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What is a Cordwainer?
An Ancient Calling
The term "cordwainer" is an Anglicization of the French word cordonnier, which means shoemaker, introduced into the English language after the Norman invasion in 1066. The word was derived from the city of Cordoba in the south of Spain, a stronghold of the mighty Omeyyad Kalifs until its fall in the 12th century. Moorish Cordoba was celebrated in the early Middle Ages for silversmithing and the production of cordouan leather, called "cordwain" in England.
Since the Middle Ages the title of cordwainer has been selected by the shoemakers and used loosely. Generally it refered to a certain class of boot and shoemakers. The first English guild who called themselves cordwainers was founded at Oxford in 1131. "Cordwainers" was also the choice of the London shoemakers, who organized a guild before 1160, and the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers has used this title since receiving its first Ordinances in 1272.
First Cordwainers in America
The first English cordwainers, or shoemakers, landed at Jamestown, Virginia, established in 1607 ... Captain John Smith has been alleged to have been a cordwainer, but this is unlikely. This historic adventure of settlement was in part supported by investments made by the London cordwainers.
Shoemakers, tanners, and other tradesmen arrived in Jamestown by 1610, and the secretary of Virginia recorded flourishing shoe and leather trades there by 1616. The first English shoemaker to arrive in America whose name has been preserved, was Christopher Nelme, who sailed from Bristol, England and reached Virginia in 1619. Nearly one year later, the first Pilgrim settlers landed in Massachusetts. The first shoemakers who followed the trade there arrived in 1629.
"Cordwainer" not "Cobbler"
A distinction preserved by cordwainers since the earliest times is, that a cordwainer works only with new leather, whereas a cobbler works with old. Cobblers have always been repairers, frequently prohibited by law from making shoes.
Whenever shoemakers have organized, they have shown a clear preference for the title cordwainer, conscious of the distinguished history and tradition it conveys. Today's cordwainer is no exception.
- Jimmy Choo
- Patrick Cox
- George Fox