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A cordwainer is a shoemaker who makes fine soft leather shoes and other luxury footwear articles. The word is derived from "cordwain", or "cordovan", the leather produced in Córdoba, Spain. The term cordwainer (also "Corviser") was used as early as 1100 in England. Historically, there was a distinction between a cordwainer, who made luxury shoes and boots out of the finest leathers, and a cobbler, who repaired them. This distinction gradually weakened, particularly during the twentieth century, when there was a predominance of shoe retailers who neither made nor repaired shoes.
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.
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 were among those who sailed to Virginia in 1610 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.
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