John Cornforth has been making bespoke shoes and boots by hand using finest quality English and Italian leathers for well over 30 years. As a boy in Great Holland, a sea-side village in Essex, he lived next door to a cobbler. He coukld spend hours in his workshop – fascinated by the whirring machinery and the smells and sounds of his industry.
On leaving school at 17 John joined the Army in 1960 and served, mostly in the UK, for 25 years. This was a time of relative peace and there was plenty of opportunity for what was then known as Adventurous Training.
Having planned to leave the Army in 1984, John tried his hands at various skills before discovering the fascination of shoemaking. He was given the chance of a month’s attachment at Poole’s in Leeds, where he was introduced to the skills of pattern-making, clicking and closing, skiving and hand-welting. In 1985 he set about modifying the old coach house at the bottom of his garden in Harrogate which has since become his workshop. This is where he made my first pair of shoes.
John started at a time when shoemaking in the UK was facing a tough time due to overseas competition. Many well-established UK factories were closing down. At various auctions around the country he was able to buy hundreds of pairs of wooden lasts which formed the basis of his own industry. As he gradually learned the basic skills – making shoes for friends and family – he learned of the existence of other shoemakers, both in my own area and further afield.
Over the years they have become a family of artisans – holding annual conferences attended by shoemakers from all parts of the world from USA to Mongolia. We also welcome students from many countries who come and study the skills of boot and shoe making in our workshops.
North Yorkshire, United Kingdom