14. Charles Parker Building
Charles Parker, the entrepreneur
Charles Parker‘s career in the boot and shoe industry began in London and then later he moved to Northampton. Northampton became noted as the chief centre for high grade boots and shoes. Initially boots and shoes were made by hand to individual measurements by skilled local craftsmen. (H.E. Bates’ grandfather Lucas was one such skilled worker, based in Higham Ferrers.) The advent of machines helped to increase shoe production, and it was this technological development that led Charles Parker to start his own business in 1874 and build his first factory in Higham Ferrers in 1886. Enlargements followed in 1892. Owen Parker, son of Charles, joined his father’s business in 1890, aged 30 and became sole proprietor in 1899 following his father’s death.
The family business
Owen Parker became an important man in terms of providing employment in Higham Ferrers and in carrying out a range of civic responsibilities. Born in 1860, he was educated at Chichele Grammar School, then located in Higham churchyard. He worked for 5 years as a clerk at London Northwest Railway Company before returning to join his father’s firm.
Owen was instrumental in rebuilding the premises, in what was considered to be a ‘model factory, after a fearsome fire in September 1905 burned the existing factory buildings to the ground leaving 500 people unemployed.
Business was carried on in temporary premises and his factory was rebuilt in less than a year, reopening with modern hygienic conditions and up to date machinery. The brands he produced, ‘Kornless’ and ‘Knight of the Garter,’ earned the company a reputation the world wide for top quality boots and shoes.
Owen Parker’s civic roles
Owen Parker worked for many charity organisations and his local civic involvement saw him elected mayor in 1897, succeeding his father, who himself had been mayor three times. Owen Parker was mayor of Higham Ferrers seven times in total. He also served on the county council and as Justice of the Peace for the county.
During the First World War, Owen Parker became an important figure on national advisory committees for the supply and allocation of leather and on the Leather Control Board at the War Office. He was awarded an OBE for services as Chairman of the Mid-County Recruiting Committee; his further work for the Raw Materials section of the War Office brought him the honour of a CBE. His civic standing was recognised when he was elected Conservative MP for Kettering in 1922; however he lost to a labour candidate the following year.
The early 1930’s years of the depression saw a loss of trade and his firm went into liquidation in 1933 (purchased by the John White Company in 1936). Mr Parker suffered heavy personal financial losses and his health suffered. He died in 1936, aged 76 at his home, Ivy House, in Higham Ferrers.