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In 1918 William Shepherd, (aged 13 years old), started working for the Shoe Makers ‘Walker & Shepherd’ of Drake Street in Rochdale. His father was a director of the company and it was there that he learned the craft of Shoemaking during the ‘Great Depression’ of the 20’s & 30’s.

The north-west of England was one of the hardest-hit regions in the country, where unemployment reached 70%. At that time there was no unemployment benefit, many were impoverished and living below the poverty line. Child malnutrition, scurvy, rickets and tuberculosis were commonplace. It was against this background in 1934 that ‘Walker and Shepherd‘ were forced to go into liquidation. - Later that same year William Shepherd started his own company.

Drake Street - Rochdale

Children in the north west circa 1934

In those difficult early years he was considerably aided by the willing and tireless efforts of a handful of people who, having lost their jobs with ‘Walker and Shepherd‘ immediately started work with him. William combined his strong socialist beliefs with his business acumen and ambition - sharing any success with his employees. He was very much respected by them as an employer and a person.

The new company survived, and was incorporated in 1937 as Fairfield Footwear. It continued to grow steadily. By 1954 it employed 120 people and was producing 4000 pairs of shoes each week.

In the early 60s William Shepherd‘s two sons John and Norman joined the business and then began a period of expansion. In 1962, William Shepherd and his sons opened another factory at Middleham in Wensleydale. 2 years later, the business expanded again and they opened a factory in some of the old buildings on a disused army camp, just outside of Richmond.