Making shoe history for Northampton Museum & Art Gallery

Left to right: Harry Gayton, Bobby Nangla, Ricardo Coco (all apprentices with Church’s), Andy Burke (historical shoemaker), Rebecca Shawcross (senior shoe curator at Northampton Museum & Art Gallery), Ben Smith, Matthew Hunt (apprentices with Loake)
Published: Tuesday, 18 June 2019

A pair of 15th century-inspired 12 inch platform shoes are being created by a historical shoemaker to go on display at Northampton Museum & Art Gallery.

The Venetian chopines are being made by specialist shoemaker Andy Burke thanks to funding from the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers.

Andy Burke unveiled his work in progress for the first time to shoemaking apprentices at Northampton College during a practical session about his work and the historic and heritage elements of shoe making.

Rebecca Shawcross, Senior Shoe Curator at Northampton Museum & Art Gallery, explained: “Chopines are platform shoes that were worn by women in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.

"They were very popular in Venice and made with a very tall platform to protect the dress from mud and street dirt.

"The size of the chopines was made according to the status of the wearer – the higher the platform, the higher the social status.”

She continued: “We have more than 15,000 shoes in our collection but we still have some significant gaps which are unlikely to be filled through donation or loan.

"Although the collection contains a 1960s reproduction of a low platform chopine, we don’t have an example that shows the amazing heights they could reach.”

Councillor Anna King, Cabinet member for community engagement, said: “We are extremely grateful to the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers for the grant of £1,200 which has allowed this project to take place and introduce an important new piece to the museum’s collection.

"The chopines will be on display in the history of shoe fashion cases in the new shoe gallery when the museum re-opens in spring 2020, after an extensive re-development project.”

Colin Needle, Employee Development Executive at Northampton College, said: “Our apprentices are used to getting hands-on and understanding how shoes are made in the 21st century so being able to take a step back in time and learn more about the historical side of the industry is a really good experience for them.

"Discovering the heritage of shoemaking and seeing how styles have evolved over hundreds of years is vital.

"We’re thrilled to have been able to see these stunning chopines during their development stage and look forward to seeing the finished product.”

Penny Graham, Clerk at the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, said: "The historic collection of shoes held by Northampton Museum and Art Gallery is unrivalled anywhere in the world, and the new museum will provide the perfect showcase for it.

"These are exciting times for footwear in Northampton and we are especially pleased to be able to support the rich heritage of shoemaking in the town.”