Boot & Shoemaking in Maybole - Page 1
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This article was written and contributed by J. Murray Cook with illustrations from ‘The Kingdom of Carrick and its Capital’ by John Latta and William Millar, 1904.

It is remarkable how a population of weavers, in one generation, became a population of souters (shoemakers) or curriers.  All my great great grandfathers were weavers, all except one of my grandfathers were souters or curriers.

In 1838, John Gray & Co. began producing hand sewn footwear using local outworkers to stitch pre-cut soles to uppers.  He had a place in Inches Close, now the entrance to Safeway car park, where he would employ boys at 6d a week.  They brought their own stools legend has it, and when opportunity arose they liked to slip to Ballochbrae to help Mr Brackenridge for a few coppers and occasionally a meal.  In any case, in the beginning the manufacture of boots was influenced by the practices of the weaving industry.  A lot of the work was done in the workers houses at so much a dozen pairs.  The competition for work was keen, and whoever was first to deliver their dozen pairs in the morning got the first dozen to be given out again.  I understand that this practise reached the stage of people taking their dozen to the factory stair-head at 3 a.m., hanging them on the rail and covering them with a shawl, and returning at 6 a.m. to claim their place in the queue.  Thus a generation of shoemakers was born - driven by desperation!

There was an old mill and a row of weavers’ cottages at the foot of the bog steps beside a burn - known inelegantly as the keechie burn. One night in 1869 an old wife called Sarah Cavey was running a lighted candle round the seams of the built-in bedstead to kill the bugs.  She set the bed alight and the cottage was gutted.  John Gray & Co. bought the property and built the Ladywell Tannery and Boot Factory.

Ladywell Tannery & Boot Factory

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For more on boot and shoemaking in Maybole see Maybole's Shoe Factories , John Lees & Co. Limited Shoe Factory, Our Shoe Factories by Rev. R. Lawson A Day in the Life of a  Shoe Factory Worker, When Maybole Had Boot Power by Edwin Lawrence and Dick Goudie: Last of the Maybole shoemakers.