Spain called cordovan or cordwain. This included those who made belts, pouches, purses, trunks, leather bottles and glovers, as well as the preparers of leather (whitetawyers, curriers, tanners and dyers). Eventually the name came to mean only those who made fine footwear (Fothergill 1994, 1995).
  • Patten maker—those who made the various styles of raised frames or overshoes slipped on over lady’s house shoes to protect them from the mud/
  • Clog maker—one who made wooden shoes.
  • Clicker—foreman shoemaker who cuts out the leather and gives out work.
  • Hand binder or boot binder—one who sewed together the upper leathers on a last, usually women, older children and old men.

Shoemakers led most craftsmen in literacy, and took a strong interest in politics; many were freethinkers and Dissenters from the Established Church. The lives and conditions of London boot and shoe makers were investigated by Mayhew (Mayhew’s London, [a condensation of volumes I-III of London Labour and the London Poor]. Bracken Books, London. {{FHL|582699|item|disp=FHL book 942.1/L1 E6m]], 1861) who presents much useful detail (Thompson and Yeo). For the home craftsman, the whole family would assist, the women sewing (closing) uppers or hammering seams flat, whilst small children tied knots at the ends of seams.

The army was always a good customer for ready-made boots, and employed its own repairers in the field as well. The trade was one to which many pauper boys, as well as those from industrial and other reform schools, were apprenticed as a way of providing them with a means of earning a living. It was also an occupation to which handicapped men could manage, as it was considered light work.

The trade is ubiquitous—every village having a population of about 300 people was able to support a shoemaker. In 1861 the census revealed over 250,000 people in the shoemaking trade, the sixth largest category of employment and rating higher than mining, railways or engineering at that time (R.L. Vickers). Certain towns predominated when large-scale production commenced, including London and Northampton at the time of the Civil War, and other regional centres were Oxford, Bristol and York for the fashionable trade in the 17th-18th centuries (Swann). Wymer (English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949) tells the story of King Alfred gathering a community of shoemakers to Northamptonshire in the late 9th century as there was a plentiful supply of oak bark for the leather tanning process. He was particularly concerned that his soldiers have good strong boots instead of sandals and set a high standard for manufacture which has continued in the county to this day. The Boot and Shoe Collection and index of shoemakers is appropriately located in Northampton.

The American Singer sewing machine was modified in 1856 to stitch leather and although resisted by the workers at first, from then on machinery started to replace hand labour both for outworkers and in the new factories.

The Shire book on shoemaking (Swann) gives an excellent history, plentifully illustrated, whilst Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) and Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974) have descriptions of the work. Some history of the Cordwainers’ Company is given by Fothergill (Cordwainers Continued. North West Kent Family History. Vol 7 #4, page 110-113, 1995). Vickers (Old Occupations: Shoemaking. Family Tree Magazine Vol 9 #12, page 32-33, 1993) gives a good description of the work and how the outwork system was organized, and also discusses the many surnames derived from the trade. Elsie Wright describes an imaginary visit to her shoemaker ancestors and how they lived, a delightfully different type of article (Old Occupations: Great-granddad Parkin, a Cordwainer. Family Tree Magazine Vol 14 #4, page 18-19, 1998).


This trade encompasses the making of all types of brushes from hair brushes to carpet brushes, brooms, mops of all kinds and usually also wooden coal hods and the measures for corn (wheat) and coal. The earliest brooms were besoms made of twigs, typically birch, and still in use by gardeners and Hallowe’en witches; their construction is covered by Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968 and All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974) , Sparkes (Woodland Craftsmen. Shire Publications, 1991), Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946). Gentler and more efficient brushes made of animal hair mounted in wooden or bone backings were known to the Greeks and Romans, and methods remained fairly consistent until the advent of plastics in the mid-20th century.

Brushmakers worked in a panshop, with four men (panhands) around each panframe that contained a tub of hot pitch in which to dip the bundles of hair before insertion into the brush head. The Brushmakers’ Society was formed in 1747 to alleviate distress amongst members, and was the first trade union, although the law forbade that terminology then (Doughty 1993, 2001). Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol II. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991), Heskins (Was Your Ancestor a Brushmaker on the Tramp Route? Journal of One-Name Studies Vol 7 #6, page 12-14) and Doughty’s two articles give descriptions of the work and the Brushmakers’ Society, and Doughty (Old Occupations: Brushmaker or Tramp? Family Tree Magazine Vol 9 #5, 1993 and Brushmaker - or Tramp? East Surrey Family History Society Journal Vol 24 #4, page 39-42, 2001) lists clubhouses in 1829 and the tramping route for work. The Society of Brushmakers’ Descendants runs an index of them.

Comb making

Combs were made from bullocks’ horn, elephant and walrus ivory, tortoiseshell, and box or holly wood and Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol I. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) and Watts (Old Occupations: The Combmaker. Family Tree Magazine Vol 10 #12, page 54-55, 1994) describes their manufacture by hand. They were used not only for cleaning the hair but also for ornament, so that some were studded with precious stones. A machine for cutting combs was invented in 1803. Only the apprenticeships from 1744-1750 for the Combmakers’ Company survive but have been indexed. (Webb 1997-2). There are two relevant indexes: Bowers runs an index of combmakers and Watts an index of combmakers and horners.


Featherworkers are chiefly women, and the birds most frequently plucked were the ostrich, heron, chicken cock (rooster), turkey, swan, peacock and goose, each for different purposes. Some of the uses for feathers have included ornamentation for women’s and military hats, funeral plumes for horses and hearses, stuffing of bed coverings, quill pens, corsages and bridal bouquets. Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol I. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) describes the traditional business and Dixon a modern one.

Horn working

Cow horn, and to a lesser extent that from rams, goats and deer, has been used in its natural state for a number of purposes just by cutting or sawing, heating, splitting and flattening. These include early windows, covering of horn books (children’s alphabet primers), drinking cups, powder flasks, shoe horns, hearing trumpets and combs with the residue being ground for use as fertilizer. Horn and tortoiseshell, another keratin animal product, can also be heated and moulded and accept a high polish, as well as being dense enough to accept being turned on a lathe. This allows their use in a multitude of household objects such as snuff boxes, spoons and ladles, rings, brooches and necklaces, ornaments, and mouldings (Katz). The work of the horner is described by Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968), and Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), and Webb (London Apprentices Volume 6. Broderers’ Company 1679-1713, 1763-1800; Combmakers’ Company 1744-50; Fanmakers Company 1775-1805; Frameworkknitters’ Company 1727-30; Fruiterers’ Company 1750-1815; Gardeners’ Company 1764-1850; Horners’ Company 1731-1800. Society of Genealogists, 1997) has indexed the apprenticeships of the Horners’ Company 1731-1800. Watts has an index of combmakers and horners.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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