Maybole Boot and Shoe Industry (1838 – 1969)
"Go where you will through Scotia's land,
You'll see our boots on every hand,
It's Maybole on which Scotsmen stand,
This auld toon o' Maybole".
Prior to it being known as a hub of boot and shoe manufacturing, Maybole was known for its weaving trade. However, this industry did not last, as the weavers did not adapt with the times. Predominantly working for themselves and selling their produce to merchants they would not combine with other weavers to set up mills. Large mills in the rest of the country with massive economies of scale began to produce much cheaper cloth undercutting the Carrick weavers.
As the weaving trade declined, unemployment grew and labour became cheap. Around the mid 19th century, spotting this unused resource some small shoemakers decided to build boot and shoe-making factories and employ and retrain all the unemployed weavers. Thus creating the economies of scale the local weaving trade had missed out on.
As the industry grew so did Maybole’s reputation. By 1883, there were eight large shoe factories producing over 12,000 pairs of boots a week and soon after outlets to sell the produce were opened all across Britain. These shops were named “The Maybole Shoe Shop.”
The first signs of the industry declining came in 1907 when the largest employer Ladywell Factory had to close down. Imitating the end of the weaving trade large numbers of the town folk were unemployed and some even emigrated to Canada to find work.
As before, the cause of failure was the inability to move with the times as other boot and shore makers modernised their production lines using machinery. Some of the smaller pioneering factories in Maybole did however evolve and install machinery; the other remaining larger factories were soon to follow suit.
War brought profits for Maybole as the period of both the World Wars saw an economic boom for the boot making industry. Business was strong during the years of war, but the time between them saw the Wellington boot take over as the farmers’ first choice of footwear rather than the leather boots Maybole produced.
Following World War 2, only Lees & Co. continued to produce boots. They survived by modernising their factory and developing new products lines. They became the only large employer in Maybole until 1962. It was in June that year that due to a fire the factory was destroyed seeing the end of Lees & Co and the final nail in the coffin for shoe making as a large-scale industry in Maybole.
Top: The last boot maker in Maybole
© Cockburn Gallery, Maybole
Bottom: Old poster for Maybole boot
Image courtesy of Cockburn Gallery, Maybole