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This article is about the occupation. For the science-fiction writers, see Cordwainer Smith and Cordwainer Bird.
A cordwainer making shoes, Capri, Italy
A statue of a cordwainer in the Cordwainer ward of the City of London.

Cordwainer is the English term for a shoemaker who makes shoes from new leather. The word is derived from "cordwain", or "cordovan", the leather historically produced in Moorish Córdoba, Spain in the middle ages. Medieval cordovan leather was used for the highest quality shoes, but English cordwainers also used domestically produced leathers and were not solely producers of luxury footwear.

The term cordwainer (Fr. "Corviser") was used as early as 1100 in England.[1] The London Worshipful Company of Cordwainers received first ordinance in 1272.[2]

The terms cordwainer and cobbler are not interchangeable. A cordwainer is someone who makes new shoes using new leather, and a cobbler is someone who repairs shoes. In the historic London guild system the cobblers and cordwainers were separate guilds,[2] and the cobblers were forbidden from working in new leather. Historically cobblers also made shoes but only using old leather recovered from discarded or repaired shoes.[3] Modernly, many bespoke shoemakers will also repair their own work but shoe repairers are not normally in a position to manufacture new footwear.

In London, the occupation of cordwainer was historically controlled by the guild of the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers. The ward of the City of London named Cordwainer is historically where most cordwainers lived and worked. [2]

Until 2000, a Cordwainers' Technical College existed in London. For over a hundred years, the College had been recognised as one of the world's leading establishments for training shoemakers and leather workers. It produced some of the leading fashion designers, including Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox. In 2000, Cordwainers' College was absorbed into the London College of Fashion, the shoe-design and accessories departments of which are now called "Cordwainer's at London College of Fashion".

Cordwainers in America[edit]

Cordwainers were among those who sailed to Virginia in 1607 to settle in Jamestown. By 1616, the secretary of Virginia reported that the leather and shoe trades were flourishing. Christopher Nelme, of England, was the earliest shoemaker in America whose name has been recorded; he sailed to Virginia from Bristol, England, in 1619.[1]

In 1620, the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. Nine years later, in 1629, the first shoemakers arrived, bringing their skills with them.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c “What is a Cordwainer?”, The Honourable Cordwainers’ Company, accessed 30 Jan 2013
  2. ^ a b c "What is a Cordwainer?", The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, accessed 25 July 2015
  3. ^ Goubitz, Olaf; van Driel-Murray, Carol; Groenman-Van Waateringe, Willy. 2001 "Stepping through time : archaeological footwear from prehistoric times until 1800": Zwolle [Netherlands] : Stichting Promotie Archeologie