ArteFACTS – Lancashire Clogs

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Originating from northern England, Lancashire Clogs have also gone by the names Northumberland Clogs or Yorkshire Clogs. 

Unlike the more famous Dutch clogs, Lancashire clogs have a leather upper; some lace up like ordinary shoes while others contain an engraved metal clasp, such as the ones in our collection.  Clogs were not only cheaper than leather shoes, they were safer against penetration and less likely to be adversely affected by snow, moisture and mud. They were long lasting and comfortable.  

These wooden soled shoes, with strips of steel attached underneath like a horseshoe, were the everyday footwear of working people in England.  At first glance they may look fairly simple, but in fact their simplicity is what made them popular in Britain from the 1840s until the 1920s. Although traditionally associated with Lancashire, they were worn all over the country.

The wearing of clogs in Britain became more visible with the Industrial Revolution, when industrial workers needed strong, cheap footwear. Men and women wore laced and clasped clogs respectively, the fastening clasps being of engraved brass or more commonly steel.   The soles are carved from a hard wood, such as alder and shod with irons to stop the wood from wearing away.  Nailed under the sole at the toe and heel were clog irons, generally 3/8″ wide x 1/4″ thick with a groove down the middle to protect the nail heads from wear.  The uppers are tacked onto the soles and made from leather. Each component of the shoe is made to be easily repaired. 

Symbolic of the working class, this style of shoe was worn by the thousands of people who worked in the cotton mills throughout northern England.  This particular pair of clogs was worn by Mrs. T.H. Campbell before she emigrated from England to Canada in 1910.    Wherever it was damp or wet underfoot, clogs were the preferred footwear due to their cheapness (to buy and to repair), their long-lasting wear, and their comfort.

In England, the wearing of clogs gave rise to clog dancing, a popular form of dancing that eventually developed into tap dancing. It has been suggested that clog dancing originated with workers synchronizing foot tapping with the rhythmic sounds made by the loom shuttles. The predominant style of Lancashire clog dancing was termed ‘heel and toe.’ Many of the steps emulate the sound of the shuttle and other parts of the cotton spinning and weaving machinery.

Clog dancing was a cheap form of popular entertainment. Not only was clog dancing common, it took place on street corners, there were professional clog dancers and competitions, and proficient clog dancers could improve their situation by dancing professionally in music halls.  One notable Lancashire clog dancer who ultimately succeeded was Charlie Chaplin who performed in a troupe called the ‘The Eight Lancashire Lads.’

Dancing clogs were termed ‘neet’ clogs. They did not have irons on the soles and were lighter than the heavier working clogs. The uppers were usually highly tooled (decorated) and often coloured. 

One final note on Lancashire clogs. Men who wished to settle differences frequently did so by squaring off against each other by “clog fighting.” In Lancashire it was curiously known as “purring,” with a contemporary account from Chris Brady who states the following:

It is all up and down fighting here. They fought quite naked, excepting their clogs. When one has the other down on the ground he first endeavors to choke him by squeezing his throat, then he kicks him with his clogs. Sometimes they are very severely injured.

Chris Brady

Watch Melissa talk about the Lancashire Clogs in our video podcast:

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