January 6th, 2001

   Wooden Shoes
(As told by Georges PICAVET < picavet@ping.be>)

Where we live, they are called either "kloefen", "klompen", or most of the time "blokken".

In the olden days, people only wore blokken, save on Sundays. When my mother was very angry with me, and "I got from her blokken", it really hurt! Blokken were relatively cheap, and very warm. When it was cold, some people would take a larger size and put straw in them. We never heard of frostbite. I don't quite understand how farmers could work the land without breaking their feet, but they apparently were very confortable in them.

Mens blokken would cover the entire foot, with a rounded point. Ladies' blokken were half height, with a leather strap, and a sharper upward point. I always wondered if this was a device of self defence ;-)

In the area where I lived, and especially in Vrasene and Nieuwkerken, the manufacturing of wooden shoes was a big industry. Around the turn of the century, waggon loads were shipped from the railway station from Nieuwkerken, mainly to Germany and to ... Holland. I guess that after a while our Dutch neighbors stole the formula and started their own production. ;-)

There is a pub in Nieuwkerken where you will find all the gear needed for producing wooden shoes. In Verrebroek a typical wooden shoe maker's barn can still be found. These barns served to let the "blokken" dry. De Klinge erected a statue dedicated to the wooden shoe maker. I am sure that there are plenty of interesting places in Belgium related to the kloefmaker.

Yes, it was all done by hand, from felling the tree to painting the fancy ones, which was generally done by a lady.

There are some figures about the employment found in the wooden shoe industry. Usually there was the independent "blokmaker" who would employ one or more "gasten", this is "workers" (litterally: guests) or "knechten", litterally "servant".

If you find in Belgian records that your ancestor was a "blokmaker, blokkenmaker, kloefmaker, klompmaker, klompenmaker", you should also watch for the word "gast" , or "knecht". In that case you are sure he was employed. If one of these words are missing, he may have been the "boss", or an employed worker.

Finally, we have a nickname (rather a name of abuse) for somebody who we think did a stupid thing: "kloefkapper", meaning "wooden shoe cutter".

Sorry if I can only talk for my own little environment. The forum is yours if you have interesting stories to tell about the history, or economical importance of the wooden shoe.