Snaith Clog Sole Manufacturing and Steam Saw Mill Company Ltd Est 1903
From the “Goole Times” Series, 23rd June 1939
ROUND LOCAL INDUSTRIES
The Manufacturers of Clog Soles
Unique Undertaking at Snaith
Rural Craft the Meets the Demand of Industrial Lancashire
We continue to come across unique, interesting and unexpected things in our tour of local industries, as this week’s description of a visit to the mill of British Clog Sole Manufacturers Ltd., at Snaith shows. Local road and rail travellers will be very familiar with the view of the mill in the illustration accompanying this article but how many of them know of the interesting work that is carried on within its walls? We venture to suggest that few of them do. The same thing is true of most local industries. We have received many expressions of appreciation of the articles we have already published in this series and venture to hope that those yet to come will be equally interesting. To the managements of the various concerns who have granted us the courtesy of a visit, we are grateful, not only on our own behalf but on that of our readers.
Last week we visited the mill of the British Clos Sole Manufacturers Ltd., the only manufacturing business in Snaith, a mill of some importance to the local habitants in that all the employees are natives of the town.
Clogging is far from being a dying industry in spite of what we keep reading about the sound of clogs no longer being heard in the streets of Lancashire. The mill girls of the cotton towns, it is true, no longer go to work in clogs, but they wear them when actually at work, and even the manager has to don special pair when he has to go into the mill.
Why clogs? You may ask. The reason is that the wooden sole of a clog will withstand water much better that leather and it does no conduct heat, so that to work in clogs is to be dry, comfortable and cool in summer and warm in winter. Heavy outdoor work, where there is a lot of water about, demands clods and they are also used extensively in tanneries where, strange to say leather footwear would fall to pieces.
Another interesting point about clogs is that a clog is not just a clog. There are Lancashire clogs, London clogs, the London toed clog, the broad toes clog, the duck toed clog and the common toed clog. In all there are over 500 shapes and sizes of clogs, so a concern such as this one at Snaith has to carry a tremendous amount of stock.
Another peculiarity is that clog sizes differ from boot and shoe sizes. If you take a size seven in boots your corresponding size in clogs is ten. Children’s sizes are two sizes larger than in boots or shoes, and there is no size thirteen in the cloggers’ world.
The Snaith mill occupies and acre and a half of ground, and part of it used to be a malt kiln, built in 1790. The original oak beams can still be seen in that part of the building which is now used to store stock. The mill is a self-contained unit, and if it were located in Aberdeen it would be the pride of Scotland as not a thing is wasted. Power from shavings runs and lights the mil, but more of that later.
Huge trunks of beech and alder are used to make clog soles. On arrival by rail or road they are lifted by a three-ton crane and sawn into planks by a log band saw, which travels at no less than ninety miles per hour. The planks are then sawn into blocks by a most ingenious saw, called a pendulum saw. As its name implies it swings to and fro as the planks pass under it and are sawn into blocks of the required length, which is governed by the size of the clog to be made. Incidentally makes about four or five thousand pairs of the same size before going on to another size.
The block made, the heart is then taken out of the wood as it is useless for the clog soles on account of it not being waterproof. The heart however, is not wasted but sold to pits for wedging pit props during roofing operations. The shape of the sole is then marked out and sawn by means of a band saw. Waste pieces or offcuts are used to make smaller sizes, or if they are no use for that they go to make wooden handles.
The wood still has to be seasoned thoroughly before it is finally made into soles so that it doesn’t crack. No amount of outside seasoning will bring it up to the exacting standard required, so it is seasoned by steam and air in one of six special chambers which have a temperature of 135 degrees and a humidity of 50 percent. All the moisture is taken from the wood and heavy beech and lighter alder is now light enough and dry enough to make into soles. Alder soles are used mainly used for indoor work in mills, etc., and beech for outdoor as it can be made more waterproof than alder.
The next process demands that the wood should be properly shaped and this is done by a man who can turn out 700 pairs a day, working entirely by the judgement of the eye. On the next machine whirring knives hollow them out so that the foot fits comfortably, while another man cuts the heels. The soles are then ready for waxing and this is done by a process which has survived the years and defied moderns to find a better way.
The soles are placed in a tumbling barrel, which is a many sided revolving wooden drum, along with pieces of paraffin wax and smaller pieces of wood. As the drum revolves the wax acts on the soles, and the smaller pieces, in a mysterious way, convey wax to the most inaccessible part of the soles, which when taken out are perfectly waxed. Channels are cut around the sole to take the uppers, pairs are sorted out and the soles are ready for the market.
At least they are ready for all markets except Lancashire. With native caution they have no use for the purely machine made sole and demand one which is hand finished, probably to make doubly sure it is inspected before leaving the factory. This peculiarity or Lancashire buyers brings into play the original method of making clog soles by means of a stock knife. This curious knife is something like an outsize in butchers’ cleavers and it takes a highly skilled man to operate it, to impart hand-finished touches to the sole and also to make good any defects. One man is constantly employing taking out defects and making bad soles into good ones by means of skills with the knife, which is operated by the right hand a yard away from the blade. That alone shows the judgement required to take off a shaving.
The handle department is a recent development for using up the waste wood which will not make clog soles. Every piece of wood which is convertible is turned into a handle for some use or another, such as garden shears, forks and trowels, joiners’ chisels and turnscrews, garden barrows, ploughs, lawn mowers, kitchen utensils, soldering irons etc., etc.
The department is fully equipped with the last word in semi-automatic lather, sandpapering, boring and ferruling machines. The cellulose dipping plant is equipped to deal with the hole of the output of handles, and the quality of cellulose finishing is very highly regarded in the trade. Then, will the ferrule fall off? No. the timber is seasoned in hot humid air kilns, scientifically controlled until there is only 11% moisture in the wood. This ensures that all shrinkage of the wood has been cancelled out. Even the hole which is bored will not get larger to let the tool head work loose. Thus, care and attention to these points ensure Snaith handles can be relied on after the tool head is fitted.
Earlier in this article we mention was made of the way in which waste was made to work the mill. Gas is extracted from shavings and chippings to work two gas engines, developing 240 h.p., which supply the mill with power and also drive a dynamo which makes the mill’s own electricity supply. The water supply comes from the mills own well in a cellar and in times of drought has never shown the slightest sign of giving out. Sawdust, did you say? That goes to such places as Hull and Grimsby to be used in the curing of kippers, and if there is any waste wood it finds a ready market for firewood. A fine example of this self-supporting mill is that it sharpens and makes its own saws.
The mills work is probably better known outside the district than inside it. At the Great Yorkshire Show it has won several awards, and the firm also has the proud distinction of holding a silver medal of the Royal English Forestry Society.
After hearing how healthy and warm clogs are, we left the mill feeling a little guilty that we, and everyone else, were not wearing them.