Made to intimidate: before Dr Marten’s ruled

So you still think the ‘spirit of 69’ was all about cropheads polishing their Dr Marten’s to a mirror shine? You reckon battered footwear is for punks and high commando boots for boneheads and fetishists only? Well, think again. The Northern Avenger will give you a quick rundown of various boots worn before DM’s became all the rage.

While Dr Marten’s are now seen as the iconic skinhead boot, this wasn’t always the case. They only became really popular when steel-toed boots were banned from football terraces during the 1969-70 winter season. In the early skinhead period, army surplus, work boots, hobnails, ‘commando’ boots and so on were all worn. Heavy, intimidating looking boots were particularly desirable.

Today, I will attempt to identify some of these with a very rough guide. This won’t be an easy task considering the obscurity of the subject. I will also have a section about some of today’s boots that I think fit the bill.

Work Boots
The humble work boot, worn by working class men and women such as coal miners, factory labourers, construction workers, and so on. They were usually cheaper than boots such as Dr Marten’s were, and skinheads wore them in a variety of colours such as oxblood, black, brown and cherry red. Any brand of work boot was acceptable. Usually, you chose whatever you could get from your local army or surplus store. I will try to identify a few.

TUF work boots by GB Britton

Modern example of ‘TUF’ boots. Alas, we couldn’t find a picture of a vintage pair of GB Britton TUF boots

Light and flexible working boots, sometimes dubbed ‘Bristol’s secret weapon’, original skinheads have mentioned these more then once. An article on North London skins in the July 1969 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, for instance, references them thus: “When it first started everyone was wearing TUF boots, Big T with the rubber sole”.

Bristol skinhead historian and author of Booted and Suited, Chris Brown, remembers them well: “The much vaunted Dr Marten’s only started appearing after the police declared steel toe-capped boots to be an offensive weapon. Up until that time, black ex-army or industrial boots were the norm in Bristol – especially the industrial variety because we had a large boot factory, GB Britton, in Kingswood. So many lads’ first boots were tan coloured TUF boots”.

GB Britton had an outlet not far from its Kingswood factory that sold seconds at very reasonable prices. Although the company had begun to produce TUF boots in 1955, by the early 60s demand was so high they had to be manufactured in several newly acquired factories across Britain, as well as under licence in Holland.

Workers at GB Britton factory in Bristol, 1960s

Shoe manufacturing used to be an important industry for Bristol. Before World War II, GB Britton alone employed 10,000 local workers. By the late 90s, only 130 were left, and in 2001 the company closed its gates for good.

Today, safety boots variously named ‘Tuf’ or ‘Tuff’ are produced by different companies, but do they resemble the original GB Britton stompers of the late 60s? Only original skins who wore them could tell.

NCB coal miners’ boots (pit boots)

NCB boots mentioned in Nick Knight’s book ”Skinhead”

Usually issued to coal miners by the employer. It would make sense for skinheads who lived or worked at a local pit to wear these. As an original skinhead from Royton near Manchester remembers, this was often the case round his way.

Supposedly original skinhead (and no doubt a bleachers pioneer) wearing boots with external toecaps – could these be NCB boots?
Vintage pit boots. They sometimes came with more eyelets, depending on manufacturer


Another boot mentioned in Nick Knight’s contested ‘Skinhead’ book of 1982, but also in a thread named ‘Suedeheads – look forward not back’ on the Trojan Records forum. These were hobnail boots, and apparently, kids liked to treat the toecaps with oxblood shoe polish for a high shine.

Boots with commando soles in ‘Shoot’ magazine

Military boots

London 1970: commando or paratrooper boots on the left, Dr Marten’s on the right

Alongside work boots, surplus military boots such as commando boots, paratrooper boots and hobnail boots were also popular – although hobnails can be work or mountaineering boots too. Either way, trying to figure what these are is even more guesswork than is the case with work boots.

Hobnail boots

Worn in London, Bristol and ‘up north’, they were quite common for some time. A favourite skinhead pastime in football stadiums was to slide along terrace concrete in hobnail boots to create sparks. Needless to say, they’re also good for ice-skating and tap dancing.

Australian army hobnails

These were not too dissimilar to the boots a northern skinhead says he purchased in 1969, although confusingly, they were also called Para boots – at least by the store owner.

Black hobnails


Black hobnail boots have sometimes been cited as being worn in the past and, and I am going to assume they are talking about Ammo boots, This would seem to make the most sense because at the time, the British army was wearing rubber soled DMS boots rather than Ammo boots. Hence, the notion that this type was sold in surplus shops is not too far fetched, although only a guess.

Commando and paratrooper boots

Skinhead in the 1969 BBC Man Alive documentary wearing paratrooper or commando boots

Not much is known about these, but judging by their height and colour, it’s a good guess that they are US jump boots. Similar boots existed in black, which throws a spanner in the works, but in all likelihood they’re surplus items. What we do know is that the ‘uniform’ of North London’s Kilburn mob in 1968-69 consisted of donkey jackets, jungle greens, heavy cardigans and cherry red commando boots. In the aforementioned Rolling Stone article, the Somers Town kids also recall unspecified “cherry reds with a toe cap” replacing TUF boots.

Scottswood Aggro Boy wearing what appear to be Para boots in 1971

Officer boots


Reportedly worn with army greens, I hazard a guess these are British officer boots.

My picks for contemporary boots

If you want to wear something different from Dr Marten’s or Solovair boots, I think there’s a lot of leeway in what might be considered an authentic pre-1970 look today.

Work boots: Rufflander 94OR Safety Footwear


For me, these most closely resemble the work boots of old. The producers, William Lennon & Co, have been around for a long time and make excellent quality boots. What is more, these greatly resemble the iconic skinhead white tops.

Price: £53.95 plus postage

Hobnail Boots: Soldier of Fortune reproduction Ammo boots


In my view, these are the most iconic hobnail boots. You can also get British army parade boots from eBay, but usually they’re horribly bulled with chunky soles, which were not produced until after 2000.

Price: £79.99 plus postage

Paratrooper boots: Corcoran Jump Boots


These are the boots that most closely resemble the commando and paratrooper boots in original period pictures to me. I wouldn’t wear them personally, as I prefer low boots [I on the other hand really fancy them – Editor].

Price: £159.99 plus postage

That is all for now. This was – and still is – a very obscure and frustrating subject to look into. Hope I’ve been of any help.

The Northern Avenger


31 thoughts on “Made to intimidate: before Dr Marten’s ruled

    • no one started wearing dms because of your steel argument we bought them simply because they looked way cooler than tuf boots,we werea firm round manor house londonand were there at the beginning,we wore fly fronts ,ben shermans levis and levi staprest


  1. In 1969 I asked my dad for a pair of boots for my birthday, and he got me ex-Army boots like the ones above. I immediately painted them bright red with my grandmothers tile paint that she used for the kitchen floor; I must have been quite the sight walking around Bow in those!


  2. ‘ Cherry Reds’ Commando boots were my first boots, very tough, but heavy, you would never wear em out! later we all started to get Docs, they were def suited to us, light , agile…tough enough for our needs…you could belt down the road in em!


  3. Excellent blog, particularly liked this article. As a former (?) American Skinhead in the early 1980’s DMs were often expensive and hard to come by. I owned a pair of Corcoran Jump boots for years….little did I know I was actually hewing true to the skinhead roots. Later of course I owned a number of pair of docs but quite honestly there are better brands for overall wear and tear and durability. Especially as I am out in the sticks these days!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Its a common mistake to think of the traditional miners boot to have a open exposed steel toe cap.
    Miners boots had covered steel toe caps.
    Boots were regularly checked to make sure the leather had not worn away exposing the steel.
    A spark caused by an exposed steel toe cap whilst working down a mine would have been dissasterous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting bit of info thanks and glad to be corrected. You have any idea where the exposed cap ones were worn? pit top?


      • I had exposed toe cap boots, issued to me by Cambridge City Council in about 1971 – I was working as a dustman at the time.


  5. I was an original skinhead in Cambridge in the very early 1970s. I remember the DMs and jeans look, then everyone switched over to polished leather brogues and coloured socks. Jeans might be washed almost colourless, but I don’t remember bleached jeans at that time.

    Tuf Big T boots were a moccasin-top style, something like a Red Wing 877 but with moulded soles like DMS. They were usually orange in colour, the soles were a lighter orange-yellow colour. They didn’t have steel toecaps, but were very popular with jobs like market traders that involved being on your feet on hard, cold surfaces.


  6. well as a northern skin in the late 60s early 70’s and i was an engineering manager for g b brittons in the 90s heres a bit of what i know about the boot s ex army boots with commando soles were crhome leather usualy black tho brown was available for desert and jungle and had a rubber sole the uppers were identical to the leather sole standard issue army boot again chrome leather we had them double soled so they were best bit of 5\8 th of an inch thick and segged toe and heel hobnails were a classed as a bag of shit as you skated arounfd ob the terraces in the wet steel to caps were used as well as most work boots you wore what you could afford mid seventys on when we all went sued head it was gentlemans broagan boots again double soled with a stick on rubber sole as well gave the doc look with real fuck ive been kicked power (getting a kicking from docs is a bit of a wet kiss really
    the docs hit the scene later in the mid 70s monkey boots were popular with the girls again fo the plywood sole upper and the thick hard rubber sole its self
    as if you need any more info


  7. Used to wear my dads army boots ( he was a serving soldier at the time ) then got a pair of monkeys, and a pair of Hawkins Astronauts, high legged martins . When I started work in the ship yards 1970 you could purchase Doc Martins and pay weekly , so had a few pairs of various types.


  8. Great read I remember that we used to wear Big T boots before we went onto Hawkins Astronauts I had a pair of High Leg in green back in 1969 Then moving onto 8 hole Cherry Red DMs


  9. Great article!
    As an American skinhead in early 80’s we could never find DM’s in my city…if you did happen to find a pair they were always the wrong size, so steel toe Redwings became the boot of choice.


  10. Very good. There are too many plastic skins out there that say “if you don’t wear DMs you’re not a true skinhead – usually the ‘yellow laces’ brigade. One other thing is how many black DMS do you see? Not many I bet. Everyone seems to wear oxblood ones (the ones they call ‘cherry red’ now! And docs ain’t made like they were, one usually splits. I find that one boot is good (usually the right one) and the left one fucks up.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Love this article and regularly came back to see another coments about this topic. As a Czech young skinhead I wear Steel, which is a Polish company mostly for goths and metalheads, but I´ve found some nicer 3 eyelet Steels with “DMs sole”. Lots of kids actually bought black low Steels with usual comando sole and steel toe cap as their first boots, beacause Docs are pricey and more of a hipster thing. I also got Monkey boots (rediscovered here) and both of those pairs together cost less than 100 Euro. Add some nice brogues under my sta-prest and I´m done 🙂
    Back in the 80s and 90s when whole Czech scene started they got army boots with cutted top (beacause of those terrible clasps) and other bizarre types of footwear including black painted fake Timberlands.
    PS: Have to admit I would kill for those Rufflanders, they are fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I meant “Dr. Martens sole” not DMs, sorry. Don´t know the exact name… Quality is OK for this price, few lads got those cheap boots for more than five years.
        Steel definitely didn´t made those replicas before Dr. Martens got all that hype. By the way because of this trend I will soon be the very first skinhead in our town in loafers- Baťa made burgundy/black “Adrians” and sells them for good price. Eastern Europe copy of a copy I know, but what would be better than pissiong of all Oi aggros with a “girl shoe”? 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ah and I´ve found out Steel is a SLOVAK company- they only manufacture their boots in Poland.


  12. Pingback: Dr. Martens – Ovejas Negrax

  13. Superb article. I long associated them with the original skinheads but got my first pair in the 90s after seeing fashionale Pakistani kids wearing the black pebbledash leather ones with steel toecaps paired with their hipster faded vintage jeans (probs Levi, not sure – anyone else remember that 90s ‘appropriation?) . I loved those boots. This piece makes me want another pair!


  14. As well as officers, riding boots were just as acceptable in London (like Chelsea boots but flat heeled, not the high heeled ones the mods wore). I bought my officers down Brick Lane. They were a bit smarter than Doctor Martens with two tone suits.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s