It is a truth universally acknowledged, at least among Cordwainers, that cobblers repair old shoes with old leather, whereas Cordwainers craft new shoes out of the finest new leather.
Over the centuries, the debate has occasionally been a little heated, with both Cordwainers and cobblers invoking the power of the Lord Mayor of London, Parliament and even the king, in an effort to stamp down on perceived injustices in the world of shoemaking and shoe repairing.
In 1395, following an unseemly fight in the City, the Lord Mayor intervened, banning cobblers from making new shoes, and prohibiting Cordwainers from patching up old ones. Just a few years later in 1404, the Cordwainers took the fight to the king, Henry IV, and requested that action be taken ‘against certain aliens, called “cobblers”’, who were working within the City without regard for the Cordwainers’ ordinances.
The cobblers hit back in the 1470s, petitioning the Lord Mayor to free nine of their number who had been imprisoned ‘at the instance of their enemies the Cordwainers’.
The great 16th century antiquarian, John Stow, discuss the Cordwainers in his Survey of London and notes that the name cobbler was ‘a name of Contempt, for a Man of less Skill in that Mystery, or only a Mender’.
So when The Times recently published a piece about the shoemakers John Lobb, one of the finest bespoke shoemaking companies in Britain, and entitled it, Time heels all: the cobblers that served Queen Victoria, we had to put the boot in and put them right.
The Master was delighted to see her letter of correction published the following day. Surely that will put the debate to bed once and for all?