Master’s Blog

Judith Millidge's Photo

The Master, John Peal, reflects on the Cordwainers’ innovation, originality and relevance in 2023.

Throughout its 750-year history, the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers has striven to encourage innovation in both the craft and promotion of the footwear trade.

The Company has maintained standards, trained apprentices and promoted the UK shoe industry in many ways over the centuries, and I am a very proud descendant of Samuel Peal, (five generations my senior) who invented and patented a technique for waterproofing leather in 1791. It became known as ‘patent leather’ and in 1802 Samuel Peal was admitted to the Cordwainers Company at the request of the Lord Mayor.

Fast forward to 2022, the year of our 750th anniversary celebrations, when we wanted to explain exactly what modern Cordwainers do and promote the work of the talented members in our midst.

The Company released In Their Shoes, a series of nine podcasts, each one a fascinating interview with an influential member of the shoe trade, expertly hosted by our own liveryman and Creative Director of Pentland Brands, Katie Greenyer.

The podcast series is a first for any livery company and we followed it with a second series of compelling interviews with footwear luminaries. Follow this link to hear industry leaders share engaging insights about their lives in footwear.

In 2022 the Cordwainers also commissioned a research project which explored footwear trends among consumers. The results, which reveal the top brands, the average number of pairs owned and expenditure per annum, can be found here.

Dedicated followers of fashion regard the most iconic style of the last century to be not the traditional brogue or even a stiletto, but the trainer.

Keeping a pace ahead of the research, the Company has this year added a new Sneaker Award to the prestigious Cordwainer Footwear Awards, an annual celebration of the best in student footwear design.

There’s a pleasing symmetry in that rising star, Helen Kirkum, outright winner in the inaugural awards in 2014 and now an active Cordwainer freeman, captures these themes in her eponymous range of bespoke sneakers – beautiful, upcycled trainers, reflecting athleisure design and vital sustainability.

The Cordwainers’ ongoing philanthropic and fundraising efforts deliver prizes, bursaries and awards to students of footwear design and manufacture. By embracing initiatives that will engage tomorrow’s top designers, the Company remains as relevant to the UK shoe industry now as it was in 1272.