The 'Crown Northampton Visits' features are normally set up with a trip to a place or venue that's not normally on our everyday radar so it's something new to all involved. This one is a bit different.
Spring Line are extremely important to the worldwide footwear trade, Northampton shoemakers, and Northampton as a town and county. Masters of their craft, they are the only remaining last-makers in Great Britain and one of the most prominent artisan businesses in Northampton, adding ongoing value to the local economy.
Spring Line are considered to be the very best at what they do and the list of client's feet they have measured and lasted includes A-list Hollywood celebrities, world-class sportspeople, and members of the Royal Family. Simply put, if you want the best in last-making, you go to Spring Line.
When it comes to making Crown Northampton products, Spring Line are heavily involved in the many stages of design and fitting, from initial trialing and testing to the finished signed-off product. Master last-maker Michael James is extremely knowledgable on this specialist subject with decades of experience under his belt. Michael works closely with our owner and Master Shoemaker Chris Woodford on any new designs and product developments to our collections. Further to this, Spring Line also makes all Crown Northampton wooden shoe trees in their factory which plays perfectly into one of our core brand messages of sourcing materials and labour in the local area, as close to home as possible.
Fit is extremely important when it comes to footwear, For a single new style, several models and updated lasts are made and adjusted before the job can be considered complete - one of the main reasons it took over a year of design and fit tweaks to finish our Harlestone Hand Stitch Sneaker. It's fair to say that if Spring Line were not located just down the road from us in Northampton, then this job would have taken considerably longer.
Michael often pops into the Crown Northampton Factory to hand-deliver a last for a new style that we're working on or maybe to drop off a delivery of a shoe tree if he's passing through. Northampton is one of those places where you bump into people regularly and there's a local connection running through the town's businesses and industries - especially in the shoemaking trade.
As the last is generally the first element you start with when making any type of shoe, it's a very important and skilled process that deserves a deeper look. When we visited we were given a tour around Spring Line's factory floor by Michael's son - Sonny, who also works for the company.
Sonny was very knowledgeable about all aspects of Spring Line and you could really feel the passion he has for his craft, no doubt filtered down from his Dad. We started off on the upper floors of the factory where most of the hand carving and design adjustments are made on wooden lasts with hand tools. You can quite literally smell wood in the air and there are racks of lasts that have been made for previous customers with more than a few very familiar names on show.
It's on these upper floors where you gain a full understanding of Michael's love for the art of last-making and Northampton's industrial shoe-making past. Over the years he has collected an enviable archive of Northampton shoe memorabilia that packs out his office and spills out onto the walls of the factory. There is also a fair bit of memorabilia for Michaels's other love - Northampton Town Football Club, or 'The Cobblers' as they're nicknamed.
The ground floor has more of an industrial factory floor feel to it with several large technical machines highlighting the progression of last-making in the modern world. Carving and shaping each last by hand is an amazing skill that is beautiful to watch, but Spring Line does work with several big brands and small start-ups so machine help is needed for some processes. The colours and fittings of these machines are all unique in their own way and the local charm of the factory is retained with walls of chunky metal storage units labelled up with stickers handwritten in bold marker pens. Even though machines are very much part of Spring Lines production, you're never too far away from a hand-finished, human touch.
Whereas Spring Line may not be as old as some of the oldest Northampton shoemakers having started their business in 1982, their history, knowledge, and expertise in last-making is unmatched and truly impressive to see in action. Such an important part of our business and the shoemaking world and we really are very fortunate to have them right here in Northampton!
More information on Spring Line and the services they offer can be found here.