AIRWAIR IS BORN
In Cobb’s Lane, Wollaston, Northampton, England, stands the Dr. Martens factory where the famous boots were fi rst made in April 1960 and where the ‘Made In England’ range of boots are still manufactured using the same unique process to this day.
The county of Northamptonshire’s reputation for footwear production dates back as far as the 17th century when Oliver Cromwell, who ordered marching boots for his armies from this area, and for centuries the region has been home to craftspeople, artisans and leading experts in the shoe trade.
Back in 1901, the Griggs family became involved in the production of working men’s boots that quickly garnered a reputation for being highly durable. In the 1930s, the site of the future Dr. Martens factory was actually an old house with a small, slightly run-down brick-built cottage in the large garden. A Griggs family member, Reginald, bought the house to live in and promptly demolished the old cottage, re-using some of the stone bricks from its demolition to build the factory that still stands on the site today – eagle-eyed visitors to the Cobb’s Lane manufacturing building can actually spy a few of those original bricks from the old cottage.
By 1960, the Griggs family had acquired the exclusive licence to produce a revolutionary air-cushioned sole invented by two German doctors. When Bill Griggs bought the specialist machinery for making these unique soles from a defunct company in London, on returning to Northampton he discovered that the new equipment was too tall to fi t into the factory. Raising the roof would require a lengthy and expensive planning application with the local authorities, so Bill thought of a better idea – he simply dug a big hole in the factory floor and fitted the machines in that way.
One of the workers would always arrive at the factory at 6am to start warming up the small vats of wax that would be used to help make the famous air-cushioned sole. In the early days, a large diesel engine would need to be hand-cranked to start and power the factory – this engine (albeit no longer operational) still stands in the Cobb’s Lane building to this day as a reminder of those early years.
The Griggs family were always looking to innovate and, with the help of a key workman, designed a production line that made the manufacture of the boots both safer for the workforce but also, crucially, quicker. Many of the workers were multi-skilled and could operate several of the stations. In those days, like most factories of the period, Cobb’s Lane would have been a noisy workplace environment, fi lled with the smell of tanning leathers and clanking machinery.
Fast-forward to the present day and the world of fashion and workwear has changed beyond recognition – however, in many ways the original factory remains largely unchanged. Within these factory walls, in amongst the smell of freshly cut leather and the noisy backdrop of carefully preserved machinery, the unmistakeable shape of the Dr. Martens boot starts to form: travelling the length of the factory, beginning with a small pile of tanned leather hides, the process takes the boots and shoes through various highly skilled stages of evolution until its fi nal arrival in the customer’s box.
True to more than a century of footwear craftsmanship and innovation, this famous footwear is still manufactured by a specialised team of cutters, clickers and welters, schooled in traditional shoe-making methods and experts in the unique process that makes Dr. Martens like no other shoe on earth.