Dr Martens – A History of Self-Expression – Part 4

But there was a problem. The London company Griggs initially contracted to manufacture the soles made from the Funck-engineered moulds went bankrupt, and Griggs feared that the moulds would be sold off by the bankrupt factory’s receivers. Springing into action, Griggs used his formidable persuasion skills to rescue the Funck moulds and actually bought the machines that would have been used to manufacture them directly from the bankrupt factory.

Now a new problem presented itself. When the newly-purchased machines were delivered to Wollaston from London, it was found that they would not fit under Griggs’s factory roof. Not put off, Griggs worked around the problem in an unusual but quite ingenious manner: rather than wasting time applying for planning permission to raise the roof of his factory, he simply dug downwards instead and squeezed the new machines into a huge hole in the factory floor.

Griggs’s boots were somewhat different than the Maertens and Funcks German shoes that the sole had initially been fitted to. The elongated German-style heel was altered to a more rounded shape, and a strong leather upper was provided with a distinctive yellow welt stitch. Griggs also designed a two-toned and grooved sole edge and a unique sole pattern, finishing the boots off with a black and yellow heel loop featuring the slogan “With Bouncing Soles”. Griggs named this brand “AirWair”, which is still in use today. The concept here was at once simple and revolutionary: to make working men’s footwear comfortable.

Dr Martens Originals 1460 8 Eye BootAccording to Dr Martens legend, the original boot was initially intended to have an oily finish, suitable for the fish markets of East-End London. However, a rogue batch slipped through quality-checking uncoated and proved to be equally-durable and more visually-appealing, and so production was amended so that future batches would also be uncoated.

At this time also the name was anglicised. Griggs was concerned that the British (a nation not famed for being adept at foreign-language pronunciation) would have trouble with “Maertins” (which in German is pronounced “Mare-tines”). It’s rumoured that he also felt that “Funck” sounded too much like a certain swear-word for the UK market, and so he dropped that name entirely.

And so it was that on April 1st 1960 the first Dr Martens boot rolled off the production line in Cobb’s Lane, Wollaston, Northamptonshire. Taking its name from this date, the eight-eye 1460 had arrived (1st day of the 4th month of ’60).

Initially, sales of the 1460 were almost exclusively to postmen, factory workers, policemen, medics, Tube staff, and other blue-collar workers. At a price of £2 at launch, the boots were soon complemented by the three-eye plain Derby 1461.

The 1461 proved popular with the Post Office, who have continually utilised Dr Martens shoes. Whereas the 1460 boot was especially popular with policemen (though the yellow stitching contravened police colour regulations, prompting policemen to colour the yellow stitching black using a toothbrush and a tin of black shoe polish). The oil- petrol- and acid-resistant soles were especially useful to the police in attending traffic accidents, while some officers reported that the soft soles aided them in sneaking up on criminals!

In Northamptonshire, with Griggs sales climbing modestly but significantly, the family’s pride in their enterprise grew and grew. In 1965 Funck’s son, Matthias, went to work as an intern at the Dr Martens HQ in Wollaston. Members of both the English and German families believed that the partnership was so strong because of the family nature of the business and the work ethic that the families shared.

End of Part 4 – CLICK FOR PART 5