WADERS for fisherman at sea, high boots for Cossacks to survive Russian winters, boots for soldiers in the trenches of The Great War, fashion brogues for men and women, another Government commission for WWII. This is just the beginning of the story of W J Brookes, a family-run boot and shoe factory in Earls Barton.
With the war over, life moved on. The teddy boy was born, with winkle-pickers, crepe soled 'brothel creepers', mods and rockers, Chelsea boots for a new young band - The Beatles, Mud, The Jam, Elton John, Slade, Adam Ant and David Essex. Times were good - the commissions rolled in and the factory rocked.
In the 1990s, a strong pound, competition from abroad and changing fashions meant closure was imminent. Managing Director, Steve Pateman, had spent years working at the family business of W J Brookes and he now searched for new customers and new markets. A phone call from Sue (originally known as Anthony) from Lacies in Folkstone changed their fortunes. Ladies' boots and shoes were ordered but designed to be reinforced with steel to carry the weight of men for a different market. New machines were ordered and the production began.
Steve's brands, Divine, Provider and Lady Provider, had saved the day. Those exciting footloose days were not to last and the factory sadly closed in 2000.
The BBC documentary Trouble at the Top featured Steve's tale and coined those now infamous words Kinky Boots. The film, set in Northampton, was shot mainly at Trickers shoe factory. The musical has been a resounding hit on Broadway, the West End and is now on tour in the UK.
The twists and turns of the story of W J Brookes has come home to Earls Barton with an exhibition of Steve's boots and shoes on display at Jeyes, from heavy clumping war-boots to those brilliant red thigh-high boots.
Steve now combines his life as a full-time firefighter with being an entertaining speaker, recounting his tale of Kinky Boots with humour and panache. He has just launched his autobiography Boss in Boots - From Barton to Broadway, available at Jeyes - red hot off the press.
Kinky Boots Exhibition now open at Jeyes of Earls Barton. Entry is free and opening hours are Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm and Saturday 9am to 5pm.