Through an exhibition, research and presentation at the Dick Institute the role of Shoe Making in Kilmarnock was explored
The closure of the Saxone factory in the 1980s make the end of Kilmarnock’s long history with shoemaking and leather work extends back to the 1700s, with Saxone’s own history beginning in the Early 1800s. As well as being a well known UK high street brand, throughout its history Saxone also made extraordinary high fashion shoes for foreign markets.
As part of the research for the Shanks’ Pony sculpture we invited anyone with an interest, experience or expertise in the Ayrshire shoe industry to join an informal presentation and discussion about shoemaking. We’re still keen for anyone who worked in the shoe industry and anyone who had, or still owns Saxone shoes to make contact through this site (use the comment section below or on any of the pages). We’re also interested to hear from anyone who has a special interest in shoes, or perhaps just a pair of shoes that are special to you or which took you on an important journey – whether thats up the north face of the Eiger, or just up the aisle.
Included in the exhibition were the Dandy Horse made with Killie Can Cycle, horse collages made using shoes and shoe paraphernalia, early adverts for Saxone Shoes and a display of the Museum’s own collection of Saxone footwear.
A recurring subject in the early Saxone adverts was the shoe’s water-tightness which links to another pieces of Kilmarnock’s history – prior to the invention of vulcanised rubbers, leather soled shoes were cold and damp and leaky. The Dick Institute was built with funding from the Dick Brothers who amongst other things, were responsible for the development and marketing of Gutta Percha – a natural rubber when when they ‘vulcanised’ it formed a tough and resilient material which they marketed as a waterproof alternative to leather for soles for shoes.
In gathering material for the exhibition it became apparent that a great many pairs of Kilmarnock-made Saxone shoes are still being used, worn and traded, despite the factory having closed in the 1980s. This is a testament both to the quality and high design values of the shoes.
Typical amongst the shoes still being bought and sold are high-fashion, rarely worn special occasion shoes for women and tough, well worn and much repaired Brogues for men. Saxone made many variants of the Brogue in their ‘Clansman’ range, with a different design for each Scottish clan.