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Trades and transport

  • The boot and shoe trade The boot and shoe trade

    ​Northamptonshire became the centre of the boot and shoe trade in the 19th century. Its thriving cattle markets provided leather, a good supply of oak bark and water aided the tanning process, and a central location afforded good trading links. Each town developed its own distinct specialism and brands, such as safety footwear in Rushden. Northamptonshire is still renowned for its boot and shoe trade and there are over 25 manufacturers producing footwear in the county today.

    Lasting at Mansfield Shoe Factory © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • The brewing industry The brewing industry

    ​​Although there is no large local brewer today, Northamptonshire has a long history of brewing. You can see physical remains of the industry across the county. For example, in Oundle, the McKee’s Anchor Brewery building still stands today.

    Boiler Room at Campbell Praed's, 1911 © Brewery History Society

  • Canals Canals

    In the late 18th century, a national canal network was built to transport materials and goods. The Grand Junction Canal in Northamptonshire was the last of the major canals to be built. Despite problems building the Blisworth Tunnel, it became one of the busiest canals in the country. It transformed the Northamptonshire villages it passed through, bringing new trades and prosperity. However, in the 19th century, railways gradually replaced canals as the main transport for goods and materials. Today, it is a popular destination for its beauty, heritage, and nature.

    The Grand Junction Canal near Welton © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • The Corby iron and steel industry The Corby iron and steel industry

    ​Corby is perhaps best known for its iron and steel industry. After its expansion at the turn of the 20th century, the industry shaped the town and dominated all aspects of life until the steelworks closed in 1980.

    The Corby Works © Corby Borough Council

  • Domestic service Domestic service

    ​Domestic service increased dramatically in Victorian England. By the end of the 19th century, it was the largest employer in the country. The big country houses in Northamptonshire had large teams of live-in servants. Smaller middle-class homes might only employ one maid-of-all-work. The work ranged from cooking and cleaning, to waiting on the household, to looking after the horses and gardens. There was also a strict hierarchy between servants in large households and a division between male and female tasks. Servants were paid poorly and expected to be at their employer's beck and call around the clock. Furthermore, mistreatment of servants, especially young women, was common. As a result, domestic service declined as other roles for women increased. It was no longer a major employer after the Second World War.

    A woman and her four maids © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • The fire brigade The fire brigade

    ​Organised firefighting with specialist equipment has existed since ancient times. However, it was quite basic until the 17th century when fires, such as the Great Fire of Northampton, destroyed many towns. In the 18th century, being a firefighter became a paid job.  Equipment has also been developed and improved.

  • Lacemaking Lacemaking

    From the 16th to 19th century, the East Midlands was an important area for bobbin lacemaking. Men, women, and children made lace, either full-time or to supplement the family income. However, the trade declined with industrialisation. While it was once very important for the local economy, there is little left of the lacemaking industry to show today.

    Mrs Brown, Cosgrove lacemaker © Northamptonshire Archives Service

  • Railways Railways

    ​In the 1830s and 1840s, the assortment of unconnected, local railways was transformed into a national network. The London and Birmingham Railway passed through Weedon and Blisworth, but missed Northampton due to its geography. Many Northamptonshire towns had to wait decades for a train link, slowing industrial growth. When railways opened, they were often smaller lines. There were huge changes in the 20th century as rail companies merged, the network was nationalised then re-privatised, and many smaller lines were closed. Today, many of these lines are heritage railways.

    Steam train, c.1920 © Northamptonshire Archives Service

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If your question is research-related, please contact the Northamptonshire Archives.