The factory premises today

Those Boots Were Made for Walking

Winstanley Boots was one of The Liberties’ best-known brands for over a century until the Back Lane factory, founded in the 1870s by Englishman James Winstanley, finally closed in the 1980s.


Life, Love The Liberties

James Winstanley was born in 1827 in Chorley, Lancashire and became a ‘cloggers’ or cobblers apprentice to Mr. Edward Parkinson of Chorley by 1841, and by 1851 had his own shop in Market Street, Chorley.  However, in 1852, he moved to Dublin, taking his mother Elizabeth and younger stepbrothers with him, where he first set up a shop at Cornmarket and then later a factory to make shoes in Back Lane. His shoe business grew and at its height the Back Lane factory was producing 4,000 pairs of shoes a week and employed 400 workers.

James became a prominent businessman in the city, investing in the rebuilding of the South City Market, becoming a director the Irish Exhibition Co Ltd and investing in the whiskey business.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, lived at 23 Park Avenue, Sandymount from 1867 to 1876 before moving to Drommartin House in Stillorgan.  James was High Sheriff for Dublin in 1888 and Lord Mayor-elect for 1890 but died before he could take up that role. He died on 11 July 1889 at Drommartin House aged 62 and was buried at Mount Jerome. His funeral was particularly impressive – 75 carriages and 100’s of employees arrived to see him off, while his manservant James Alderson who had been with him for years walked behind the hearse pulled by four horses.

In his will James bequeathed £1,000 to the parish of St Audeon’s to build a memorial hall beside the church on High Street.  The building was completed by his widow, Elizabeth, in 1896. She became a significant benefactor to the parish and also instituted the Winstanley Medal, an award and bursary to choristers in both Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral.  Elizabeth moved to England, and died in Southport in 1915, leaving £1,000 pounds to the Chorley Dispensary and Rawcliffe Hospital where her husband had a wing dedicated to him.  The Winstanley Hall on High Street was demolished in the early 1980s when Cornmarket and Bridge Street were substantially destroyed for road widened.

James Winstanley left the business in equal shares to his stepbrothers John and Ralph Smalley.  Less astute businessmen than James, the Smalley brothers were less innovative with the business, but nevertheless maintained a large enterprise at Back Lane. Winstanleys also operated a number of shops across the city including its main shop at South Great George’s Street, and shops at Cornmarket, Camden Street, Talbot Street, and at one stage Capel Street. The retail business was later sold to Clarks in the 1970s.

Winstanleys Shoes was run by TJ Smalley and his cousin O’Neill from 1947 to 1952. However, the capacity of the factory at this time was much reduced, producing 2,000 pairs of shoes per week, as competition from imports and poor economic circumstances affected the business.  It nevertheless remained a major employer in The Liberties, at a time of failing fortunes for the area.  The final owners of the business, brothers Denis and Brian O’Neill continued to operate until the 1980s when Winstanleys finally closed.

In the 1980s and 90s the old factory was best known as Mother Redcap Market. The market closed in the 1999, while the adjoining public house closed in 2005. The site was acquired for redevelopment along with the nearby Iveagh Market. While an initial permission to demolish the former factory and develop a hotel was permitted in 2008, the development never transpired. The buildings remain vacant and unused.

Listen to Denis O’Neill speaking about his time as managing director of Winstanley’s until its closure in the 1980’s. Sources for above and The Irish Life & Lore Podcast.

Winstanley Factory at Back Lane, founded in the 1850s
James Winstanley
Liberties rooftops and the Winstanley factory
The factory premises today

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