WONERSH
© Wonersh History Society - www.wonershhistory.co.uk   (WHS)
HISTORY SOCIETY

GEORGE WILLIAM BRETT - SHOEMAKER

(1882-1966) George   Brett    was   born   in   1882   in   one   of   the   three   cottages   which   now form   The   Old   House   in   The   Street.      He   was   the   seventh   generation   of his   family   to   live   in   Wonersh   and   like   his   father   and   grandfather   he became   a   shoemaker.      His   grandmother,   not   wanting   to   be   left   out,   did the fine stitching of the shoe uppers. The Old House George     described     his     home     as     a     rambling     old     cottage     and remembered   ‘how   we   children   enjoyed   swinging   from   the   bedroom rafters on our homemade trapezes’. When   he   lived   in   The   Old   House   cottages   they   were   below   street   level with   steps   down.      John   Sudbury   had   them   rebuilt   and   made   into   one house,   at   the   same   time   lifting   the   floor   by   22   inches   which   by   all accounts   caused   a   bit   of   a   stir.      Part   of   the   house   was   then   turned   into an   ‘Institute’   for   the   village   in   the   winter   -   billiards   in   the   ‘big’   room   and   cards   and   refreshments   in   the   upstairs   rooms.            Unfortunately,   in   the summer   the   men   were   working   until   6   o’clock   and   then   had   their   gardens   to   look   after   so   the   Institute   closed,   the   furniture   was   moved   out, Mrs Sudbury put in house furniture and it was let. The Importance of Boots Amongst   George’s   customers   were   the   men   at   Chilworth   Gunpowder   Works   for   whom   he   made   special   boots.       In   the   worst   explosion recorded   at   Chilworth   six   men   were   killed   and   all   because   of   a   hob   nailed   boot   -   a   man   slipped   and   the      spark   created   by   his   hob   nailed boots   ignited   the   powder   in   a   powder   tram   and   this   first   explosion   set   off   a   second   explosion   in   the   corning   house.      The   subsequent   inquest was held at the Percy Arms pub. George   was   interviewed   by   various   History   Society   members   between   1958   and   1973.      By   the   time   George   made   boots   for   the   mill   workers, no   metal   at   all   could   be   used   because   of   the   danger   of   sparks   so   soles   were   fixed   with   wooden   plugs,   a   square   plug   being   driven   into   a round   hole.      This   held   the   sole   very   firmly   and   was   completely   waterproof   because   as   soon   as   the   peg   became   damp   it   would   swell   and bind   even   tighter.      Pegs   were   also   more   secure   and   longer   lasting   than   stitches.      The   holes   for   the   pegs   had   to   be   bored   with   an   awl   and   if an awl broke, the whole boot had to be completely taken to pieces to make sure no metal had been left in. Trams   pushed   by   hand   were   used   for   carrying   trays   of   powder   from   one   part   of   the   mill   to   an   other.      The   men   pushing   them   wore   boots with   brass   nails.      Brass   doesn’t   give   off   a   spark   but   even   so,   these   boots   were   worn   outdoors   only.      If   a   tram   man   had   to   go   into   the   mill   he slipped   on   ‘shooshers’,   large   metal-less   overshoes   which   always   stood   at   the   mill   entrance   and   in   these   he   shuffled   to   wherever   he   had   to go. The Pope’s Shoes As    well    as    making    shoes    and    boots,    George    repaired    and    supplied    shoes    to    the Seminary.      On   the   Seminary   staff   was   an   Italian,   Dr   Banfi,   who   taught   Latin   and   was   a friend   of   Pope   Pius   XI.      The   Italian   shoes   worn   by   the   Pope   were   made   of   silk   or   velvet and    soon    wore    out    because    of    the    friction    of    his    robes    so    he    wrote    to    Dr    Banfi requesting   leather   shoes   from   England.      Dr   Banfi   gave   George   a   sample   shoe,   some specially   tanned   scarlet   morocco   leather   and   gold   cloth   for   the   heels   and   asked   him   to make   the   shoes.      A   Miss   Burrill   embroidered   them   with   gold   braid   around   the   edges,   a gold   cross   on   the   toes   and   fastenings   of   gold   acorns.      The   sample   shoes   sent   by   the Pope are kept in the Seminary.
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