Drive & Stroll, with Ron Freethy: Rossendale

LAST week's visit to the Roman museum set me thinking about a stroll around Rossendale.

You may wonder what the connection is.

Well, while some of the soldiers rode on horses, many walked on the hard surfaces of roads and their sandals had to be tough to stand the wear and tear.

This set me thinking about the history of footwear so off I went to the Rossendale Footwear and Heritage Museum at Waterfoot.

Here I found that initially shoes could only be worn by men and women of distinction.

Only free people could cover their feet and it was the duty of slaves to look after their masters' footwear.

It was probably the Egyptians who first regularly wore footwear and they made sandals of wood or hide and fastened these to the feet with strips of hide.

Some sandals were decorated with the pictures of conquered people who were symbolically being trampled underfoot.

So far as Lancashire is concerned, one type of footwear - the slipper - has become famous throughout the world.

Rossendale is therefore the ideal place to locate a footwear museum. It is situated just off Burnley Road East, at Gaghills Mill. Now owned by Lambert Howarth, the museum was once the boardroom of Trickett's.

Henry Whittaker Trickett was an intelligent man of humble origins who realised the value of advertising.

His first job was as a child "half-timer."

He was employed by his uncle Joshua but by the age of 13 young Henry was in charge of a warehouse.

Henry Trickett was born to work for himself and after working in a print works he decided in 1883 at the age of 26 to form a slipper-making company.

As his raw material he used felt remnants from local textile companies.

In 1889 he bought a disused cotton mill at Gaghills and by 1890 was employing 145 men and 75 women. This workforce produced 35,000 pairs of slippers.

Advertising was essential and Trickett was brilliant at this.

By 1900, 1,000 workers were on his books and 72,000 pairs of slippers headed for the markets each week.

The advertising bore the name Trickett's and gave the company's address as Waterfoot, Manchester, England.

The Slipper King exported to Canada, the West Indies and India, and in 1904 the company was awarded a gold medal in an exhibition of world trade in South Africa.

Business has to keep pace with modern trends and takeovers are a part of this. Henry Trickett's company went through many changes and in 1962 became part of Lambert Howarth's, which in 1990 had the good sense to open the museum.

Betsy and Lambert Howarth were not only good for each other but also for the area.

In 1887 the young couple set up a little footwear production unit at Whitewell Bottom. The going was tough and Betsy kept the new company afloat with the modest profits from her drapery business, which she had run before her marriage.

The couple made slippers of quality from all sorts of unexpected materials, including felt, old railway carriage upholstery and even old carpets.

This is the origin of the term carpet slippers - it does not mean they were for walking on carpets.

Lambert Howarth's have survived and, thanks to the museum, the name Trickett is also a part of Lancashire's history.

Rossendale is not only famous for footwear and this splendid little museum.

It is also very much underrated as a walking area.

Many cotton and slipper workers walked the high hills above Waterfoot and the old paths are now well signed.

Attached to the museum is a shoe shop, so why not buy yourself a pair of bargain boots and head for the hills?

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