Does anyone remember seeing a hand laster at work? They often worked in wash houses or outbuildings in corners of the various yards. In the early 1900’s Finedon was noted for the manufacture of boots and shoes and I as a small child visited several factories. I was in Knight’s factory on Thrapston road many times because they outsourced the sewing together of the ten to fifteen pieces of cloth and leather that made up the top of a boot. The women would go to the factory and pick up the parts for a dozen boots and take them home. At home they would have a tredle-driven heavy sewing machine, and in their “spare” time they would sew the jigsaw of partstogether. When they finished a batch they would take it back to the factory. On these visits to the factory I would watch how quickly the women would sew the parts together on the steam driven machines.
Sometimes I went to Nutt’s factory and watched Harry Knowels, who was a clicker, take a hide of tanned leather, and cut it into innersoles with as little waste as possible. The waste was cut up into leather bits which were burned in small stoves in wash houses.
On a visit to Baillie’s factory, I was very impressed by the lasting machines and watched them tugging the tops in place over the innersoles and assuming everything would fit. Then I thought of my step father Bill Boddington, who was one of the last of the real hand lasters. He would take a last of the appropiate size,modified to accomidate individual bunions etc, and pull the top into place inch by inch. He would tack each piece in place before releasing the pliers. To have the small tacks handy he would have them in his mouth, so you never expected that he would speak to you at such times. The other hand laster I knew had a tiny store next to Georgie Leach on High Street.