28 October 2010

Branded: Barker shoes.

On one of my many stops in Absolute Vintage I found the most perfect-to-me pair of shoes: chocolaty brown leather, manageable heel height and arch, equestrian detailing, rounded toes, and on top of all that - my feet even looked almost petite in them! Needless to say it was straight to the till for me, and I wore them everywhere - I of course wore them out, and after a few repairs deemed them unrepairable, placing them in my r.i.p. pile at the bottom of my wardrobe. I never knew the maker or date of production.
(June and August 2009, the original pair)
Fast forward several months to one of my late-nite 'vintage 7' searches on ebay. I came across another pair of shoes which I found irresistible. I couldn't quite put my finger on just why. After several days of 'watching' and waiting - and after a very generous seller agreed to lowering her reserve price - they were mine. I giddily opened the parcel to discover just why I'd fallen for the shoes: they were exactly the same as the r.i.p. pair only in much better condition and in a narrower fit - which only made them that bit more perfect! It was the most blissful deja vu, and on these insoles I could actually read the label: Barker of England. I was excited to do a bit of research about the brand, whose shoes I'd seen in many City shop windows.

The foundation stone of the Barker brand was laid in a humble cottage in the heart of England's shoe manufacturing industry in 1880, by enterprising Northamptonshire boot maker Arthur Barker. During the interwar years, Arthur's three sons joined the family business, taking the brand into new markets and territories. In 1947, a new factory was built in Earls Barton to expand production, including the production of women's shoe collections. Barker are one of twelve shoemakers in the region, alongside Church's, Grenson and Loake.

A newer factory and offices were built in 1986 in the centre of Earls Barton village. The new site is just a few hundred yards away from the original factory of 1880. And although modern methods of production have been introduced over the years, the same skills, traditions and craftsmanship are very much evident today. Albert Barker demonstrated that an insistence on traditional standard need not to be old-fashioned. His policies of top quality materials, craftsmanship and distinctive classic design are still carefully maintained today, with Barker craftspeople producing some 200,000 pairs of hand lasted sewn shoes each year. Recent collaborations include Jeffrey Campbell and Herring.

I am happy to report that I received a lovely reply from the Barker archives: The shoes are called 'Ripon' and were last produced in 1988. At that time there was also a matching handbag to go with the style - let the hunt begin! *Barker history adapted from the company website.

26 October 2010

Family wreath: Golden girls.

My mother's side of the family like to stay in one place - Eastern North Carolina. A few have left but most see no need to go anywhere else. Our ancestors came from Germany and liked the area so much they decided to make it their home. A local scholar has been preparing a book on the history of the families which includes some 6,000 people. At a recent family reunion he described a 'family wreath' which interconnects all the larger families in the area - it was not out of the ordinary to marry your third or fourth cousin when pickin's were slim! I am really looking forward to the book's release to read more about the area and see all the fascinating stories brought together in one place.
Being back home for several months now I've learned so many things I never knew as a child spending summers at Grandma's house. The same two-story farmhouse has been in our family for generations (you can see a bit of the house and its surroundings in some of these photographs), and it seems everyone in the little community has their own special memories associated with it. At one time three generations lived under one roof and people also rented out rooms upstairs - the house was brimming with non-stop activity. On Sunday evenings the house was a true gathering spot and you might even catch a short film at the old tent shows that passed through or slip on your roller-skates for a trip to the local store. Countless people were born or died in the house and when you stop to think about it all, it's pretty incredible. It is a very different place today but I'm so grateful to be surrounded by such a rich history. I've got some beautiful old tin-types to scan in for you but for now here are a few pictures of my more immediate relatives: my mother, grandmother and great-grandmothers, among others.

24 October 2010

Family wreath: Nana and Pop.

Since I got back home I've found longer branches on my family tree . On my father's side, a distant relative contacted me after seeing Tommy Jr's photographs. Sometimes I start to wonder if I have a bit too much of myself out on the internet, but this time I was so happy to know someone was looking! It turns out that some of my earliest known ancestors came to Virginia from Haiti via France and also from Cuba, something we never knew until now. I've been sopping up all the old stories and documents that have been generously shared with me, and I'm looking forward to learning more as time goes by.
I wanted to share these photos that were found when my Nana's house was cleared out. These are my father's parents, Walter Eugene and Savannah - Pop and Nana to me. To see them so young and happy, probably about my age or a little older, puts a smile on my face every time.

18 October 2010

Royal mail.

post office, comfort, nc.

A short walk to our little post office can be the highlight of a quiet day. Inside a small parcel from my friend Sophie I unwrapped a bottle of 'Tobacco Flower'- a fragrance released by the Body Shop in 2000 - still in its original box! Did you ever have it? A whiff of this now sadly discontinued fragrance takes me back to my year abroad in Germany, now ten years past (!). When my mom and two of her girlfriends came to visit they bought me a bottle of this while we were waiting at the airport for their departure. I kept it for a long while after that but have since lost it.
When I am smack-dab in the middle of city living or deep in the darkness of Winter, the scent of tobacco tops will remind me of summers in the countryside. I am so happy you found this Sophie! Next time I'm in London I hope we can hit some of those Southend-on-Sea charity shops.
almost heaven.

12 October 2010

The loop road.

And just like that, Summer's gone. The tobacco fields, once lush and leafy, are now lined with eerie naked stalks. Despite the lingering heat wave, you can still feel the crispy punch in the air. My brother and I have been taking Golden Hour walks to round out our days and begin quiet country evenings. A walk along the 'loop road' or down to the river might take us to a tobacco barn which also doubles as a deer antler shrine. If we turn our heads we might just see a young man out on a horse and cart, completely blissed out. Here's to more exploring, and lots of hot chocolates to come.

10 October 2010

Got it honest.

Tongue and groove, dinner bells, shotgun houses, secret hiding places and more than twenty wild (but very welcome) cats. A late summer's day visit to relatives proved I got it honest - my love for all things old that is. I walked away with an armful of glass telephone insulators and the grin of a Cheshire cat.

06 October 2010

A little TLC goes a long way.

brogue love.
When I find a pair of shoes I love, I tend to wear them out. We're talking holes through the soles held up with duck tape! And when they are already old and worn, this happens even faster. I bought these lovely Nubuck brogues at Absolute Vintage three years ago when I first moved back to London and at the time, they were the most expensive shoes I'd ever bought. I have not been able to date them and cannot read the label inside but they are definitely old. The club heel and the leather trim are the icing on the perfect colour and shape.
You can see just how much I've loved them above, wearing them in the rain (and once even in the snow -eek!) and wearing them right out. I've had to toss my fair share of vintage shoes but can't bear to part with these. So I decided to treat them to a little TLC with new leather soles. I can't wait to wear them again with wooly tights and nobbly socks. But first I want to give the uppers a bit of TLC, and I wondered if any of you have tips for conditioning and preserving Nubuck? I promise to weatherproof them!
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