Newcastle Upon Tyne
The work of a Cordwainer
A cordwainer (or cordovan) is somebody who makes shoes and other articles from fine soft leather. The word is derived from “cordwain”, or “cordovan”, the leather produced in Cordoba, Spain. Historically, there was a distinction between a cordwainer, who made shoes, and a cobbler, who repaired them. However, this distinction gradually weakened, particularly during the twentieth century, with the predominance of shoe retailers who neither made nor repaired the shoes themselves.
Cordwainers in Newcastle
The ordinary of this society, and agreement signed by 31 brethren, is dated December 17th 1566, mentions their meeting-house in the lately dissolved monastery of Black-Friars, and enjoins every apprentice should serve ten years, five of which to be expired before a second could be taken; and that foreigners might be admitted into the company on payment of �5, one half whereof to go to the fellowship, and the other to the reparation of the Tyne-Bridge.
In 1690, the society met on the head-meeting day, on Forth Hill. This custom ceased on their repairing their late hall, at the foot of the Old Flesh Market. They obtained the first lease of this building, then called “The House of Charity”, from the Corporation of Newcastle in 1668.
The company is in the possession of a grant from the common council, dated June 2nd 1617, stating that, “divers persons, for years, under colour of exercising the trade of a cobbler, who should only mend old shoes that are brought to them to be mended, do buy great number of old shoes mended and made fit to be worn at London and elsewhere, and cause them to be brought to Newcastle upon Tyne, and in the cobblers’ houses, and in the market within the said town, sell them to the best advantage, whereby the fraternity of Cordwainers of Newcastle aforesaid is much impoverished. The common council the proceeds to empower the stewards to fine the aforesaid “cobblers,” for the preservation of their “ancient customs, rights, and privileges.”
About the years 1712 and 1728, the brethren of the company appear to have been in the practice of several of them joining together, as “sharers”, in purchasing their leather, and dividing it afterwards; as appears by an old book, entitled, “The Company’s Sharers’ Book”.
In 1748, the company allowed twelve persons, by grant from them, called the “Cobblers’ Bond,” to follow the trade of cobblers, “so long as they quarterly pay to the said company sixpence a piece,” and also to follow the trade, “save only in a bulk”.
Those who worked with the finest leather were called Cordwainers because their material came from Cordoba in Spain. They developed a soft, durable goatskin leather known as Cordwain – the very finest leather available – importation of which contributed to the growing prosperity of London.
Over a period of time, those who processed the leather formed their own guilds. The shoemakers, however, retained the name of ‘Cordwainer’.
Most probable date of Incorporation: 1566
R. D. Elliot
13 Ash Avenue
Newcastle upon Tyne