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Beautiful Burns’ Boots – Mail Online

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Are you going somewhere exciting for Burns’ Night? Has your hostess suggested you aim for a tartan theme? And you’re stuck?

Thanks to the author’s meticulous research on your behalf, you, dear reader, can steal the show…

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Let me tell you how…

It is six months since we married off our daughter, and I’m picking over the flotsam and jetsam. What is left behind for me to treasure now?

Beautiful memories, of course, and beautiful pictures. (And a beautiful relationship between them – too much subject for this posting.)

And far more trivially, something I am beginning to find very useful indeed: a directory of people. What my mother would probably have called tradesmen – or possibly craftsmen – but who, in this egalitarian age, are now “suppliers”. (After all, modern tradespeople earn far more than a humble “professional” like me.) People with their own businesses. Solo, some of them; or perhaps with one or two employees.

Abigail, for instance, who works for herself. She made my hat, and I now love to pop in on her for a mug of tea after an early broadcast in Cambridge. Admittedly, I don’t just call for a chat about our children: thanks to Abigail, I’ve fallen in love with hats and she has made me several since.

The incomparable Melanie, who employs two or three people, and is, quite simply, the best dressmaker I’ve ever known.

A number of invaluable people I now love to use. All British. Indeed all, apart from one (Sheila, who made Serena’s Shetland shawl) English.

There were a few, a very, very few, awful ones. The local Irish band which let us down at the last minute. The makeup artist who made us look like circus clowns. The cakemakers who turned out to be quite the most awkward people in the world: as Christian very rightly pointed out (he’s always right, blast him) we should have let them go the first time they pulled out.

One of the most tucked-away finds I’ve particularly enjoyed finding out about is Castle Footwear in Rochdale, Lancashire.

I came across them because they made me the most gorgeous boots for the evening family party of Serena’s and Christian’s wedding. For the first time since I was a student (when my body was far less fussy) I was wearing footwear that was both elegant and comfortable: with gorgeous sexy heels, which didn’t make me long for a mustard foot bath and chaise longue within half an hour.

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So obviously, come the autumn, I tried to order another pair, only to find the shop I had bought them from before had stopped supplying them.

Don’t you love the internet? I asked the name of the company and found them within minutes, and soon was on the telephone to Andrew Towers, director. He explained that he had recently bought up the tiny company which previously made these fabulous bespoke boots, along with the lasts and equipment, and my wedding boots had been one of the first pairs he had made.

Would he make more? He would be delighted to…

Mr Towers is the third generation of shoemakers, and his company was started in 1989.

Soon afterwards, in the mid 1990s, English footwear faced a challenge in the face of cheap imports from China, Brazil and Portugal, where labour costs far less and a pair of slippers can be made and sold for about £3. It may fall apart within weeks, but that doesn’t mean the customer immediately realises it’s worth spending five times as much.

Thousands of employees in the shoemaking Rossendale Valley area of Lancashire were laid off, and Andrew Towers had to rethink his business quickly if he wasn’t to go under too. He decided to concentrate on orthopaedic footwear, making practical washable slippers for the NHS, and also comfortable wider-fitting shoes for more mature customers.

His company survived, and soon he was looking at sourcing other small businesses to acquire. In August 2010 he bought a small orthopaedic company, reducing their 80 styles on offer down to a dozen or so.

And then last year a shoemaker five miles away, making ladies’ shoes and boots, announced its closure due to retirement. To set up such a business from scratch would cost tens of thousands; if it wasn’t bought up, the traditional equipment would go for scrap. Thus Castle Footwear acquired a business with the potential to make strappy sandals and dainty wedding shoes… starting with the manufacture of one-off boots I had fallen in love with.

Which is very fortunate, for anyone who wants a to-die-for leather button boots in a gorgeous Edwardian style, comfortable as your own feet, almost.

Or indeed, lace-up tartans for Burns’ Night…

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(Cat not for sale.)

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If you buy a pair for yourself (why wouldn’t you?) let me share my experiences. The boots I had for the wedding were easy to wear from the moment I put them on. I walked and then danced for hours in them, the first day I wore them, with not a twinge.

The next pair, in tougher leather for the autumn, were rather different.

Equally gorgeous of course…

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… but needing a bit more breaking in. These are individual, handmade items with all the uniqueness and variability – and customer care – of true craftsmanship. I tell you this so you know it’s worth every minute of getting them used to your feet.

I love them. And I love supporting proper English workmanship, I hope helping it to continue for another three generations and more.

Go on, get yourself a pair for Burns’ Night.

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Though of course, because they’re bespoke, it would have to be for Burns’ Night, 2015…

Castle Footwear:[email protected], telephone: 01706 854408.

Leather (leather boots only) from GH Leather.

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