It is hard to believe today that Clun's
townsfolk could once buy, within a few minutes walk of their own homes, a
pair of shoes or boots made to their own requirements. Yet this was the
case during the greater part of the 19th Century, when almost
every street had its own master craftsman, sometimes two or even three.
Most workshops were in Enfield Street together with Castle Street, High
Street and Market Square. Demand was such that some shoemakers employed a
journeyman, others trained their sons or apprentices; some had their wives
working as boot binders. Despite the beginnings of factory production
from 1857 in the Midlands and elsewhere, it seemed that machines would
never replace shoemakers’ expertise and their jobs were secure.
However, by the 1880's, small numbers of factory made shoes were reaching
Clun. Changes were on the way, shoemakers would become cobblers,
warehouses and shops would replace their workrooms.
Sarah Elizabeth Francis, Entrepreneur, 10 Church Street Clun’s first Boot and Shoe Dealer was Sarah Elizabeth Francis, of 10 Church Street. Sarah was a widow, aged 53, with four dependant children. She had moved into Clun from Church Bank and set up her business by 1881, without any apparent previous connection with the shoe trade. Her enterprise appears to have been successful for by 1891 her home was known as the Church Street Shoe Shop. After her death two years later, her son, W.H. Francis continued to trade, certainly until 1895 when he was advertising, 'The Boot & Shoe Warehouse, Church Street'.
The Early years of the Twentieth Century By the late 1890's Clun's shoemakers must have been squeezed almost out of business, and would have needed to concentrate on shoe repairing for any regular work. There were already the two well established Boot and Shoe Dealers selling ready-made shoes, when Albert Jones opened a third Boot and Shoe Warehouse in Market Place in 1895. Some relief came when Thomas Kinsey, shoemaker, moved into 10 Church Street and the Francis Warehouse closed! But changes had already happened and there was no going back, 23 High Street was probably already a shop, for the present shop window is thought to be of late 19th Century date. Albert Jones eventually followed on from his uncle here and is well remembered in Clun for running a successful business. This was despite competition on his next but one doorstep, at 19 High Street. By 1905 Ross & Son, Boot & Shoe Dealers of Ludlow were established there, managed by Leonard Eades who moved to Clun from the Midlands to live 'over the shop'. Both shops traded side by side until the 1940's and there was trade enough while Clun remained a busy centre on Market Days. Both shops offered credit and were prepared to wait for payment until after the wimberry picking season was over. A.G. Jones catered for those looking for stylish shoes, while Ross & Son specialised in farmers' working boots, the dusting of which earned the young Ted Eades his Saturday Penny! At 10 Church Street in Clun, Thomas Kinsey, Bootmaker, continued to make shoes, when the orders came in. His shoes and boots were noted for being extremely hard wearing and they were bought by farmers and farm workers. He used to season his own leather, which he bought from Shrewsbury. By 1929, Thomas Davies, Boot Repairer, had replaced him, but by then there was no demand for expensive hand-made boots and shoes. He worked on until the 1940's, as did Leonard Eades, now retired from Ross & Son but repairing shoes at Hill View, High Street. Other shoe repairers had retired, or given up, by the 1930's, Martin Luther in Market Square, Edward Hints in Newport Street and Herbert Lancett in Church Street. No one came forward to take their place. The shoe trade in Clun had slowly faded away, leaving behind no trace of its former enterprise and prosperity.
Sources: Chelmick Family History, P. Bates & L. Roberts; Clun Census, 1841-1891; Extracts from Clun Valley Parochial Magazines, J. Luther; Conversations with Ted Eades and the late Bob Davies; Kelly's Directories for Shropshire; 'Shoemaking', J. Swann, Shire Album, 155