Press Release: New exhibition highlights Cockermouth’s shoemaking heritage

PRESS RELEASE 26th October 2023

An exhibition telling the story of how boots, shoes and clogs were made in Cockermouth for several hundred years opens at the town’s Kirkgate Centre next week.

Dead animals, dog and pigeon poo, and even the bark from oak trees were all once used in the shoemaking process!

The exhibition reveals the history of making shoes in Cockermouth, from the tanneries of the 18th and 19th century to the shoe factory Millers, which set up in town during World War Two and traded there for 50 years.

The exhibition runs from Tuesday, November 7, to Saturday, November 18 (11am to 4pm), with a tea party for former Millers employees and their families on Saturday, November 11 2pm – 4pm.

It forms part of a wider 18-month Kirkgate Arts and Heritage project that celebrates West Cumbria’s diverse heritage by capturing personal experiences of people throughout the area during a series of oral history workshops.

Kirkgate youth Theatre members performing at Cockermouth Live as part of the In My Shoes project. Photo credit: Chris Lewis

Called In My Shoes, a series of events featuring storytelling and performances will be held in community centres across the region. The hope is that these will inspire people to come forward and share their stories.

The sessions are on Saturday, November 4 at The Beacon, Whitehaven (1pm to 4pm), and Sunday, November 12 at The Settlement, Maryport (1pm – 4pm) participants will be able to:

• Hear local storytellers and spoken word artists;

• Share their own experiences and traditions;

• Be part of the In My Shoes oral history project and record their own stories with project volunteers, who are being trained up to collect oral histories.

There will be storytelling by writer Sophia Atcha at Whitehaven, and by poet, writer and performer Emma McGordon at Maryport.

Sessions will continue throughout West Cumbria during the autumn, winter and spring months. The Heritage Lottery Fund has committed £98,000 to the project, a

further £5,000 has come from The Francis C Scott Charitable Trust, £2000 from Cumberland Council and £250 from the Arts Society.

Kirkgate General Manager Emma Heys said: “It’s about giving people the opportunity to understand what their cultural heritage is.

“While we want to hear from people who were born and brought up here, who might not realise how unique certain aspects of their life are, we also want to hear stories from recent refugees, immigrants and people who have relocated.

“People are invited to come along to one of the events, celebrate what makes our communities unique and share their family traditions and stories with others.”

Helen Johnston, Community Projects Officer, added: “There’s a saying about standing in other people’s shoes to help us all empathise with each other, bringing everyone in.

Millers employees sitting by the factory mill race in the 1960s

“We can learn so much from cultural heritage and personal histories to keep community bonds strong. That’s what’s inspired this innovative project.

“People wanting to get involved can join us in Whitehaven and Maryport, or come along to one of the other events we’re holding in the area from now until March 2024.”

Details are available on the Kirkgate website — — or from Helen ( or phone 01900 829966).





Kirkgate is a charity based in Cockermouth, Cumbria. It operates an arts and heritage centre as well as working with towns and villages in West Cumbria to encourage a diverse programme of arts, culture and entertainment. Its vision is to ensure that creative talent is valued, developed and supported with opportunities for all to engage actively with, and enjoy, the arts, local heritage and community life.


The Kirkgate Centre brings the best cultural, theatrical and entertainment events to Cumbria. From the best feature and documentary films to live streaming of top London shows, to local talent, heritage exhibitions, music, theatre, comedy and more, there is something for everyone.

In the historic Kirkgate Quarter of the Gem Town of Cockermouth, sitting on the edge of the Lake District National Park, the Kirkgate Centre is the perfect venue for special occasions, conferences, meetings, courses, exhibitions or private film screenings.

Kirkgate manages Arts Out West which stages performances in community venues from Furness to the Solway, ranging from nationally-recognised theatre companies to international musicians with events that are as much a social occasion as a performance. It is a member of the National Rural Touring Forum supported by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation.

Follow @kirkgatearts on Facebook and Instagram


For more information:

Emma Heys m. 07919 178284 l: 01900 829966

The Kirkgate Centre, Kirkgate, Cockermouth, CA13 9PJ