English shoemakers have a proud tradition of bench-made footwear, like these Monorgan Boots from D.S. Dundee. (We featured the Monorgan last month in our post on brogues.) But what, exactly, does “bench-made” mean?
To find out, we talked to Jonathan Church, joint managing director at Cheaney Shoes. Cheaney has manufactured footwear in the same factory since 1886, and currently makes the Monorgan Boot especially for D.S. Dundee.
We asked Jonathan to describe each stage of the bench-made process in relation to the Monorgan Boot, including as many details as possible.
He did not disappoint.
Prepare to enter a world of uppers, toe-puff stiffeners, skives—and even gimping (no, not like Pulp Fiction). At times, Jonathan’s English shoemaking parlance catches even us unawares, but we did come away with this: “Bench-made” denotes intensive hands-on work, which in the case of the Monorgan is sustained over a six-week period by as many as 90 different specialists.
We’re fortunate to have received a limited number of these proper English boots. Here’s your step-by-step guide to how they’re made:
Jonathan explained that after making sure that the correct pattern, size, and quality of materials is correct, the shoemaking process begins in earnest with the clickers. Known for the sound of their tools, clickers take whole leather skins and cut out the various parts that will eventually make up the finished boot.
From this point, we’ll let you hear exactly what Jonathan had to say.
"The most labour-intensive department, the upper is stitched by skilled craftspeople using very careful hand / eye coordination. The sections are then skived, punched, gimped, and stitched together. Eyelets and ski hooks are inserted and finally examined before leaving the department. These steps can be worked on by up to 30 individuals.”
"The uppers spend a minimum of 48 hours in a humidifier to make the leather supple for the lasting process."
"The uppers then pass to the lasters, who match them with the individually shaped and sized last. A toe-puff stiffener is then inserted at the front and at the back of the boot and molded to shape. The uppers are stretched over the last and ultimately stitched to the insole through a welt. Goodyear welting is the key to English shoemaking.”
"Between these stages the shoes pass through many operators who hand-check and remove any wrinkles in the leather with hot or moist air before they are stitched. The result is an upper completely formed to the shape of its last.”
"A layer of cork is applied below the insole to give comfort to the wearer, with a wooden arch support being attached just under the arch. The sole is attached and stitched to the welt. The heel is added, nailed, and all excess is trimmed away. The sole edge is handpainted, and the sole polished.”
"Finally the boot passes to the shoe room where the last is removed, the shoe sock is added, and the laces are added. The whole upper is hand-cleaned and then hand-burnished. The boots are then creamed, lightly burnished again, and given a final polish."
"Every boot passes through about 90 different people. The process is very manual and non-automated. This results in each boot being almost individual."
Jonathan finishes by reminding us that “the entire production is carried out under one roof,” and “no part of the production process is outsourced.”
And there you have it: Six weeks. Ninety people. No shortage of gimping and clicking. The end result: a bench-made, quintessentially English boot.