“Cave Cordners of Banbury” - John Nichols Bailey’s shoemaker master & his family
In 1822, as we learn from his apprenticeship indenture, John Bailey left his birthplace at Bodicott in Oxfordshire to work for seven years under Thomas Cave, cordwainer, in nearby Banbury. Originally, a “cordner”, as the word was pronounced, was a worker or trader in leather goods, the name deriving from Cordovan, a resident of the Spanish town famous for its fine leather. It generally came to mean a shoemaker or cobbler, terms that in time completely replaced it.
By the time twelve-year-old John came to him, Thomas Cave was in his mid-fifties and must have known every trick in the ‘cordning’ book. Baptised in Banbury on 15 February 1767, the eldest son of Robert Cave and his wife Judith (nee Padbury) (1), he was almost certainly born in the market town, and by all accounts worked there for nigh on seventy years.
On 14 May 1799, one Thomas Cave, shoemaker, undoubtedly John Bailey’s master, had married Sarah Gibbs at St Mary’s Church, Banbury (2); he first appears in print in Pigot’s 1823 directory of Oxfordshire, where he is listed, with half a dozen competitors, under Boot and Shoe Makers. He was then in business on Banbury High Street, at the premises where young John must have started to learn his trade.
By 1832, cordwainer Cave had moved, little more than a stone’s throw, to Broad-lane, the present-day Broad Street (3). By this time, John had almost certainly left Thomas’s employ, having served his full apprenticeship by early 1829. At any rate, by the time of his marriage to Mary Colleycutt in 1833, he was resident in Cherington, a dozen miles from his former master, although both were to follow the same lifelong trade.
On the night of 7 June 1841, when the census enumerator came to call, we find Thomas Cave alone with his son John, in Broad Street - it seems certain that he lived ‘over the shop’ (4). Further research is needed to determine whether he was by this time a widower, but it is very possible, he himself living just a few years more. The annual Rusher’s Banbury List and Directory continues to list Thomas until 1849, still at Broad Street. He has disappeared from the 1850 edition, and the Parish Registers of St Mary’s confirm the suspicion: “Burials, 1849, Dec. 18th. Thomas Cave, [aged] 83, Broad Street”.
It seems that, at least in name, the old master continued in trade until he dropped. However, Rusher’s List still recorded the name Cave, since from the very first edition featuring individual trades, in 1832, Thomas’s entry had been accompanied by one for Thomas Cave junior, a boot and shoe maker at no. 29, Parson’s St. (5)
By the time of the 1851 census, Thomas senior’s son John had also set up on his own, on the north side of Bridge Street, where he appears as a “Master Shoe Maker”, with his wife and two baby daughters. Over in Parson’s Street, brother Thomas (or perhaps the census enumerator) preferred the older term cordwainer - and one guess what his sons William and John’s stated occupations were! (6)
Right to the end of the run of Rusher’s Lists consulted, in 1867, John at 67 Bridge St. and Thomas in Parson’s St. continued to appear. As John Cave was then still a mere stripling of 54, it seems certain that the feet of Banbury townspeople were shod for at least a century by this veritable cave of cordwainers, while Thomas senior’s Bodicote boy John Nichols Bailey served the villagers of Cherington and Stourton in Warwickshire for over half a century in the same capacity, until shortly before his own death in 1890.
1. International Genealogical Index (IGI)
3. Rusher’s Banbury List and Directory (1812-1867 run). [Centre for Banburyshire Studies, Banbury Library]
4. 1841 cen. Broad St. Banbury OXF. Ref HO107/873 Folio 32: Thomas aged 70, John 25 [ages rounded down].
5. Thomas junior also appears to have resided at his workplace. On p.99 of “Shoemaker’s Window”, ‘Recollections of Banbury before the Railway Age’, by George Herbert (1814-1902) (ed. C. Cheney), the author refers to Cave, a shoemaker, who lived in Parson’s St. [Centre for Banburyshire Studies]
6. 1851 cen. Parson’s St. Banbury OXF. Ref HO107/1734 Folio 341 entry 69: Thomas aged 51, cordwainer employing 5 men; wife Mary 51; sons Wm. 24, John 15, both cordwainers. All four were born in Banbury.
Bridge St North Folio 318 entry 61: John aged 38 Master Shoe Maker; wife Sarah aged 24 [sic]; daughters Mary Ann 3 and Emily 1 year. Again, all four present were born in Banbury.