Derek Herbert and his wife, Janet
|Died||January 2014 (aged about 86)|
|Education||Boston Grammar School (1937-1943)|
|Occupation||Owner of shoe lace manufacturing company|
|Employer||Arthur Whittle & Co (owner)|
Boston firm had laces business all tied up
by Andrew Malkin, Boston Bulletin, Issue 35, March 2013
Discoveries and inventions which made modern man include the ability to make fire, use of the wheel and the development of shoelaces… SHOELACES? Well how else were the first modern humans going to keep shoes on their feet while they went about the business of inventing the wheel? Earliest evidence points to footwear with laces being developed around 5,500 years ago.
And Boston was once the centre of a lace-making industry – possessing one of just 16 factories in the country engaged in manufacturing shoe and boot laces. Arthur Whittle and Co’s first lace factory was in Station Street, in premises previously occupied by Fogarty’s. Although the new company bore his name it was actually formed in 1919 with two other partners – Harry Herbert and Henry Drinkwater. All three had worked in the “smallware” manufacturing trade for a company based in Leicester when they decided to go it alone and suitable available premises brought them to Boston.
Arthur, as "traveller" (salesman), had the trade contacts and so it was decided to front the business with his name. All three were experts in their field and the next 50 years would see the business expand and move to bigger purpose-built premises twice – once into nearby Lincoln Lane in the 1930s and finally to Nelson Way in the early 1970s, now the Wells tarpaulin factory. Derek Herbert (85), of Burton Close, Boston, joined his father’s business when he was around 20, having worked in a bank and in a Nottinghamshire coalmine during the war as a conscripted Bevin Boy. The company began manufacture of laces from cotton, but when this became too expensive the partners developed their own mix of spun rayon and spun polyester. Top of the range laces had nylon added. There’s science in making laces, as Derek explained: "It was polyester for strength and rayon to stop the laces slipping – laces which slipped wouldn't have been any good. We'd have gone bankrupt."
They supplied laces to the wholesale trade – white, brown and black – for sportswear, such as plimsolls and football boots, shoes, boots, football laces and laces for corsetry. They also made elastic. Derek said: "In all that time we never had one complaint."
His wife, Janet, who joined the business as a partner with Derek in 1968, said: "We did have a pair returned which had broken. But Derek took one look and knew they were not our laces."
The yarn was sent to dyers to be dyed with the company's branded colours. Bobbin winding machines automated the lace-making process. Depending on thickness 32, 48 or 96 individual strands would be wound to a set mix of materials to produce long lengths of lace, or braid. The braiding machines, each with 16, 24 or 48 spinners whizzing around each other wove the yarn into a single braid like children dancing around a Maypole. The long length of braid was fed into a bin from which another machine would take the length and, in one swift action apply the tags for the ends of the laces and cut them to length – from 18 to 72 inches. The final process could not be automated and relied on the nimble fingers of a workforce of mainly mums at home. Derek explained: "We had experienced staff who left to raise families and found we could continue to employ them as home workers. We arranged delivery of laces to their homes three times a week all over Boston. They glued the paper bands around them and packed them into our boxes and then we’d pick them up again. It meant they could earn while being at home with their families. We never found a machine which could do this work, so it suited us all round to do it this way."
The laces were sold boxed or carded with a printed plate featuring Boston Stump and bearing the legend "Where the laces come from". They went under the brand names Solace, Ny-Solace (with added nylon) and Integrity. Derek got permission to also produce laces as genuine replacements for Doc Martin boots (DMs as they were called) and at the end of his career it was the Doc Martin parent company which purchased the lace-making business from him and Janet in 1981, their two sons having careers outside the lace-making industry.
During his 35 year career Derek made more than 131 million pairs of laces. Did any ever go to lace the shoes of anyone famous, perhaps members of the royal family?
Derek said: "We never knew where they went. We just made them and were happy to sell them."
Solace laces are still worn in Boston today, however. Derek and Janet have a lifetime’s supply put by and always have Boston's finest for their shoes.
Derek Herbert (BGS 1937-43) died [in January 2014]. The funeral service [took] place at Swineshead Church on Monday 13th [January] followed by burial in the Churchyard.
Derek was the owner of the Boston's last shoe lace manufacturers Arthur Whittle & Co which was sold to Doc Martin's upon Derek's retirement. The premises are now occupied by another well known Boston company, Wells & Son Marquees Ltd.
Derek leaves his wife and his two sons, Andrew and William.