Monday, 23 May 2011

Visit to the K Shoes Heritage Centre 19.5.11

I finally found the time for a quick visit to the newly-opened K Shoes Heritage Centre, located on Parkside Road, Kendal. This £500,000 investment into the preservation of the history of the world-famous K Shoes company, over ten years in the making, was designed and created as an integral part of the newly-refurbished K Village outlet, on the site of the former K Shoes factory which was demolished in 1996.

I must admit, my only real memories of K Shoes before it closed were of playing in the grounds and visiting the shoe shop for some new school shoes. However, after hearing stories of life in the factory from my uncle Ian Postlethwaite who used to work there (following in his father's footsteps), I decided that a visit to the Heritage Centre was a must.

Archway with the bust of K Shoes founder
Robert Miller Somervell

On entering the gallery, the visitor's eyes are immediately drawn to the original stone archway which marked the entrance of the factory, together with archive images of the archway in situ. The initial space tells the story of the K Shoes founding family, the Somervells (the company was originally called Somervell Bros.), being richly illustrated with archive images and original shoes and shoe-making equipment. The exhibition then opens into a larger space which houses a large and important collection of memorabilia, tools and machinery from the factory. One of my favourite pieces is the bicycle used to collect worn shoes to be repaired, known as 'Jimmy Metcalfe's Bike'.

'Jimmy Metcalfe's Bike'
The open plan of the exhibition is highly effective, as is the use of a display of suspended perspex boxes to hold the large selection of the factory's most popular shoes. A wonderful image of the factory teeming with rows and rows of workers adorns the back wall of the exhibition, providing a good opportunity for local visitors to put names to faces; a key benefit of the project for the history of the company and the local community. Another important feature of the exhibition is the display of the archive merchandising posters and television adverts, which the company was famous for. A memorial for those workers who died in WWI and WWII forms a fitting tribute at the end of the exhibition.

One of the original metal signs from when the company was known as the Somervell Bros.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this exhibition, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and I would encourage both locals and visitors to the town to include the Heritage Centre on their next trip to K Village. The exhibition will never truly be complete; local historian and former employee Jonathan Somervell told the Westmorland Gazette that:

“This exhibition is more about the people who made the shoes..... We get a mixed bunch of visitors. A lot of curious people come in and a lot of Kendal people who worked at the factory. In a sense the exhibition will never be finished. We have had so much to draw on that we can’t use everything.”

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Yan Tan Tethera: A rhyme derived from a Brythonic Celtic language used by shepherds to keep sheep in many parts of England and Southern Scotland.

Until the Industrial Revolution, the use of traditional number systems was common among shepherds, especially in the Dales of the Lake District.

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