Norman Walsh, Legendary Maker of Race Walking Shoes – RIP

Norman Walsh at the age of 16

Norman Walsh at the age of 16

Tributes to the late Norman Walsh, who died last week at the age of 82, have stressed his remarkable career as an innovative maker of sports shoes.

The Walsh web site notes:

Starting his career at JW Foster in 1945 at age 14, Norman Walsh’s prodigious talent was quickly recognised.  Still at only 16 years old he was selected to make running shoes for the 1948 British Olympic team.  Establishing Norman Walsh Footwear in 1961, Norman went on to develop an incredible diversity of sports footwear for rugby, football, track and field, wrestling, boxing and fell-running. 

We would like to add race walking to that list. From the late 60’s Norman turned his skills to designing and making a bespoke race walking shoe, which was taken up by many, especially in the North. If my memory serves me well I think Ron Wallwork made the first contact with Norman and was instrumental in the birth of the Walsh shoe. At the time Norman worked out of a rambling terraced house on St Helen’s Road, Bolton. To enter its portal was to be drawn into a scene of creative chaos, highlighted by a technicolor of possible uppers strewn on the floorboards, permeated by the intoxicating aroma of leather, suede, rubber and glue. Amidst which Norman worked his magic, happy to meet your requirements in terms of size [drawing around your foot] and colour. I’m pretty sure Norman shod most of the Lancashire WC team that won the 1970 McSweeney Trophy for the best all-round team in the country, whilst a couple of us carried his name into international competition. I’m almost certain too that Ron Wallwork set his 1971 UK 2 hours record in his favourite pair of Walsh’s. And, whilst far from being in the same league I managed to win the British Masters 65-69 5,000 metres the other week in Horwich, wearing a pair of Walsh shoes, made on Norman’s original last, now sold as a ‘designer’ shoe! Norman might well have chuckled at the thought. Finally it’s illuminating to note that you could have the shoes mended over and over again. Recycling, long before the word was coined – a far cry from most modern trainers!

There is a fuller account of Norman’s achievements in this Bolton Evening News obituary.

Tributes to shoe-maker who made footwear for the nation’s sports stars

Any other tales from Walsh wearing race walkers would be much appreciated.

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