William Barratt, Barratts Shoes and The Barratt Maternity Home

On 16 August 1944 my dad  was born at The Barratt Maternity Home in Northampton. World War two was still raging and it would be another eight  months until victory was declared in Europe. The photo below is said to have been taken the year dad was born. The title and description read ‘The front of the Barratt Maternity Home in Cheyne Walk, after nurses had covered it in flags. The American Stars and Stripes the most prominent, perhaps due to the number of US fathers who visited after American forces came to town, It was said at the time the American fathers outnumbered the ‘local dads’. 

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The Barratt Maternity Home, 1944

The flags may also have been displayed to mark VE day, as described in the newspaper article below.

An article from the Northampton Mercury newspaper
dated 11 May 1945
detailing the display of a large US flag.

The Home was a separate building in the grounds of Northampton General Hospital and was built by William George H Barratt who was  born in Northampton in 1877, where he lived throughout his life. The son of a boot sewer, William and his brothers became shoe workers by their early teens and William managed one of Manfield’s shops in London, then his father’s boot shop in Gold Street, which later he bought. By 1902, he and his brother David had a boot shop in the Drapery. Their innovative idea of selling boots via the post (the first in the country) was resented by the manufacturers who cut off supplies of boots and shoes. However, in 1907, the brothers started a new company, W Barratt and Co, Ltd. to make their own shoes, with two of their other brothers, Albert and Richard, as nominal shareholders.

Urquhart, Murray McNeel Caird, 1880-1972; William Barratt, Benefactor to the Barratt Maternity HomeWilliam George H. Barratt
Photo credit: Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust

In 1913 they opened a new factory, the Footshape Boot Works an elaborate looking building with a brick and cream terracotta frontage and a pierced balustrade which reads Footshape Boot Works. The building was designed for the comfort of its workforce, with air conditioning and natural light through roof vents and widows with clear glass. An up to date conveyor reduced lifting and carrying. A canteen served tea free of charge and made hot meals available. Welfare services included a benevolent scheme and contribution free pensions.


They added a chain of retail shops and advertised their wares with the slogan ‘Walk the Barratt way’, which became famous internationally. The first shop opened in London in 1914, and by 1939 there were 150.  A chain of retail shops followed and products were advertised with the slogan ‘Walk the Barratt way,’ which became famous internationally. The first shop opened in London in 1914, and by 1939 there were 150.


William Barratt was also active in politics. He and his brothers were fervent socialists. As a young man he was a prominent member of the Social Democratic Federation, one of the forerunners of the Labour party, and he was present at the foundation meeting of Northampton Independent Labour party in 1908. In 1904 he stood twice, unsuccessfully, for the town council. His second attempt came 25 years later in 1929, when he was elected as Labour councillor for Delapre ward.
In 1930 William contested Bethnal Green at the parliamentary election. He was narrowly defeated, but the incoming Labour Minister of Health appointed him to a committee inquiring into the law covering the composition and description of food. In 1935 he became a Northampton magistrate. He was a Director of Franklins Gardens Sports and Pleasure Company, and a Committee member and later President of the Saints Rugby Club.
Sisters and pupil midwives
on the steps of The Barratt Maternity Home, 19 February 1941.

Photo used with permission of Historic England.
William and his wife, Alice, are best remembered however for financing the building of the Barratt Maternity Home with an initial gift of £20,000 in 1934. Alice laid the foundation stone in May 1935, and the Home was opened in July 1936. William explained they had desired to do something in their lifetime, of a lasting character, for the benefit of the town, and that the Home should be as bright and cheerful as possible for the benefit of the patients and staff alike.
A view of the labour ward. with a nurse preparing equipment,
at The Barratt Maternity Home, 19 February 1941.

Photo used with permission of Historic England.


The following year the Barratt’s agreed to fund a gynaecological department, a maternity outpatients department, and an operating theatre. It was hoped that the provision of a maternity home would help to reduce maternal mortality in the town. William was a regular contributor to good causes, including a rest home for the unemployed, and the Mayor’s Fund for the Red Cross. He died in a Northampton nursing home in December 1939.

Pupil midwives with babies on their laps, in the bathroom
at The Barratt Maternity Home, 19 February 1941.

Photo used with permission of Historic England.
The Historic England website records the Home at first provided 34 beds for ante- and post-natal patient, a nursery, and a labour ward. Located on the first floor, the labour ward and was separated from the gynaecology ward by doors which were opened to allow patients to be transferred to the gynaecological theatre for caesarean sections. It consisted of two delivery rooms, a first-stage room, staff changing room, sluice room, and admission room.

Burton, Alice Mary, 1893-1968; Miss C. E. Nelson (d.1954), Matron to Northampton General Hospital (1938-1954)

Miss C. E. Nelson, Matron to
Northampton General Hospital and The Barratt Maternity Home (1938 – 1954)
Photo credit: Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust
Midwifery training was divided into two parts in 1938, and establishments were approved to provide training in one or both: Part I was primarily theoretical, based in hospitals and was assessed by examinations; Part II was largely practical, and allowed pupils to demonstrate competence and to link theory with practice.  The same year, The Barratt Maternity Home was approved as a Midwifery Training School to provide Part I of the training. Miss Eleanor Hague, who had qualified as a midwife in 1933, was appointed by the Central Midwives’ Board as the Approved Teacher; in 1943 she received her Midwife’s Teacher’s Diploma. Later, Miss Hague became Matron of the Barratt Maternity Home and is regarded by some as the ‘Mother of Midwifery’ in Northamptonshire.  When my dad was born in 1944 the Matron was Miss C. E.Nelson.
The Barratt Maternity Home as it looked in 2020.

Joseph and Ann

Joseph and Ann Abram (nee Cox) were my great great great grandparents. I have been able to locate the couple on the 1861 census, where Joseph, a shoemaker aged 23 and Ann aged 21 were living at 4 Lower River Terrace, St Sepulchre in Northamptonshire with three children, Emma, Charles (my great great grandfather aged 1) and Harriett.

I believe Joseph was the son of James and Rebecca and I have located him on the 1841 census aged 3 and the 1851 census aged 12. Sadly, it appears that Joseph died aged just 28.  The death certificate shows he had been suffering from Phthisis Pulmonalis (Tuberculosis) for 13 months.

Ann appears to have married William Maloney in 1869 to and her story continues on the 1871 census, where, aged 31, she is living at St George Square in Northampton but now with William Maloney of Ireland, Charles (aged 11 and recorded as Charles Abram Maloney) and three other children, George, Emma and John W Maloney.

In 1881 William and Ann can be found living at 12 Alpha Street, Northampton, with four children, Jeremiah (aged 9)*, Eugene, William and John Maloney.  Finally, in 1891, Ann can be found at 50 Adelaide Street, Northampton.  She is a widow and working as a laundress. Eugene, William and John are still living with her.

* Jeremiah Maloney does not appear on the 1891 census with his mother and siblings but I believe I have located him, aged 19, living as a boarder at Luther Street, Leceister in the home of William and Sarah Abrams (both recorded as being born in Northamptonshire) and their children Herbert and Amy, along with two other boarders,  Ellen Maloney aged 24 and and Eva M aged 1.  (I believe that Jeremiah Maloney married Ellen Frost in 1889).

Shortland shoemakers

In papers given to me by my great aunt Dorothy, she noted that John Shortland (the brother of my great great grandfather William Shortland) had started a shoe firm in Irthinglingborough, Northamptonshire, so I set out to investigate.

I had always known that Northamptonshire was famous for making shoes and boots and that it was likely my ancestors had been involved but I never expected to find them involved to the extent I did.

Information about the firm Dorothy referred to was initially located on The Rushden Heritage website which indicated the firm was actually started by John’s father, also called William.

In 1875 the late Mr. William Shortland left his native Harrowden to seek work in the trade at Irthling-borough where he soon established himself and was one of the first to install a sewing and stitching machine. In 1891 he built the Tower factory where he and his sons, John and James, made shoes for the wholesale market. Eventually, John Shortland started business on his own account and in 1899 founded the Express Works, which during the past 59 years have been extended many times. On his death in 1934 the management passed into the hands of his son, Mr. Hugh Shortland. The development of the well-known “Wearra” fitting system, covering slim, medium and broad fittings in men’s, women’s and youths’, started in 1936.

Information about John Shortland Ltd was located on the National Archives website and about information about William and John Shortland on the Grace’s guide website where I discovered a large selection of adverts for William Shortland, John Shortland and Wearra Shoes.

I subsequently contacted the Irthlingborough History Society and Roy York and Philip Watts told me about Wearra shoes and the Express Works factory where the shoes were made.

The Shortland family I was told were ‘very important in the town employing many local people and Hugh Shortland’s name appears on the foundation stone of the local Methodist church. The hall, coincidentally, is where the history society holds it’s meetings. A reproduction of the giant plaque, on the now demolished Express Shoe factory, is being placed on the buildings of the new development being built at the moment on the large site in the centre of the town next to St. Peter’s church.’

The society also kindly sent me the photos that appear below which show William and John, photo three is believed to be James (John’s brother) and Hugh Shortland.

They also told me about a book titled ‘Clicking to Closing’ which contains information and memories about the work of my ancestors and it was lovely to read about the contribution they had made to the town and also to read they didn’t just run a successful business but appeared to care about the welfare of their staff too, boasting the axiom ‘The best use you can make of surplus profits is to invest them in the welfare of your employees’. In a strange coincidence, the book was printed and bound in the premises formally occupied by John Shortland Ltd – The Express Works in Church Street.

Sadly, the firm, which had become known as David Scott Shoes and was one of Irthlingborough’s largest employers, closed in 1982 with the loss of 320 jobs and today not one shoe manufacturer remains in Irthlingborough – in October 2002 R Griggs Ltd announced that production of Dr Martens in the town would cease, bringing to end, an industry with which the town had been associated for many hundreds of years. I feel incredibly fortunate however to have discovered such a wealth of information about my ancestors and the work they did and to be have been able to gather it here for my family and others to learn about them too.

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