Creative works remember the shoe industry in imaginative ways

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‘Going into the factory was like being seven years old again and sitting on a stool at Charles Horrell’s,” explained Susan Gaston.

Born into a well-known Northamptonshire shoe-making family, it seems that the footwear industry is very much in Susan’s blood.

Perhaps it was this nostalgia for the county’s industrial past which led Susan to make the unusual purchase of 1,000 1930s wooden shoe lasts from a local footwear firm.

But, breaking the news to her photographer husband Jimmy Gaston, a new business idea was born.

She said: “When I told Jimmy he said ‘what were you thinking?’ They were delivered to our garage in Grendon and he thought I was mad. But he is very creative and artistic, and he is a perfectionist, as most photographers are.”

Working together, the pair came up with some innovative ways of breathing a new lease of life into these old wooden blocks which had been so important to so many Northamptonshire shoe-makers.

The idea, which is now the concept behind the business White Dove and Wonder, was to transform the lasts into beautiful household items such as lamps, book-ends and coat hooks.

Susan said: “Jimmy works at our workshop in New Cross and he is about to do a massive shed in our London garden.

“Years ago people threw away their old lasts but once these things are gone they are gone. It is like having a mountain of wood but these are things of beauty.”

Susan’s family heritage within the shoe trade goes back three generations, with her grandfather Charles Knowles and father Bud Knowles both well known names in the industry.

Susan’s late father Bud was the managing director of Charles Horrell shoe firm in Rushden, before becoming a partner in Trickers International. Susan and Jimmy’s shoe last designs are now sold around the world by such big names as Lane Crawford.

Susan also sells through her own website while local shoppers can buy the objects from The Cullen Art Gallery, Antiques, Collectibles and Curios at the Castle Ashby Rural Shopping Yard.

But how have Northamptonshire shoppers taken to them?

Brian Cullen, owner of the Cullen Gallery, said: “The response has been brilliant. We have had a lot of people coming down from Kettering and Northampton who have said they have worked in these shoe factories.”