13:00 22 Aug 2021
The factories may be gone, but the memories remain… of a time when more than 10,000 men and women worked in Norwich’s boot and shoe trade.
And half a century ago, companies produced around 11 million pairs of fashionable shoes and boots. An extraordinary achievement.
Today we live in different times… we don’t make so many shoes anymore. We import them.
People I know who worked in the booming shoe business look back to those days with great fondness. It wasn’t so much a job… more a way of life.
And they were certainly skilled workers.
Now I bring you news of a reunion for everyone who was part of the Florida / Van Dal family.
They can’t wait to meet again next month and organizer Alan Robinson, who has spent more than 20 years working in the Rattling Room, hopes as many people as possible will join them.
These gatherings exemplify the bond of friendship between men and women, many of whom have spent their entire working lives making a huge range of premium footwear.
Norwich has been making shoes for hundreds of years. Leatherworkers, saddlers and shoemakers have come together to live in the same neighborhoods.
Such as: London Street was Hosiergate, Gentleman’s Walk was Cordwainers’s Row and St Peter Parmentergate Church on King Street is reminiscent of the street where the leather sellers (parmenters) worked.
It was visionary James Smith who saw the need for off-the-shelf shoes and opened a boutique and factory on the site where City Hall is today.
His company has become Start-rite.
As many people worked from home, times were changing. Norwich’s shoe trade grew and by the 1850s employed over 5,000 people and the town became a major center for shoe manufacturing along with Northampton and Leicester.
Slowly but surely large factories emerged and in 1936 Adelman Goodman bought the Florida shoe factory at the junction of Salhouse Road and what is now the ring road known as “Florida Corner”.
It had been created by a German refugee, Mr. Herschel, to produce women’s shoes, and during World War I it operated from a former aircraft hangar.
Under the wing of the popular Goodman family, the business grew and prospered, and when peace returned in 1946, Val-Dal Shoes was formed to market the Florida line.
In the 1950s Florida was booming, moving to a large factory on Dibden Road, making about 8,000 pairs of shoes a week. It closed in 2018.
It is important to remember the great shoe factories and the role they played in the history of the city… and in the lives of the people.
The rally for everyone who has worked at Florida / Van-Dal will be held at The Cottage on Thunder Lane, such a popular place for gatherings, on Friday September 10th from 7pm. Partners are welcome. More details from Alan on Norwich (01603) 487588 or by email at [email protected]
The history of the Norwich boot and shoe trade by Norwich Heritage Projects is available for £ 12 at norwich-heritage.co.uk
What future for local shoe brands?
Created in 1946, the last two years have arguably been the most tumultuous for Van Dal, especially due to the critical impact of Covid 19.
Marketing Director Jason Larke explained, “With the shift to online sales putting pressure on traditional independent shoe retailers, availability on local shopping streets has quickly changed. Ten years ago there were over 750 viable retailers across the UK, today there are just over 150 left.
In 2019, it was clear that to remain profitable, the business had to change. Van Dal owner The Florida Group acquired the Kettering-based Padders brand in June of that year and the future looked bright.
“However, by March 2020 and with all stores closed due to the lockdown, The Florida Group had seen 70% of its revenue disappear. Life in confinement was difficult, ”said Jason.
And with the third national lockdown imposed in January 2021, it was clear that the situation had become untenable and The Florida Group made the decision to cease operations in April 2021, ”Jason said.
“Fortunately,” Jason added, “a bailout was put in place by the former managing director, Tony Linford, and the two brands were subsequently acquired by the new company Norwich Footwear Ltd.
“As of August, the brands are now on the market, most of the employees are back and the business is gaining momentum. Plus, with the specter of lockdowns now hopefully removed, sales are back on an upward trajectory, ”he said.
Confidence has returned and a stock of new styles is arriving every week in their Norwich warehouse. All of this will be available for purchase online at vandalshoes.com or padders.co.uk
“More locally, and for those looking for a bargain, try heading to the Van Dal & Co store on Church Street in Hoveton (Wroxham) for shoes at discounted factory prices – in fact, quote this article and you. can get an extra 10% in-store until the end of August, ”Jason said.