Keeping up tradition of family shoe firm

Walsh made In England event at The Shoe Museum. Tim Walker.
Walsh made In England event at The Shoe Museum. Tim Walker.

Northamptonshire may arguably be the shoe-making capital of the UK, but elsewhere in the country there are also traditional footwear manufacturers still in existence.

The Walsh company, based in Bolton, Lancashire, today has a reputation for manufacturing casual footwear, sports and fell running shoes.

And an exhibition about the history of this 52-year-old firm is currently on display at the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in Guildhall Road.

With some of its suppliers based in this county, the Walsh firm – which now produces about 12,000 pairs of shoes a year – has had a close working relationship with Northamptonshire.

Originally set up by Norman Walsh in 1961, the firm was bought by brothers Dennis and Jonathan Crompton, in 1996, after Norman’s retirement. But they are committed to carrying on the Walsh name and traditions of shoe-making.

Dennis said: “We have worn Walsh’s since the 1970s, playing five-a-side and rugby. Believe it or not, we liked the shoes so much that when Norman Walsh retired, we bought the company.”

Norman started out in shoemaking as a 16-year-old working for the Bolton-based Foster Brothers (which later became Reebok). One of his tasks was to make many of the running shoes for the 1948 British Olympic team.

The experience gave him a running start to set up his own business, making shoes for sports ranging from track and field to rugby and cricket.

Today the shoes are sold throughout the world and the company – which is made up of five staff in a Bolton workshop – is still going strong.

The exhibition combines the Walsh archive with expertise from the museum and UK- based sneaker expert, Deluded Monkey. Jonathan said: “We haven’t changed things very much, we bought some new machinery and equipment.

“We have taken his original products and made it into more wearable, casual shoes. We still do one of his main lines, the performance hill running and mountain shoes.”

The brothers said one reason for the survival of the brand was the market for British-made shoes.

Jonathan said: “Norman doesn’t come down every day but we make sure we put him in touch with what we are doing. He still comes and looks around and we let him know what is happening with his brand.”

The exhibition is free to enter and will end on May 30.