Shoe-Manufacturing in Essex
The Foxearth and District History Society met on 11th May 2010 in Foxearth Village Hall to hear a fascinating account of the development of a large, shoe-manufacturing company in Essex. Rev Capt. Brian Sampson told us how he joined the British Bata Shoe Company on a student scholarship becoming eventually manager of one of its departments. Thomas Bat’a was a Czech whose family came from a long line of shoe makers. Aided by a small inheritance he built his first factory in his home town of Zlin in 1896 and he was quickly successful because of the family’s reputation. When Hitler’s growing aggression threatened Thomas decided to look further afield and found England with its associated colonial trade attractive. He settled upon East Tilbury with its ready access to exporting ports and availability of labour and in 1933 he built a large factory with a model village which included a hotel, shopping precinct, sporting facilities including a swimming pool , a cinema and restaurants. The first managers were Czech and all the staff – with the sole exception of the Managing Director - clocked in. Discipline was apparently pretty strict and managers were paid only half salary until the 6-monthly inventories were done when they would, hopefully, get the rest. Only the engineering section was unionised. In its heyday approximately 3,000 were employed at the East Tilbury plant. As a young man, Thomas Bata had spent a short time in America and he introduced production line methods learnt there to his factory. It is said that he did for shoe manufacture what Ford did for car production. About 9,000 pairs of shoes a day were made during the company’s thriving post-war years. However as Britain’s colonies gained independence so the export trade diminished and the entrepreneur built factories overseas where labour was cheap; shoes from Bata Malaysia coulde be bought in below the cost of the home-produced article. Also competition from industry along the estuary made recruitment difficult and the Bata pioneering and idealistic “dream” lasted about 50 years before the plant closed. Brian backed up his talk with some lovely archive film of the factory staff at work – and at play, as the company had sports days. He was very warmly thanked on behalf of a rather small attendance of 15 members for a most entertaining session by Chairman Alan Fitch. The Society’s next meeting will consist of a talk by Pip Wright on Suffolk convicts in Australia; this will be at 8pm on Tuesday , 8th June in Foxearth Village Hall. The Chairman asked that those wishing to go on the visit to the gunpowder mills at Waltham Abbey on July 10th contact him immediately so that transport arrangements may be made.