Triumph Through Perseverance - The Story of Sanders & Sanders Ltd

Quintessentially British, shoe makers Sanders & Sanders Ltd have been specialising in handmade luxury footwear since 1873. First established by brothers William and Thomas Sanders of Rushden, Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of England, it is a story of triumph through perseverance...

To this day Sanders Shoes is still a family run business, now in its 4th generation. Renowned for their high-quality leather skins and superior craftsmanship, each shoe is made using the same techniques that made them so successful in the first place. They are now responsible for producing over 2000 pairs of the finest quality shoes and boots every week, and are proud recipients of the coveted ISO9001 Quality Assurance certification. As a long standing bastion of quality and design integrity, Sanders have supplied their wares to footwear connoisseurs from every echelon of society; from providing durable shoes for the working people, to being a long time supplier to the ministry of defence, even producing an archive of military designs called the Heritage collection.

So, how did it all begin? William Benjamin Sanders worked in London as an apprentice to the shoe and boot trade from an early age, where his passion for the craft began. Starting out as a clicker (a person who cuts out the uppers of shoes from pieces of leather using a flexible knife that clicks as it changes direction), he quickly gained hands on experience with this time worn trade. After the Franco Prussian War, he returned to his hometown, Rushden in 1871 with the vision of setting up his own shoe making business, with his brother. Two years later the dream became a reality, and the brothers had their workshop in the centre of Rushden. With just five craftsmen to help cope with the high demand, it was labour intensive work, exasperated by the size of their team. But by 1912 the rise in orders meant the brothers could expand, and they moved premises to Spencer Road, located on the outskirts of Rushden, taking around 70 workers with them. 

Machinery started to become more advanced and the introduction of Charles Goodyear’s ‘Goodyear welting’ machine sped up the process of shoemaking exponentially. When the First World War began the demand for boots was at its highest peak, and at this time the factory was producing almost 6000 pairs of army boots per week. And even though the war ended in 1918 the demand for shoes did not, with 5000-6000 pairs of shoes being dispatched and delivered to customers all over England every seven days.

Everything was going so well; business was booming and profits were up, but tragedy struck 1924 when Thomas discovered a fire at the factory on a Saturday afternoon. It was considered one of the biggest blows to the business, with everything but the contents of the safe being consumed by the fire. The cause of the blaze remains a mystery, but it is believed that it started in the clicking department. The estimated damage was reported at £45,000 (which is the equivalent of £2.8million today).

Putting this misfortune immediately behind them, the Sanders brothers went on to rebuild the factory in the most modern, up to date style, installing the latest in cutting edge ‘B.U.’ machinery. They were able to extend the factory to include a closing and dispatch department, meaning the whole process could be done under one roof, which was a first at the time. A year later Mr William Sanders retired from the business and passed it down to his three sons, William, Thomas and Leslie. 

And while the story of this beloved British shoemaker reads like a rags to riches Hollywood plot, it has far from reached its end. Sanders & Sanders continue to craft some of the finest shoes and boots to ever come out of this country, and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.