Mike Cahill maker and repairer of traditional English clogs
A Brief History
Ever since man came down from the trees, and stood on a thorn, he has tried to protect his feet from the wear and tear of everyday life. He would have used materials that were to hand. Skins and bark would have been the logical first choice, but you can bet that slats of wood held in place by thonging or something similar won't have been far behind. Wood has real advantages, it lasts a long time, keeps the feet dry as it doesn't hold moisture, wood insulates the foot from the cold ground. In England for at least the past eight hundred years this type of footwear was known as "Pattens" they were usually worn over leather or fabric shoes to raise the wearer's foot above the mud of the unmade road. Poorer people who couldn't afford shoes wore wood directly against the skin, and so developed the clog, for several hundred years the words were interchangeable. In different parts of Europe people came up with similar solutions for similar problems hence the Choppino in Italy the Sabot in France and Belgium, the Klomp and Galoche there are dozens of variations.
The wearing of clogs in Britain really took off with the Industrial Revolution, workers in the mills, mines, iron, steel, and chemical works, workshops and factories needed strong cheap footwear. The heyday of the clog in Britain was between the 1840's and 1920's, they were worn all over the country, not just in the industrial north of England. The decline set in during the depression of the 1930's and apart from a brief revival during the second world war when leather was in short supply, it has been downhill ever since. Working class people associated wearing clogs with poverty, and as mass produced boots and shoes became more affordable the clog rapidly disappeared, people wanted better! Two generations later the stigma has disappeared, and people who once looked down on clog wearers as uncouth now look back with fondness to a "simpler" time.
For Many years clogs were made with simple tools like the stock knives pictured left. Most types of wood have probably been used for making clog soles at some time or other. the main requirement is that it is easily worked, doesn't splinter and resists splitting. The favorite for hand cut soles is Alder or Sycamore, with some clog makers using Ash, Birch, Willow and Poplar (Aspen). Different woods have different characteristics, Alder is said to be very good at absorbing moisture, keeping the feet dry, it's light, and is worked into shape easily so it's good in hot industries it is however quite weak, and in some circumstances will have a tendency to split. Ash is the best wood to make dancing clogs out of it's light, and springy with plenty of bounce and a ringing tone, but only dance in the dry, if they get wet, the structure of the wood can collapse under you, Sycamore is a good all round wood, light, white, and resilient, it can be worked while still wet, it's said that you can chop down a tree, and make clogs from the wood the same day (risky in these days of central heating). Beech is not a wood for the hand maker, it is hard to work, and the finished clogs are heavier, it also doesn't have much spring, an important feature in dancing clogs
Only Walkley's of Hebden Bridge are still mass producing clog soles. they use Beech, kiln dried to 12% moisture content. Alder logs are too small to be practical in machine production, and Sycamore has silica in it's structure, this blunts the cutters too quickly. Beech is a very stable wood, and Beech soles will take a lot of hammer without splitting. This is what made it ideal for a mass produced item, and there was a huge demand for clogs. Maud's Clog Sole Factory (later Walkleys) in Hebden Bridge made 862,164 pairs of soles in 1911, this rose to 1,211,268 pairs in 1943, but dropped to 120,600 pairs by 1971 In the steel trades where they walked over the hot metal in the rolling mills, a man could burn through four pairs of clog soles in a day, many factories employed their own clogger to keep re-soling the worn out clogs.
The leather that was traditionally used in clog making was a wax and oil impregnated "kip" an inferior leather mainly imported from India this was a split from a thicker cow hide from a young beast or a calf and tumbled in a drum with a mixture of tallow, animal and vegetable oils and waxes, it didn't have a "skin" side but the wax and oil made it almost totally waterproof, rock hard when cold, it had to be shaped over the last with a hot iron, but with wear it would mould to the shape of your foot, making them very comfortable. I have some uppers made from kip at least forty years ago, the leather is still sound. Today the quality and price of leather is very variable and kip (as it was then}, is no longer imported, I travel over 100 mile round trip for leather. Currently I'm using 2.5 - 3.5mm vegetable tanned leather tanned in England using skins from Ireland, Europe and Argentina.
I make my own uppers cut taking into account the way the leather stretches, using patterns I've designed. The uppers are dyed with a spirit dye and a variety of colours are available. I use synthetic thread (not traditional, but stronger), it doesn't rot, an important feature as a well made pair of dancing clogs can last 20 years. You can have a pattern carved or impressed into the leather, either a traditional design, or to a design you supply. you can chose between iron, or brass nails, and any size of brass or steel "toe tins" The soles can be cut in the wood of your choice, I make my own soles, the inside surface of the sole is cut using a machine I designed and had built to my specification, to ensure uniform shaping of the pair, the rest of the sole is shaped using a bandsaw to remove the bulk of the waste and finished off with traditional stock knives made by Henry Carter. I also use some French stock knives made by "Souet et fils". I can make "Common", "Duck toe" or "Square toe" soles. My soles have a slightly higher instep than most, and a higher "cast" this is the turn up at the front, these feel strange to people used to trainers, but you will soon get used to them, and find them comfortable. but I also have a small stock of mass produced soles for re-clogging I will fit "Iron's", or "Horse Shoe" Rubber's or leave the soles blank.
You can have totally hand carved soles if you wish but it will add to the cost! By using a mixture of machines and hand tools I produce a consistently good product at a reasonable price.
All shapes and sizes catered for
Prices range between £90-£130 (prices correct April 07, subject to change) I can give an individual quote for "specials"
As you might expect I am a one man band. making clogs from scratch from selected local timber, and quality leather. I am as far as I know the only clogger providing a mobile re-soling and repair service for Morris teams, working out of the back of my car (sadly not a Morris Minor). As a North West Morris dancer with 30+ years experience, I know what sort of hammer clogs get, and can rectify most problems.
"the most comfortable pair of clogs I've ever had" a customer talking about a pair of one piece Dancing clogs.
This site has no "Mission Statement", life is too short
After a hard days dancing and some liquid refreshment at Ely Folk Festival 2007
If you are fat and fifty and would like to join a north west morris team, click on this link (we will accept younger and fitter men provided you don't show the rest of us up by being too keen)
Because of the volume of spam I get the e-mail link above is not a clickable link, please copy and paste the link into your mail program, I have also started using a spam filter, if you e-mail me please put the word "CLOG" on the subject line, and if you haven't had a reply within 10 days try again, or phone me
Last updated 14th June 2008