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History of clogs and Ancient shoes


You won’t see many people wearing clogs in Amsterdam, but they are still an important part of Dutch culture.

Whatever you may think of them, traditional Dutch wooden shoes or clogs (klompen), are an important part of Dutch heritage and are still worn in rural parts of the country today. Dutch language has many idiomatic expressions associated with wooden shoes. Clogs are still popular with people working in agriculture as they’re great for walking on muddy ground and can easily be removed. Dutch clogs are made from different types of wood – poplar and willow being favourites – and are often painted.

Traditional hand-crafted wooden shoes

Clogs have long been worn by workers as protective clothing. In fact, clogs have even been certified by the European Union as safety shoes as they can withstand sharp and heavy objects and concentrated acids. Traditionally, skilled artisans made them by hand. As you can imagine, it’s quite a job to hand-carve an identical pair of wooden shoes, but professionals could produce up to seven pairs a day! These days clogs are machine-made just a short trip outside Amsterdam, you can still see wooden shoes being crafted by hand.

History of clogs

As wooden shoes were used to fuel the fireplace once they were worn-out, it proved difficult fot historians to precisely date the origins of clogs. Nevertheless, they estimate that the first clogs appeared at least 850 years ago and the oldest wooden shoe known was found in the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam. This clog dates from around the year 1230 and is made of alder wood. The shoes  were made in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on who would wear them. Some had rounded edges while others had pointed toes to help fishermen pull their nets in.

About six million souvenir clogs are produced in the Netherlands each year, so you're sure to find just the right pair to take home!



A Brief History

Ever since man came down from the trees, and stood on a thorn, he has tried to protect his feet from the wear and tear of everyday life. He would have used materials that were to hand. Skins and bark would have been the logical first choice, but you can bet that slats of wood held in place by thonging or something similar won't have been far behind. Wood has real advantages, it lasts a long time, keeps the feet dry as it doesn't hold moisture, wood insulates the foot from the cold ground. In England for at least the past eight hundred years this type of footwear was known as "Pattens" they were usually worn over leather or fabric shoes to raise the wearer's foot above the mud of the unmade road. Poorer people who couldn't afford shoes wore wood directly against the skin, and so developed the clog, for several hundred years the words were interchangeable. In different parts of Europe people came up with similar solutions for similar problems hence the Choppino in Italy the Sabot in France and Belgium, the Klomp and Galoche there are dozens of variations.

The wearing of clogs in Britain really took off with the Industrial Revolution, workers in the mills, mines, iron, steel, and chemical works, workshops and factories needed strong cheap footwear. The heyday of the clog in Britain was between the 1840's and 1920's, they were worn all over the country, not just in the industrial north of England. The decline set in during the depression of the 1930's and apart from a brief revival during the second world war when leather was in short supply, it has been downhill ever since. Working class people associated wearing clogs with poverty, and as mass produced boots and shoes became more affordable the clog rapidly disappeared, people wanted better! Two generations later the stigma has disappeared, and people who once looked down on clog wearers as uncouth now look back with fondness to a "simpler" time.


The Wood

For Many years clogs were made with simple tools like the stock knives pictured left. Most types of wood have probably been used for making clog soles at some time or other. the main requirement is that it is easily worked, doesn't splinter and resists splitting. The favorite for hand cut soles is Alder or Sycamore, with some clog makers using Ash, Birch, Willow and Poplar (Aspen). Different woods have different characteristics, Alder is said to be very good at absorbing moisture, keeping the feet dry, it's light, and is worked into shape easily so it's good in hot industries it is however quite weak, and in some circumstances will have a tendency to split. Ash is the best wood to make dancing clogs out of it's light, and springy with plenty of bounce and a ringing tone, but only dance in the dry, if they get wet, the structure of the wood can collapse under you, Sycamore is a good all round wood, light, white, and resilient, it can be worked while still wet, it's said that you can chop down a tree, and make clogs from the wood the same day (risky in these days of central heating). Beech is not a wood for the hand maker, it is hard to work, and the finished clogs are heavier, it also doesn't have much spring, an important feature in dancing clogs

Only Walkley's of Hebden Bridge are still mass producing clog soles. they use Beech, kiln dried to 12% moisture content. Alder logs are too small to be practical in machine production, and Sycamore has silica in it's structure, this blunts the cutters too quickly. Beech is a very stable wood, and Beech soles will take a lot of hammer without splitting. This is what made it ideal for a mass produced item, and there was a huge demand for clogs. Maud's Clog Sole Factory (later Walkleys) in Hebden Bridge made 862,164 pairs of soles in 1911, this rose to  1,211,268 pairs in 1943, but dropped to 120,600 pairs by 1971  In the steel trades  where they walked over the hot metal in the rolling mills, a man could burn through four pairs of clog soles in a day, many factories employed their own clogger to keep re-soling the worn out clogs.




Ancient Shoes


Long before history began wore shoes. During the Ice Age people called Cro-Magnons wore simple leather boots. They lived during an ice age so protecting your feet from the cold was essential. In Egypt shoes were not necessary because of the hot climate. Most people went barefoot much of the time but they sometimes wore sandals made from papyrus. Well off Egyptians wore leather sandals.

A people called the Assyrians ruled an empire in the Middle East between 900 BC and 612 BC. They equipped their soldiers with sturdy boots, which helped on long marches.

Roman soldiers wore tough boots called caligae. Well off Romans wore a type of closed shoe called a calceus when they were outdoors. However you did not wear them indoors. Instead you put on a kind of flip-flop called a solea. However Roman slaves usually went barefoot.

Medieval and Tudor Boots and Shoes


Saxon and Viking people wore simple leather boots and shoes but in the 15th century rich people wore shoes with long pointed toes. They were called crakows because they were believed to have originated in Krakow. (However only the upper classes wore them. Ordinary people had shoes with round toes). However at the end of the 15th century long toes went out of fashion and the wealthy began to wear shoes with square or round toes.

In the Middle Ages peasants wore wooden clogs for working in muddy conditions. In the towns people wore wooden platforms called pattens under their shoes. (They had straps to hold them on). Some pattens were several inches thick.

In the Middle Ages shoe makers were called cordwainers. The word is derived from cordovan the name for leather from Cordova in Spain.

In the 16th century some people had deliberate cuts in their shoes called slashes. Sometimes they were slip on shoes but sometimes they were tied with latches. Early Tudor shoes did not have heel. However in the late 16th century women in England began to wear shoes with high heels.

In the early 17th century it was fashionable for men to wear boots. However in the late 17th century some people began to wear shoes with buckles.

In the 18th century there were many different styles of shoes. Rich people had buckles made of silver! Furthermore in the 17th century and 18th century wealthy women wore shoes of satin or silk. Often they were embroidered. Outdoors people wore overshoes like sandals of wood or leather over their shoes to protect them.


19th Century Boots and Shoes


In the early 19th century shoes were made with a right foot and a left foot instead of being interchangeable. Men very often wore boots in the 19th century and it became acceptable for women to wear them too. However at the end of the century it became fashionable for women to wear shoes again. In the 19th century shoes had laces rather than buckles. In the early 19th century a new type of boot was named after the Duke of Wellington. At first they were made of leather but from the 1850s they were made of rubber.

In the 19th century boots and shoes were mass-produced for the first time and they were cheaper. However in the 19th century boots and shoes were still a luxury and some poor parents could not afford to buy them for their children. In many towns at the end of the 19th century a charity called the Boot Fund was founded to help provide boots and shoes for poor children. Nevertheless as late as the 1920s children played in the streets of British towns barefoot because they couldn't afford shoes.

20th Century Boots and Shoes


In the 20th century with rising living standards there were a huge variety of styles of shoes. In the 1920s women’s shoes were often decorated with beads. During the Second World War because leather was in short supply some people wore clogs rather than shoes. Then in the late 1950s stiletto heels became fashionable for women. In the 1950s some women wore slip on shoes called mules. For men in the late 1950s shoes with long pointed toes called winkle pickers were popular. In the 1960s boots for women came back into fashion and in the 1970s shoes with platform soles were popular for both sexes. Meanwhile trainers were designed in 1949 by Adolf Dasler. Flip flops were invented in 1956. The famous Dr Martens boot was introduced in 1960. A lot of women wear safety shoes.