Saturday, May 18, 2013


I love watching Antique Roadshow. That’s the program where a bunch of experts go to different historic locations in England and the local populations bring their antiques and knick knacks for assessment and appraisal. In one such show recently an old lady brought some porcelain clogs. The expert said that they were Dutch clogs, not Lancashire clogs and that they didn’t have irons. It started me wondering what that meant.

I was born in Holland and have walked in the bulky Dutch clogs, they are remarkably comfortable and not at all difficult once you get used to them. For anyone interested in a Sunday drive, there is a fascinating shop in Smithfield known as the Dutch Shop that sells all sorts of Dutch stuff – clogs, foods, furniture, rugs, knick knacks etc – and it also does coffees and a sitdown lunch. It is at 85 Market Street, Smithfield and well worth a visit. Read about it at: 

This is what my mother's house looked like, including carpets used as tablecloths and not a spare bit of space on the walls or floor.

In my naivete, I assumed that the use of clogs was confined to the Dutch. Not so. 

Some information and trivia about clogs: 

  • Traditional clogs are shoes or sandals made predominantly out of wood, and are associated with the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Lithuania and Sweden. 
  • Clogs can also be a type of heavy boot or shoe with sides and uppers and with thick wooden soles. They may have steel toecaps and/or steel reinforcing inserts in the undersides of the soles. 
  • Dutch clogs form part of the national dress. Whilst mostly now promoted as souvenirs, quite a few Dutch persons still swear by them for gardening, foot protection, comfort and as best for foot health. 

  • Clogs were not only cheaper than leather, they were safer against penetration and less likely to be adversely affected by snow, moisture and mud. They were long lasting and comfortable. 
  • Clogs were also the everyday footwear of working people in England until the turn of the century. Unlike the Dutch clogs, which are made by carving wood into shoes, the Lancashire clogs have a leather upper and lace up like ordinary shoes. They have pieces of iron or steel underneath the wooden sole, like a horseshoe, to stop wear. Lancashire clogs are still worn as an industrial safety shoe in some industries, however, modern boots with man made soles have made them less common. 
Lancashire clogs, leather uppers and wooden soles reinforced with clog irons.

Some more Lancashire clogs with irons, the irons being known as "caulkers":

  • The Industrial Revolution gave rise to the popularity of clogs in Britain, with workers in the mills, mines, iron, steel, and chemical works, workshops and factories needing strong, cheap footwear. The heyday of the clog in Britain was between 1840s and 1920s. Although traditionally associated with Lancashire, they were worn all over England, not just in the industrial North of England. 
  • The Industrial Revolution likewise inspired the wearing of clogs in France, the French word for clog or wooden she being sabot. One explanation for the derivation of the word sabotage is that disgruntled workers allegedly threw their shoes into the machinery. 

  • In England, the wearing of clogs gave rise to a popular activity of clog dancing, a form of dancing that eventually developed into tap dancing. It has been suggested that clog dancing originated with workers synchronising foot tapping with the rhythmic sounds made by the loom shuttles. The predominant style of Lancashire clog dancing was termed 'heel and toe.' Many of the steps emulate the sound of the shuttle and other parts of the cotton spinning and weaving machinery. 

  • Clog dancing was a cheap form of popular entertainment. Not only was clog dancing common, it was danced on street corners, there were professional clog dancers and competitions, and proficient clog dancers could improve their situation by dancing professionally in music halls. Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin began their careers as cloggers. 
  • Dancing clogs were termed 'neet' clogs, they did not have irons or rubbers on the soles and were lighter than the heavier working clogs. The uppers were usually highly tooled (decorated) and often coloured. 

  • See a video of traditional clog dancing at: 

Note the similarities to traditional Irish dancing. 

  • Dutch clog dancing has both similarities and differences to Lancashire clog dancing, see: 

  • One final note on Lancashire clogs. Men who wished to settle differences frequently did so by squaring off against each other by “clog fighting”. In Lancashire it was curiously known as “purring”, with a contemporary account as follows: 
It is all up and down fighting here. They fought quite naked, excepting their clogs. When one has the other down on the ground he first endeavors to choke him by squeezing his throat, then he kicks him on the head with his clogs. Sometimes they are very severely injured. 
       —Chris Brady

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