Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Occupational Footwear: Rovies and Clogs

‘Rovies’ were worn by the workers in the Dundee jute mills up until the 20th century. They were hand knitted, ankle high boots made from fine jute. Popular with spinners they were worn with thick woollen stockings. Not only did this keep the worker’s feet warm, it could get pretty cold in a jute mill, especially I winter, but also kept the micro-fibres from the loom which filled the air from getting onto the feet and especially in-between the toes, of the spinners where they would cause intolerable irritations. Rovies represent a good example of early occupational footwear but wearing them was not a condition of employment.

Today we take for granted occupational footwear but before health and safety legislation existed millions of workers were exposed to injury and death at their place of work.

In the old satanic mills of Victorian times, most workers were barefoot or wore wooden clogs. There are various styles of clog but a common one worn by the proletariat in France just after the Revolution was Sabots. These were quickly rejected as the Empire style emerged, leaving only the very poor to carry on wearing them. However, the poor workers voted with their feet, well shoes anyway, and when industrialization came to Europe. Disgruntled workers faced with the invasion of technology on many tradition crafts, decided to destroy it by throwing their clogs (or sabots) into the machinery, and literally sabotaged it. Or so the popular story goes, in truth it was probably broken railway sleepers (also called sabots) which were used. The vast majority of mill owners employ barefoot workers and took no responsibility for the consequences.

It took two World Wars and the invention of the motor cycle before engineers’ boots became the archtype occupational footwear. Only recent legislation however, has meant protective footgear has become essential in Western countries.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Reviewed 16/05/2018

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