Part One of Soles, Heels and Toes : Ron Wallwork remembers the shoes he wore

Ron begins:

Race Walking Footwear 

After seeing my first walking race at Manchester’s White City stadium in 1957 and dabbling with the event over the following year I drifted into the discipline. The Bolton Harriers’ Hon. Secretary Frank Morris, who had done some race walking before an industrial accident curtailed his athletic career, encouraged, and gave me advice like, use your hips and keep your arms low and have a heel on your shoes. My footwear at that time was a pair of flat-soled white canvas tennis shoes. The outcome of a visit and chat to my local cobbler, Mr.Bromley, which would be the first of many in the ensuing years, was the addition of a layer of crepe, to create a heel on the tennis shoes.  

Ron in his fortified plimsolls with Jack Sankey and Mike Jeffreys in pursuit, Leyland 1958

My first race walking shoes were made by J.W.Foster who had his workshop on Deane Road in Bolton and one of the country’s top athletic shoe makers. His black leather shoes with a broad stripe of snake-skin, along with a wafer thin strip of leather twixt sole and heel, which enabled the shoe to be doubled in half, were the hall-mark of his walking shoes. Another feature in all the leather walking shoes was a substantial heel counter to stabilise pronation. Bolton was also the home of ‘Walkers Tannery’ who produced the hard-wearing Dri-ped Oak leather, which was not much thinner than a centimetre, and was used for soles and heels.

Advert in Race Walking Record, September 1942

Harold Whitlock’s Shoes had a microcellular sole and heel, which reduced considerably the jarring experienced with the stouter more rigid leather footwear. The seamless leather uppers also made them easier to wear in.


The famous microcellular Whitlocks

The other leather shoes I wore were made by G.T.”Sandy”Law & Son Law of London, much favoured by southern walkers and worn by Stan Vickers when winning the European 20km championship in Stockholm in 1958, notable for the seam centred on the uppers to allow plenty of toe room. 

G,T. ‘Sandy’ Laws & Son shoe

The paper outline submitted to the shoemakers when ordering a pair, meant that the maker could select the appropriate last, but another thing all leather soled shoes had in common, was the need to ‘wear them in’.

I think it was the continentals who led the way forward with the trainer-type shoe. Adidas with a variety of models and Puma initially. They were simply running shoes, still had leather or suede uppers, but not the pronounced heel. Walking versions started to appear, the broad fitting Asics Tiger, Reebok, Walsh’s, Hunt and Gola. With the exception of the latter two I raced in them all at some time, but my favourite was the EB. Eventually, leather uppers became fabric, less specialised and in the end, I think most walkers used any trainer that was comfortable, to some extent durable and reasonably priced. 

A pair of mucky EBs

Joe Foster’s sons Joe and Jeff, split from their father in the early 1960’s and founded ReeBok in nearby Bury. Jeff took part in the New Year’s Eve Novelty event in 1967. Norman Walsh another northern shoe maker, (famous for making bespoke wrestling boots for celebrities like Jacky Palo and Big Daddy), also served his apprenticeship with Joe W.Foster, before going it alone and successfully too.

A pair of Reeboks almost kissing one another

I had personal dealings with both, being employed by Reebok for a short time in late 1967 and 1968, at a time when my employer of several years, reneged on a commitment he made to me following my Kingston success.  

From L/R Eric Hall, Rod Hutchinson and Ken Matthews shod in leather 1958

As for Norman, well every time I got selected, I would receive a message from him, and it was always the same – You’d better get up here and get measured for a new pair. Norman was oh so laid-back, and athletes, hockey and rugby players were always welcome to pop in and see him. I can still picture the seemingly disorganised workshop in the middle of a terrace on Derby Street, Daubhill; lasts everywhere, brand new rolls of leather with off-cuts strewn about and the combined smell of leather and adhesive.

!967 and the change to lightweight athletic shoes complete -L/R Mal Tolley, Ray Middleton, John Webb, Bill Sutherland, Charlie Fogg and Arthur Jones

Of course, elite athletes will always want the best, but I have raced domestically in ‘Hush Puppies’ and Olympian Bob Hughes wore them at least once in international competition.

More footwear memories to follow from Guy Goodair, Greg Smith and others.

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4 Responses to Part One of Soles, Heels and Toes : Ron Wallwork remembers the shoes he wore

  1. Great article. Ron. Also I remember Ron Laird telling me all about the choice of the colour of the sole. He reckoned that a white sole —as in the the popular Adidas walking shoe—was better for concrete surfaces as the colour of the concrete and sole were sufficiently similar to avoid a contrast. Contrasts in colour, he explained, helped judges see if there was loss of contact. So, with (dark) tarmac, use the corresponding white Adidas shoes (that were actually sold as marathon shoes) that had black soles.

  2. Tony Taylor says:

    Oliver – Forgive this belated response to this lovely anecdote. Did Ron change the colour of the soles when racing on the coloured all-weather tracks then proliferating? Was the Leicester track green? The Stretford track was red. Best as ever.

    • Oliver Caviglioli says:

      Ah I don’t think he mentioned tracks specifically. But on another important point regarding walking shoes is the question of heels. Wearing running shoes (even if the blue Adidas shoes may have been marketed as race walking shoes, they were exactly the same as the white leather version which were sold as marathon shoes), was seen in the UK as adopting the somewhat dodgy European style. Heels enabled a more marked heel-and-toe style.
      Certainly nowadays I rarely see a marked raised toe, other than at the very last moment. Feet are brought through both very flat and very high. We had intimations of this style in Bernard Nemerich’s short high-stepping progression (often terminated it has to be admitted by the judges, even in 50 Kim’s races). Given how much slower they were then, that’s quite an indication of his technique.

    • Tom Dooley says:

      Ron would frequently color the entire sides of the mid-sole in black as well as using inner tube to patch the white soles claiming it looked heavier and more solid when walking on roads.also adidas in the early seventies had a 3/4 inch heel on the walking shoe model 709 i.e. blue with white stripes.tom dooley

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