Showing posts with label Tappley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tappley. Show all posts

Sunday, September 22, 2013

John Tappley- Master Cordswainer

I am always intrigued by the job descriptions on the old census records. I have found that the English records use more formal terms like "agricultural laborer" while the American census will just say "farmer". Every once in a while there is a term that completely confounds me. I was reminded again of this when I watched Crista Cowan's Barefoot Genealogist on YouTube. This is a GREAT resource, by the way and you can see the episode on your ancestors' professions here.

As I traveled up the Tapply tree, I found that my ancestors in that line were solidly tradespeople. There were grocers, butchers, a spice merchant, a linen draper and a cordswainer. A what? Well that's where this resource supplied by Crista is a great resource. But I noticed a few things as I examined the old census records for John Tappley. John was my 3X great grandfather who lived in Wittersham, Kent, England. In the 1841 census we see this:
So here is John Tappley living with Sally and it lists his occupation as shoemaker.  I went through the census pages and found that he had a fair amount of competition in the village; three or four other men were listed as shoemakers.

The 1851 Kent Directory of Occupations lists him the same way:
However, by 1851 there are only two other men listed in Wittersham doing this job. Shoemaking as a handcraft was a dying profession. I looked up information on the Industrial Revolution and found this:
"Lyman Reed Blake was an American inventor who invented a sewing machine for sewing the soles of shoes to the uppers. In 1858, he received a patent for his specialized sewing machine." 
So the hand-sewing of shoes was probably on the wain by this time. The 1851 census shows the Tapply family like this:

And this is where I first ran into the term master cordwainer. He had become experienced enough to earn this extra title and had one apprentice and one journeyman working with him. I was still curious about what separated a shoemaker from a cordwainer. 

A little more searching on the internet gave me this distinction:
"The English term cordwainer first appears in 1100. Since this date the term cordouan, or cordovan leather, has been applied to several varieties of leather. Today cordovan leather is a vegetable tanned horse "shell," and like the Medieval cordwain is used only for the highest quality shoes. A distinction preserved by cordwainers since the earliest times is, that a cordwainer works only with new leather, whereas a cobbler works with old. Cobblers have always been repairers, frequently prohibited by law from making shoes. Going so far as to collect worn-out footwear, cut it apart, and remanufacture cheap shoes entirely form salvaged leather, cobblers have contended with cordwainers since the Middle Ages. In 16th-century London, the cordwainers solved their conflicts with the cobblers of that city by placing them under the authority of the cordwainers’ guild, thus merging with them."

A cobbler or shoemaker might make the simple clogs and everyday shoes or perhaps do repairs; only the cordwainer could handle the fine leather.

John Tapply would most probably have belonged to a local guild centered out of Maidstone or Canterbury that regulated the men of his trade. I haven't found those records yet. But I found the contemporary counterparts still making fine shoes in London.

The Worshipful Company of Cordswainers is still making the very finest high end shoes. Should you find that your cordwainer ancestor lived in London, they might have those records in their archives.
I love this photo of the contemporary cordswainers in all their ceremonial regalia.
This is why you should always take the time to look carefully at census records. You never know what new things you can learn about your ancestor.