Cordwainers: Experts in the Fine Art of Shoemaking
I wanted to learn more about the fine art of shoemaking and planned to visit our local cobbler. I then discovered that cobblers traditionally repair shoes, so I began to research shoemaking. I was fortunate enough to come across the website for “The Cordwainer Shop” based in Deerfield, New Hampshire. Since I was planning a trip to New England about the same time, I decided to interview an actual shoemaker: Molly Grant, proprietor and shoemaker extraordinaire. We arranged not only an interview, but my lodging at her beautiful bed and breakfast, the 100-acre Wild Orchard Guest Farm.
The French word for shoemaker is cordonnier, derived from “cordovan,” the famous high-quality leather produced in Córdoba, Spain. (Originally, cordovan was made from the skin of the Musoli goat, but modern cordovan is more often made from horsehide.) After William of Normandy conquered England in 1066, the word cordonnier was anglicized to “cordwainer,” the word we use today.
Shoemaking in England
In England, cordwainers can become members of the guild of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, which received its first Ordinances in 1272. There is still an area of London named Cordwainer where most guild members lived and worked. The area is located near the center of the city, and although its borders and businesses of course have changed since the Middle Ages, Cordwainer is still a recognized part of London.