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Researching the collection and archive

Shoe collection and archive

Handsewers in The Mounts shoe factory

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is home to one of the largest and most important collections of shoes and shoe heritage in the world. Arts Council England has Designated the collection as being of local, national and international importance. The collection’s strength lies in its very broad range, from Ancient Egypt to the latest fashions, from workwear to high-end designer creations and from Northamptonshire-made shoes to footwear from around the world.

Who can make a research visit

Research visits to the shoe collection relating to the designing, making and wearing of footwear plus the history of shoemaking is encouraged by the museum. We welcome visits by students, academics, researchers, family history researchers, designers and makers, reenactors and shoe enthusiasts to see items that are currently not on display in our galleries. Due to the size of the current storage facilities group visits to see items from the collection in the store are currently not possible. A group visit still may be possible depending on requirements. We welcome access to these resources through research visits, viewings and correspondence. Access to the collections and archives will be available from September 2021 due to Covid-19.

How to book a research visit or make an enquiry

Due to popularity and capacity visits are by appointment only. Appointments can be made 10.00-13.00 and 14.00-16.30, Tuesday-Thursday. Longer or alternative appointments can be discussed with the Senior Shoe Curator. Access to the collections and archives will be available from early 2021 due to our major expansion project at Northampton Museum and Art Gallery.

Book a visit or research or enquire about the collection

You will be able to view a specified selection of objects or archive relevant to your own interest. There will be a limit on the number of items you can see at any one appointment.

What you can view

The Collection

The collection contains the following:

  • More than 15,000 shoes
  • Accessories including buckles and laces, shoehorns, shoe tress, spats and polish
  • Shoemaking tools, machines, components and lasts
  • Shoe retail objects including foot measuring devices and advertising

Concealed shoes and shoemakers index

There is also an index of shoemakers and shoe companies from across the UK and further afield, and an international database recording concealed shoes found hidden in buildings.If you have an enquiry regarding researching concealed shoes have a look at our guidance on concealed shoes.

Concealed shoes

Shoe archive

The Shoe Collection consists of a paper archive that could help provide information for your local history and family history research and more general enquiries. You may also wish to share your research by adding it to the shoe archive. The Shoe Archive contains the following which could help you with your research:

  • Industry journals including Shoe and Leather News, Shoe and Leather Record, St Crispin’s Journals, Boot and Shoe Trade Journals
  • Trade directories
  • Trademark directories
  • Photographs
  • Shoe company magazines
  • Shoe company catalogues
  • Oral Histories
  • Invoices and letterheads
  • Piecework statements
  • Patents
  • Tool catalogues
  • Reference books on shoemaking, foot health and orthopaedics, lasting, retail and the shoe industry
  • Index of shoemakers and shoemaking firms from the Roman period onwards
  • Buckle Maker Index
  • Last Maker Index
  • Tool Maker Index
  • Machinery Maker Index
  • Shoe designs
  • Fashion forecasting material

The archive is largely concerned with the designing, making and selling of shoes. We do not hold shoe company records. Archive material including company archives and records is available at the Northamptonshire Record Office.

Shoe archive Northamptonshire Record Office

Information to help your research

If you have an enquiry regarding researching shoes and shoemaking ancestors have a look at our guidance on the history of footwear and the history of shoemaking.

The history of Northampton shoemaking