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One hundred years of SATRA: the 1960s

This ongoing series highlighting SATRA’s history now investigates the organisation’s work during the sixties.

by Stuart Morgan

SATRA entered the new decade engaged in a wide variety of footwear-related projects. The range of materials and component specifications produced by SATRA was developing rapidly, and these were being linked with the growing suite of SATRA test methods. A number of reports on key issues were produced and supplied to members during the sixties. These included ‘A comparison of the direct cost of moulded-on and welted shoes’, ‘Perspiration and the deterioration of leather footwear’, ‘production problems in the shoe industry’, ‘The shrinkage of full-chrome upper leather due to salty mine water’ and ‘The halogenation of vulcanised rubbers to improve adhesion’.

During the 1960s, research into the use of plastics was deemed a priority. This included investigating nylon for football boots, styrene for heels and thermoplastics for insole backparts. A new foot measuring service introduced in early 1960 – the SATRA ‘rainbow fitting board’ for children – proved to be of considerable interest to the footwear industry. The board, which was designed to give indications of size and fit, involved a slider being moved to contact the longest toe, allowing shoe size to be read directly from a scale. The fitting indication was obtained by locating the outer joint of the foot, which would fall within one of five coloured zones (hence the name of the product).

The Rainbow fitting board was launched in 1960

In February 1960, Billy Butlin (of Butlin’s Holiday Camp fame) promoted a walking race between John O’Groats and Land’s End. Of the 700 or so starters, only 138 finished the course, 97 of whom provided SATRA with detailed information on the types of footwear they wore (in many cases, several different styles during the event) and any foot troubles they experienced during the race. These details enabled SATRA’s Dr John Manning to compile a technical memorandum to determine the ‘ideal’ shoe for long-distance walking, based on this particular set of observations.

Easing the workflow

One of SATRA’s major projects during 1960 was the development of the ‘Eatough-SATRA Transporter’ – a 36-station conveyor-belt system designed to deliver work to relevant stations, that had been originally made by Eatoughs Limited for their own use. Once SATRA had improved the format, agreements were made with five engineering companies, each of which was a SATRA member, to cover the initial production of the equipment. Although by September 1960, the Eatough-SATRA Transporter had been running in Eatoughs’ factory for only a few weeks, the improvement in production was encouraging with, for example, a reduction in the overall total of half-finished work in progress. From that time on, SATRA continued refining the design and the system proved popular with shoemakers in the UK. By the end of 1962, no fewer than 106 Eatough-SATRA Transporter systems were purchased for use in footwear factories. Fifty-eight of these were multiple installations, utilising two or more units, in 25 closing rooms.

A major project during the early 1960s resulted in the Eatough-SATRA Transporter for footwear factories

SATRA Bulletin of July 1961 carried a major feature on a new product – plastic-coated patent leather. This article explored the production of what would in time become a staple of shoemakers around the world, and it also considered the best use of this new material and adhesion properties for sole attachment. So much interest was shown by SATRA members in plastic-coated patent leather that a number of special events were organised in November of that year at SATRA House in Kettering to display specimens and discuss technical aspects of its use. Members unable to conveniently attend one of these seminars could be loaned a set of swatches to examine.

SATRA had over 900 members in 1961, and most of these had made use of the organisation’s services, which now included a SATRA training scheme. An increasing number of SATRA employees made visits to shoe factories to help with problems and gain factory experience. During the following year, membership reached 1,000 for the first time in SATRA’s history.

There were significant developments in overseas membership during the early sixties, which included a collaboration with VERIS – a group of progressive shoe manufacturers based in the Netherlands. SATRA’s laboratories were busy – especially on adhesion work – and considerable effort was put into researching effective post-finishing of shoes and leather. Injection moulding-on of thermoplastics was emerging within the footwear industry, and SATRA’s expertise was growing with it.

In May 1963, SATRA director Harry Bradley, accompanied by deputy director Donald Grimwade, visited the Cincinnati Footwear Conference at the request of the US National Shoe Manufacturers’ Association and gave presentations on ‘the streamlining of shoe production’ and ‘heat setting’. During a fact-finding second week, the deputy director visited seven footwear factories to see and hear something about shoemaking in the USA. His subsequent in-depth report – included in the June and July 1963 issues of SATRA Bulletin – stated, in part: ‘high and growing productivity is everywhere accepted as essential in America. Wages are so high, the pursuit of material prosperity is so strong a characteristic and the large scale of their manufacturing operations provides such opportunities for developing better methods, that it is not surprising to find a high tempo of work coupled with very efficient utilisation of labour on both major and minor operations.’

Having further extolled the virtues of the US footwear industry, however, he added: ‘Despite what has just been written, the British shoe industry is at present ahead of the American in some modern techniques of shoe manufacture, particularly those about which the SATRA representatives were asked to lecture at Cincinnati. Last turn-around has not been so dramatically speeded up as in so many British factories, there still seems to be much less pre-finishing done, many closing rooms are still equipped with line benches and the rubber moulding-on process is little used.’

A change of leadership

SATRA director Harry Bradley retired in 1963. He had been appointed as the first full-time head of the British Boot, Shoe and Allied Trades Research Association (the forerunner of SATRA) on 1st October 1922, with his directorship originally intended to be ‘for a period of not less than two years’. Amazingly, this role lasted for no less than 41 years and, by the time he left the association, SATRA’s reputation was well known around the shoemaking world.

Donald Grimwade served as SATRA director between 1964 and 1967

In 1964, Donald Grimwade – who had served as the association’s first deputy director since 1946 – became the new man at the helm. Described as a man of ‘outstanding scientific ability’, he was immensely devoted to SATRA and the assistance it gave to the footwear industry. According to members of staff who worked with the new man at the helm (known to members of staff simply as ‘DG’), the new director could dictate lengthy technical reports without the use of any notes. As early as 1960, Donald foresaw the development of SATRA’s management services and the role that computerisation would play in them.

After the 1964 annual general meeting, a new laboratory was officially opened by former director Harry Bradley. According to SATRA Bulletin published in May of that year, this new building provided much-needed space which by then was fully equipped and occupied. These facilities, which saw investment in new equipment, such as an infrared spectrometer for chemical analysis, became known as the ‘Bradley Laboratories’.

Harry Bradley (right) discussing construction of the new Bradley Laboratories with Donald Grimwade

Welcoming Royal visitors

Friday July 9th 1965 was a very notable day, when SATRA welcomed Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh as they toured the various departments in SATRA House. The Queen is reported to have shown great interest in SATRA’s work, particularly as it related to children’s shoes. Almost everyone at SATRA was involved during this special visit – even the most junior members of staff, who often had the privilege of explaining how the test machines worked.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh toured SATRA’s laboratories in 1965

Sharing in technological advancements

Also in 1965, SATRA was asked by the UK’s Atomic Energy Authority to supervise the production of special boots to resist accidental splashing by high-temperature liquid sodium during rescue and firefighting operations. Forming part of a complete kit of protective clothing, the boots were made from natural side leather with a goat lining and chrome split interlining, together with an extra chrome split interlining in the vamp. They were designed to reach to the top of the wearer’s thighs, and the over-knee portion of the legs, which were in full chrome goat, were held up by elastic around the tops. The soles and heels were combination-tanned with a high chrome content, and even the box toes (toe puffs) were chrome leather.

Later that same year, and after many months of negotiation, SATRA received a formal offer of a grant from the British Government’s Ministry of Technology towards a project for investigating the use of computers in the management and control of shoe manufacture. Under the terms of the grant, the government paid 50 per cent of the cost of purchasing a computer, and half of the running costs, including the salaries of a dedicated team, for three years. SATRA’s first computer system – a room-sized piece of equipment called an ‘Elliott 4120’ – was installed early in 1966. The technology of this computer was said to feature ‘16,384 words of core store, paper tape input and output, and three magnetic tape units’.

The declared aims for this computer project were to assess: i) stock control of finished goods, ii) stock control of materials and components, iii) production planning, iv) production scheduling, v) ‘management by exception’ – the computer retaining in its memory a record of all transactions but being programmed to print details of only those items which may have indicated a need for some special executive action, vi) payroll and production control, using the same data for both purposes (possibly in the form of punched tags or mark-sensed cards), and vii) sales forecasting.

Recognising the developing use of new technology in manufacturing, SATRA organised a special one-day conference in March 1966 entitled ‘Computers in the footwear industry’. This event was originally to be held at SATRA House, however the response from the invited audience was so great that the venue was changed to nearby Wicksteed Park, where a larger group could be accommodated. A number of speakers representing footwear manufacturers highlighted specific hopes for computerisation, and Dr John Manning discussed how the association’s aim was to ‘break new ground’. He explained that SATRA’s computer work was to be directly mainly towards the development of new techniques, especially in the field of planning. To this end, he announced, SATRA had arranged to collaborate closely with several shoe producers who would act as ‘guinea pigs’ in developing suitable applications for computers.

The major technical breakthrough of 1967 was the development of halogenation of rubber surfaces to overcome poor adhesion.

In memory of Donald Grimwade

SATRA director Donald Grimwade collapsed at work on 29th November 1967 and died two days later. After this tragedy, a Grimwade Memorial Fund was established to finance special activities to encourage, support and nurture members of staff in their personal development. Down to this day, the objective of the Grimwade Development Award is to encourage, support and nurture personal development for members of staff at SATRA. The scheme’s declared objective is to help SATRA people to grow in skills, in confidence, in self-esteem and in self-belief.

The application of expertise

In March 1968, there was considerable press and television publicity for a trip by SATRA’s Brian Keech to the Persian Gulf and Singapore to supervise the start of a service trial of two types of flying boots. SATRA had designed these under a Ministry of Technology (Aviation) contract with the cooperation of the technical branches of that ministry, as well as the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the Institute of Aviation Medicine. Brian had been chosen for this job not only because he was involved in the design of this footwear, but also because he had experience of the questionnaire technique developed at SATRA for the assessment of wearers’ comfort sensations – including taking temperature measurements of the inside of boots during wear in various tropical conditions. Brian attended a special course arranged by SATRA’s shoes and lasts department to enable him to ensure a reasonable fit for the chosen subjects.


In 1968, SATRA’s laboratories were reorganised into ‘technical services’, led by Ted Hall, ‘research’, under John Bunten, and ‘computer and management’, headed by Dr John Manning. As outlined in SATRA Bulletin of May 1968, the aim and object of these changes was to ‘streamline SATRA’s services to its members and, at the same time, increase the effectiveness of the research and development work carried out on their behalf’.

A ‘pilot experiment’ had been conducted during 1967 in the adhesives and upper materials departments to assess the speed of answering members’ questions. The results from this consultation period revealed that the time required to answer members’ technical queries was halved under the new structure.

A new computing centre at SATRA House was developed and formally opened by Mr J Wilcox, president of the British Footwear Manufacturers’ Association on 13th March 1969. According to the March 1969 issue of SATRA Bulletin, this enabled SATRA to become one of the first industrial groups in the UK to have computer systems and comprehensive science services tailor-made to its own needs. The response to this new service was described as ‘tremendous’. Following appraisals of management problems at member companies, 76 proposals for specific services or computer system applications were made to some 30 individual companies. Of these proposals, 32 had been accepted by the time the magazine was published, and 40 were under active consideration by the companies concerned.

The Queen’s Award

In 1969, SATRA celebrated its Golden Jubilee, which was enhanced by the receipt of the highly coveted Queen’s Award to Industry (now known as the ‘Queen’s Award for Enterprise’). As highlighted in the April 1969 issue of SATRA Bulletin, these accolades were presented to companies or institutions in the United Kingdom in recognition of either technological innovation or achievement in the promotion of exports – or both. Thirty awards for technological innovation were made for 1969, and SATRA was pleased to be included within that select group.

SATRA received the Queen’s Award for Industry in 1969 – from left: John Bunten, Ron Coulson, Graham Butlin, David Dunkley and Malcolm Peet

SATRA’s award was conferred for one of the most significant technological contributions to shoemaking – the development of the moist heat setting process. Starting from research work in the early 1960s, SATRA developed a moist heat cycle which set the shape into footwear in minutes rather than hours or days.

A new service

A new provision – the ‘SATRA returns inspection and analysis service’ – was introduced in November 1968 to assist manufacturers to minimise their returns. At first, a team of three carried out such analyses on the members’ premises, after which reports on their findings were produced. In mid-1969, an inspection of the returns within SATRA’s laboratories was trialled, the conclusion being that ‘without doubt’ this revised system was best. With the footwear actually at SATRA, it became apparent that the knowledge and experience of members of staff specialising in different fields of activity could be utilised, and it was readily convenient to carry out laboratory tests. By September 1969, over 1,000 pairs of returned footwear had been analysed in SATRA’s laboratories.

The Grimwade Block

Increasing demands for SATRA services required regular extensions to what had become the SATRA House complex in Kettering. In tribute to the memory of the late Donald Grimwade, a building erected in mid-1969 was officially called the ‘Grimwade Block’ following the unveiling of a plaque at the entrance to the new facility by Mrs Grimwade, who was accompanied by her daughter, son and his wife. The new block housed SATRA’s special projects division and production services department, in addition to the computing centre that had been formerly opened some weeks earlier. At this time, SATRA’s laboratory premises consisted of three ‘named’ blocks – the Gloucester Laboratories (opened by the Duke of Gloucester in 1949), the Bradley Laboratories, which had been opened by former director Harry Bradley, and the new Grimwade Block.

Chemical innovation

Following SATRA’s development of halogenation of rubber surfaces in 1967, a new halogenation treatment named ‘Satreat’ was launched in August 1969. This allowed rubber solings or units to be treated by the supplier in the ‘as-moulded’ state, thereafter requiring no scouring or splitting in the shoe factory.

By the end of the decade, more than 10,000 member enquiries were being handled each year, and the number of employees had risen to 163, of whom 156 worked full-time.

The photograph at the top of this page shows SATRA’s adhesives laboratory in 1968.

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SATRA is marking the milestone of its centenary with a number of special events, which will be featured in future print and online issues of SATRA Bulletin.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 40 of the May 2019 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

Other articles from this issue »