Northampton Shoe & Art Gallery

It is open to debate, but I once heard a pub quiz question, ” Which is the only piece of British clothing that secret agent James Bond wears? The answer was, “His shoes” The quizmaster went on to tell his audience that author Ian Fleming had written in his novels that James Bond always wore high quality crafted leather shoes, made in Northampton! There is no question that James Bond has an association with the Northampton shoe industry today because since Daniel Craig starred as the iconic British secret agent in Sky Fall, Northampton shoemaker, Crockett & Jones, with a history spanning over 140 years, has provided the Bond shoes that have featured in Skyfall, Spectre & No Time to Die!

The Northampton Shoe and Art Gallery had been closed for over four years until its reopening in 2021 after a major £6.7 million redevelopment and refurbishment project. The Museum has more than doubled in size since work began in 2018. It is the “focal point” in the town’s Cultural Quarter, which includes the NN Contemporary Art Gallery, 78 Derngate, Royal and Derngate and the Vulcan Works.

My first impressions were how light and spacious it was, the main atrium and reception area reflecting the history, heritage, and modernity of the building. A welcome addition is the new café with a small outside terrace for those warm sunny days! The shop is much better arranged and larger, there is a new `selling gallery` and a new shoe gallery highlighting the museums “internationally important” shoe collection and a taste of the town’s shoemaking heritage.

The new permanent shoe gallery is a delight! Previously visited the museum and was often disappointed, particularly when as a local schoolteacher, I had several excited young people to entertain, educate and motivate! The exhibition spaces were dark, poorly labelled and did not show off the collection at its best. Now, the space is bright, vibrant, and spacious with a range of different perspectives in which to view the collection. The gallery highlights the depth and breadth of the collection by asking questions and prompting the viewer to use the resources provided to answer the questions for themselves! “Why do we wear the shoes we do? How are the shoes designed, manufactured, and sold?

It is one of the largest collections of shoes and shoe heritage in the world with 15,000 pairs in the collection and can now proudly demonstrate and reflect that in this beautifully arranged space. The earliest shoes date as far back as 300BC, Queen Victoria’s wedding shoes, Elton John’s tommy boots from the film “Tommy” and the iconic Red Boots from the film “Kinky Boots”, which was set in Northampton, are some of the most famous & familiar foot wear on display. Lots of people from Northampton have contributed shoes to the exhibition, so it is very much the towns own shoe Museum!

Ah! Now the little pottery shoes, they’re good luck, you see. You know, like Whitby has lucky glass ducks, Northampton has lucky pottery shoes.

Ms Cobb speaking to Lola – Kinky Boots

The museum not only features shoes but also galleries of artworks and an entertaining and educational history of the town. The story of the town is in the two longer standing galleries charting the History and development of the town over two periods, Gallery 1 looks at 4000BC – 1675AD and Gallery 2 from 1675 to the present day. The History galleries are still very much unchanged, having undergone a light refurbishment as part of the redevelopment but new displays include lacemaking, wartime manufacture and post – war development of the town. Divided into two galleries, the display passes chronologically through time, charting the history of the town from the stone age, Civil War, Great Fire through to the rebuilding of the town and modern age. The two new art galleries were of interest to me! The galleries will host a programme of changing in – house exhibitions from the museums own collection and regular touring exhibitions.

Enjoyed my visit to the Museum enormously, it is well worth a visit. Would like to see the Museum & Cultural Quarter better signposted around town so that more people can find it! If you have been in the past you really should visit again because you will have a different experience. Gone are the dark shoe cabinets and cramped spaces of the old museum, this is a vibrant fun shoe museum which will entertain and brighten your day and if you love shoes, it’s worth making a pilgrimage! The shoes on display are varied, unusual, beautifully crafted, bizarre, unusual, colourful, unique and the stories behind them all are even more fascinating! Young people of all ages will find something of interest in the Museum. With free entry at the door, it’s a fantastic way to pass a few hours with the children and better still you are free to take pictures also with plenty of opportunities for those essential selfies!

NOTICE: Some of the photographs were taken from the Museum Facebook page. If you would like credit for your photograph please let me know who you are!

Credit: Paul O’Leary @Doctoro74