Inside the John Lobb Factory Store
Any self-respecting shoe connoisseur simply must make the pilgrimage to Northampton, England at least once in his (or her) lifetime. The town is literally brimming with evidence of its rich tradition in shoe-making. Home to venerable institutions such as Edward Green, John Lobb, Crockett & Jones, Church's and Tricker's, it is definitely worth a day trip in order to see the history of the town in person, and, of course, to stop in to some of the factory shops. The blogosphere is replete with informative and insightful summaries of visits to the actual work spaces at Edward Green or Gaziano & Girling, so I'll focus primarily on the factory shops.
Side-Note 1: One thing that struck me as strange as I made my way through the town was that nobody in Northampton seemed to know anything about these companies. The cab drivers and passersby in the street didn't know what C&J or Lobbs were - but they did know the streets where they were located, which was good enough for me. In hindsight, this was probably my fault for babbling incoherently while asking total strangers, in my excitement, where Lobb or Tricker's was located.
As I was staying in Oxford, I decided to take the bus north to Northampton. After passing through the lovely towns of Bicester and Towcester, I eventually arrived in Northampton (to make a very long story short, I would recommend taking the train from London if at all possible). As my sense of excitement intensified, I scurried to get a cab from the bus station (which made me feel right at home due to its eerily uncanny resemblance to New York City's Port Authority - and I'm not referring to the architecture) to take me to my first stop: the John Lobb factory store.
Anyway, I eventually arrived at John Lobb on Oliver Street. A lovely lady buzzes you in and, finally, you have arrived. You are then led up a flight of stairs and into a small room with a few displays and shelf upon shelf of boxed Lobbs. You find your size and dig in. I could try to describe the slender rivulets of joy that cascade upon you as you open each box to peek at the pleasures hidden within, but you just have to experience it for yourself.
Boxes and Boxes of Lobbs
After picking out a few winners, Jean, the manager of the shop, suggested that I walk down Kettering Road, down to St. Michaels, which would lead me back to the bus stop. As Tricker's is along the way on St. Michaels, that sounded like a plan.
Crockett & Jones is on Perry Street, a few blocks south of Lobb and in the general direction I was going, so a stop was certainly in order.
At the Crockett & Jones Factory Store
Side-Note 2: Another thing that stood out in Northampton was that, as you walked, you are literally walking right by old defunct shoe factories. For instance, on the corner of St. Michaels as you approach Tricker's from the bus station, I came across the abandoned, boarded-up remains of the G.T. Hawkins factory. I don't know much about this company, but several examples of their shoes were on display at the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery.
G.T. Hawkins Factory
*****The Tricker's factory shop was, in a word, awesome. The store is actually located in the back of the shop, and I only saw an entrance to the sales office and show room. A woman there was kind enough to give me a brief tour of the factory on the way to the shop (which is, strangely enough, located in the rear of the premises). Inside the store, there was a kind old gentleman who proceeded to tell me quite a bit about their shoes. He pointed out the black patent leather wingtip ankle boots made specifically for the Japanese yakuza market, as well as white suede chukka boots for Thom Brown and big clunky double-soled chelsea boots that the German farmer market apparently goes ga-ga for. A great shop with even better conversation. I understand that the Tricker shop has a presence on eBay, but I'd recommend a stop in at the shop even if Tricker's are not your thing.
Tricker's Factory Shop
I was pretty much all shopped out at this point. I'll continue my ramblings in Part II with my stop at the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery.