John Herson
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The Irish in the shoe trade
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Irish families were involved in Stafford’s distinctive industry, the manufacture of boots and shoes. Ireland was part of the UK shoe trade labour market, and the destruction of the Irish shoe trade through British competition forced many Irish shoemakers to seek work in Britain. The chapter reviews the characteristics of shoe trade work.

The experiences of shoe-trade families varied widely and two families demonstrate this. The Protestant Hamilton family had a troubled history, were always poor and their children’s lives showed many signs of stress. They wanted to obscure their Irish origins but never integrated effectively. The Catholic John Mulrooney became part of the extensive Bowen family and they proved able to diversify and integrate successfully into local society.

The chapter shows that many of the children of immigrant families from other occupational backgrounds, especially labouring, moved into the shoe trade. It was a fertile field for modest upward social mobility.

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Divergent paths

Family histories of Irish emigrants in Britain, 1820–1920


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