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Fitting tribute for only survivor of historic Wolverhampton firm

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 27, 2014

By John Butterworth

  • The old Baker's Boot Factory site and sign

  • James Baker looks at some of the old family portraits

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THE ONLY surviving member of one of Wolverhampton's oldest families was due to be 're-united' with his ancestors in an emotional ceremony at a Victorian factory yesterday (Wednesday).

Mr James Baker, aged 86, whose family built Baker's Boot Factory in Cleveland Street, All Saints, in the mid-19th century, is to have his portrait hung in a family gallery thought to have been destroyed decades ago.

And after hearing about Mr Baker's story Black Country archivists have pledged to supply the Grade II listed building with a collection of boots and shoes made during the factory's heyday when it was turning out almost half a million pairs a year. Mr Baker, who lives in Claverley, said: "I'm really pleased that the people now occupying the old factory have decided to honour my family in this way and keep their memory alive by re-instating their portraits in the boardroom.

"The fact that they have gone to the trouble of having a portrait of myself photographed and framed and placed alongside the images of my ancestors is very moving indeed."

The glorious old building finally closed in the 1970s after the boots and shoes business was taken over by a high street giant.

Almost 40 years later a local building company got permission to turn it into homes, workshops and offices.

In 2012 former RAF aircraft engineer Phil Prosser, who grew up in Oldbury, was looking for a home for his new venture, a college training people for jobs in the UK's burgeoning construction industry, Engineering Real Results. Phil said: "Part of the factory was up for grabs and was perfect for my plan … lots of space to carry practical training in plumbing, electrical installations and all aspects of the building industry. It smelled of history and I felt a bit of a connection to it too as I remember visiting it with my parents to buy my dad's work boots decades ago."

And it was while rummaging through the abandoned dusty workshops and offices that Phil and his manager Sara Learoyd, came across a series of old framed Victorian and Edwardian photographs of the original Baker family. They had been hidden away in an old cupboard for more than 40 years and that story was featured in the April 25, 2013, edition of The Black Country Bugle. "It was a fantastic find," Phil said. "There they were tucked away in cupboard. We were in the process of renovating the old boardroom and I decided it would be a nice gesture to the heritage of the place to have the family re-united on the walls of the room where all the business decisions that kept Baker's alive for more than 100 years took place."

A spokesperson for the city's archivists said: "We're looking forward to meeting Mr Baker, it will be fantastic to talk to him. We have examples of Baker's shoes in the archives and are very happy to have them on long-term loan."

Mr Baker was due to attend the unveiling of his portrait at Baker's Boot Factory at 12 noon yesterday.

Did you or any of your relatives work at Baker's Boot Factory? Email your family's memories to editor@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or log on to www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to us at The Bugle, 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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