Adidas of the North – A tribute to Norman Walsh

Norman Walsh, shoe maker 1931-2014
norman walsh lostock

TRIBUTES have been paid to the founder of a footwear company, who honed his shoe-making skills at the firm that became Reebok. Norman Walsh, who founded Norman Walsh UK, died aged 82, on Sunday June 15. During his working life, Mr Walsh made shoes for famous former athlete Roger Bannister, who was the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes.

Mr Walsh’s niece Jacqueline Dando said: “Making shoes was his life — he always enjoyed doing it.

“I remember when he got an order for 10,000 shoes from Baltimore in The United States of America and he said ‘I would have been in Heaton Cemetery if I had tried that!’ “He was a character, he liked to joke and he was a lot of fun. He was very independent and he was well-known by a lot of people.”

Mr Walsh was born on July 20, 1931, in Daubhill and was the youngest of three brothers and a stepbrother. When he left school in 1945, Mr Walsh went to work at a cobbler’s shop, where he learnt how to make shoes with his stepfather.

Starting his career at JW Foster in 1945 at age 14, Norman Walsh’s prodigious talent was quicky recognised. Still at only 16 years old he was selected to make running shoes for the 1948 British Olympic team. This shoe was called the JW Foster deluxe. At the 1948 Olympic Games in London, Alistair McCorquedale competed in the final of the 100m in JW Foster Deluxe spikes made by Norman Walsh. McCorquedale finished 4th in a time of 10.7 seconds which was captured in the first photo-finish of the Olympic Games.

Establishing Norman Walsh Footwear in 1961, Norman went on to develop an incredible diversity of sports footwear for rugby, football, track and field, wrestling, boxing and fell-running.

Hit the North running

Bolton, England: situated ten miles to the north-west of Manchester, the town was once a mighty force in garment production. Integral to the industrialised hub of Cottonopolis, a 19th century boomtown, at it’s peak it boasted 216 cotton mills.

Fiercely independent, the town also has a rich history of rebellion and anti-establishment activity. It fought on the side of the Roundheads during the civil war — when all around where royalist. The massacre of Bolton saw 1,600 murdered. The Queen’s great, great, great uncle (or something) was hanged in the town and ever since the rumour goes that the queen will only wear black when she visits Bolton. In the 1980s it was reported that, on a royal visit, Elizabeth II called Boltonians ‘scruffy’… Which may be true but she’s no flipping right to say it. Bolton council reported that during the recent Diamond Jubilee, Bolton recorded the levels of applications for street party licenses.

Up yours Liz!

This independence continues today; whilst the rest of the Cottonopolis adopt the accent of the Manc colonial overlords, we still talk as yonner as ever.

Now more famous for family friendly entertainment, a town centre full of pound shops and people drink-driving on mobility scooters (and, of course, The Rig Out) Bolton has had it rough these past few years. However, there are still some things to be proud of. If like me you have a thing about jackets and footwear you may be surprised to hear that some of the few remaining factories around in Bolton produce for Mark McNairy, Nepenthes (AKA Engineered Garments) and a host of other top Japanese brands.

Anyway, time to get to the point…

Something else which is definitely, definitely a fact (sic): if it wasn’t for Bolton most of you lot would still be wearing clogs. Believe it or not, Bolton is the birthplace of the running shoe. The trainer. The sneaker. The dap… Or whatever else you want to call them (except for ‘creps’ – Ed). The running pump was invented by the Bolton based Foster Bros company, way back in 1898. Developed from cricket shoes, stripped back to make them more agile, with spikes added for traction and the heel removed for… well, just because. Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, would wear a later version of these very shoes as they battled for gold in the 1924 Olympics.

How does this have anything to do with Walsh?

Well, Norman Walsh (the company founder), served his apprenticeship at Foster Bros, where his skill was recognised early on by Mr Foster himself, who made him personally responsible for the professional athletic customers. In 1948 Norman made many of the shoes worn by the British Olympic team.

norman walsh

More about Walsh of Bolton at oi Polloi:


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