History


THE BOOT AND SHOE TRADE IN CLUN
“Heyday to Decline”
By Jean Withers
(
Clun Courier.  Issue No 127: February 2001)

 


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Trinity Hospital

Clun Forest Sheep

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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.

A Shoemaker In Almost Every Street, 1841-1891   Census documents record the names and street locations of Clun's shoemakers, but exact addresses are difficult to pinpoint without the help of family records and memories.  Their workshops were within family homes and, when no longer required, signs of their former use would soon disappear.  The number of shoemakers did not vary much during fifty years - there were 16 in 1841 and 14 in 1891, with little variation in the decades between.  The names of some craftsmen appear only once, but most are still in Clun when the time comes round for the next census.  Several shoemakers, too, can be traced on three census       records, which would cover a period of at least twenty years.  Some had stayed in one place, such as Richard Cottrill in Church Street/Church Cottage, 1841-1861, or Thomas Whitall in Enfield Street, 1841-1861.  Others moved around Clun.  William Brown, in Enfield Street in 1841 moved to High Street in 1851 and was in Castle Street in 1861.  During 1861-1881, William Bottrill moved from Frog Lane (present Ford Street) to Newport Street and then to Castle Street.  Richard Whitall, 1851-1871, worked first with his father, Thomas, in Enfield Street, and then moved to Market Square, then out of Clun Town to Llwyn.  At the south end of town Edwin Pritchard was recorded for over 40 years, 1851-1891, either in School Road or Hand Causeway.  Nearby was   Francis Rawlings, at Church Bank, 1841-1851 and in Knighton Road in 1871.  He took time out to farm in between!

Four Family Businesses 1841-1891  
Competing for trade with the well established shoemakers mentioned above there were four family businesses, the Prices in Bridge Street, 1841-1851; the Francis family, trading first in Newport Street in 1841 and then in High Street, 1851-1861; George Edwards, later with his nephew Albert G. Jones, at 23 High Street, 1871-1891, the Chelmicks, first in Market Square in 1841 and then at No 6, High Street, 1851-1891.  The Prices provide an   example of at least one son changing his trade.  Edward Price and his two sons,       Edward and Thomas were all working as shoemakers in Bridge Street in 1851. By 1861 only Thomas remains at that address, working as a watch-cleaner.  He did not return to shoemaking for, by 1871, he and his wife Mary had moved to 17 High Street and there Thomas earned his living at watchmaking and taxidermy.  He was also Clun’s earliest photographer!


The Francis family business seemed more secure.  It supported John Francis and his two sons, John and Thomas and also a     journeyman, with Thomas' wife, Jane, working as a boot binder.  The business survived the death of John the Elder, for both sons and Jane were still living with his widow in 1861, but by 1871 the family had left Clun.   George Edwards, aged 34, born in Brampton Bryan, was in the High Street in 1871.  He may have bought the Francis' family business for there was sufficient trade for him to employ two workmen and train two apprentices.  By 1891, if not before, he was at 23 High Street and had been joined by his nephew, Albert G. Jones, shoemaker, aged 26, who was to carry on the business well into the next century.  The fortunes of the Chelmick family were not so certain.  In 1841, aged 43, Edward Chelmick was working in Market Square, and then he inherited and moved to 6 High Street.  He trained three sons in his trade, William, Thomas and John.  William, aged 19, was working with him in 1851, but by 1861 Edward had died and William had apparently left Clun.  Thomas worked on his own account in Clun as a shoemaker and clog maker.  He lived at Oldgate Cottage, High Street until at least 1891.  John carried on the business from 6 High Street, but in 1871 he described himself as Parish Clerk, rather than Shoemaker.  He died in 1881, aged 42, leaving a resourceful widow, Mary Ann, who by 1891 was supporting her family as a Boot and Shoe Dealer.  The former shoemaker’s workshop would have housed factory made shoes, probably made in Northampton, and coming to Clun via the railway, to Craven Arms or Broome.  None of her three sons followed the family trade. 

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