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GL Michel & Sons a Jewish Leather Company

M. Roberts

GL Michel & Sons was founded by George Leopold Michel in c.1858. After moving from London, he set up business in No. 37, Newlands, Northampton, living 'over the shop' in an 18th C. stone house, with a large garden. Business was run, from a 3 storey warehouse out the back. The company prospered and he took no. 39, which became the new family home, (until 1926), and expanded in the early 1900s into the gardens at the rear of no. 39, particularly for the machinery business and storage of wood lasts.

Michel was a leather merchant, supplying upper and lining leathers to the boot and shoe trade, taken from their extensive stocks in the warehouse. The company also specialised in box and willow calf and glace kid leather. The business was always conducted as a small family business and never had more than eight employees.

He also took over a separate small boot manufacturer, independently of his main business, in 1886 and manufactured the 'Newland Boot' and some shoes. However, this business was not ultimately successful and was wound up.

GL Michel's sons', Montague, Henry and Leon, joined the business in the1890s and began to supply new and rebuilt machinery and the company also supplied other equipment such as shoe lasts, clicking-boards and shoe-racks. The outbreak of World War I, increased the demand not only for boots, but for the machines to make them. The latter could be very expensive and were often supplied via a form of hire purchase and the company's business was so extensive they are said to have run on an over-draught of £100,000 in 1918 to cover the loans!

The company started to supply specialist leather, to a few surgical foot-ware and orthopaedic appliance manufacturers in the1920s. This was in the wake of World War I, when there was a great demand for artificial limbs and orthopaedic appliances. After 1950, this part of the business became central to the company due to a combination of factors, and the company became a major supplier to firms contracted to supply the NHS and were able to supply leather for this purpose across the country. They also supplied leather to bespoke shoe makers in the West End of London and other cities.

David Michel, after leaving school, having first taken courses in leather and foot-ware manufacture, joined the business in the late1930s (but was interrupted by six years service until 1946) and inherited his grandfather's business in 1951, when his father died. In 1970 the business premises in Newlands, were compulsorily purchased to allow the building of the Grey Friars Bus Station and the Grosvenor Centre and the company moved business to 1 Purser Road in Northampton. In 1983 it became a Limited company for the first time and then on David Michel's retirement in 1987 it was sold to the United Leather Group. Some years later it was acquired by the Whitmore-Bacon Group and one of its subsidiaries traded under the name until the end of 1998. This was the formal end of GL Michel & Sons, after some 140 years of business.

However, David's son, Ian Michel (FSLTC), is a qualified and experience leather technologist who continues to supply top quality leathers to customers all over the world, through his firm Amandian Ltd., based in Stanwick, Northamptonshire. Thus he is carrying on the family tradition into the fourth generation in England.

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