Historical places in Thurrock

Wayfinder Shoes made at Bata, East Tilbury

An unusual achievement for the Bata Shoe Company was their collaboration with the Scout movement in the production of "Wayfinder" Shoes. The first pair of Wayfinders was made in August 1965, and Bata informed prospective customers that:

'Wayfinders are so different because they are shoes which appeal to the boys first and foremost, apart from having what every parent desires - good quality workmanship, and materials, reasonable prices, correct fitting for growing feet and a guarantee period of six months' fair wear.'

As well as carrying the footprints of ten British animals in their moulded rubber soles, each pair of shoes had a 'secret' compass inserted in a special heel compartment in the right foot. Wayfinders were also available in larger sizes for Rovers, Scoutmasters and senior officers. There was a foot measurement chart on the bottom of each shoe box, and each pair of shoes was sold with a circular disc showing 11 of the new road signs on either side, gaining the approval of the Ministry of Transport. Promotion of the shoes was directed towards boys' magazines, national newspapers and prime-time slots on commercial television.

A visit by the Chief Scout, Sir Charles Maclean (1916-1990), 24th March 1966, to the East Tilbury-based British Bata shoe company in 1966 was recorded in a special two sided poster of the event and in the weekly Bata Record. Maclean was born in London and had a military background, reaching the rank of major before being retired in 1947. He became Chief Scout in 1959, and visited around 50 countries to promote scouting. As the 27th Chief of the Clan Maclean, he lived in Duart Castle, an ancient stronghold of the family, on the Isle of Mull. In 1971 he was awarded a Life Peerage, and the same year was appointed Lord Chamberlain of the Queen's household, making many of the arrangements for the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

At the time of Maclean's visit to Tilbury, young sons of Bata employees, who were Cubs or Scouts locally, were given permission by the head teachers of various local schools to have time off from school to meet the Chief Scout. All the boys were wearing Wayfinders, and Sir Charles said he wished the shoe 'success because it is such a worthwhile shoe.' Despite travelling widely to promote the scout movement (he was also Chief Scout of the Commonwealth), this was his first visit to a shoe factory. Mr John Tusa, managing director of the Bata company, accompanied him throughout his visit, and explained each sequence of operations. The Chief Scout took an interest in every aspect of production (design, manufacture, distribution and promotion), went into most departments and stayed longer than planned. He talked to 'clickers', sewing girls, lasters, pressmen, engravers and mechanics, and during the lunch hour visited the canteen to meet more employees and sample the food being served.

Bibliography

  • Bata Record, March 1966
  • Source of Chief Scout biog.