Shoes and cobblers

There have been a total of 26 retail outlets selling shoes and providing shoe repair services over the past 100 years.

Today, we just have Coltons selling shoes and PJ Repair Services repairing them. Other outlets such as Millets do of course offer boots and shoes for sale, and M&Co did so as well, but we concentrate on those shops which exclusively offered footwear.

Freeman, Hardy and Willis, 19 High Street

Map showing location of 19 High Street
Freeman, Hardy and Willis, 19 High Street

This property is known today as the Evenflow Studios, offering (amongst other things) yoga and pole dancing. It had a long and varied history even before it became Freeman, Hardy & Willis in 1912.

Freeman, Hardy & Willis was a Leicester based company making boots and shoes. It was named after three of their employees and at the time, was the largest supplier of footwear in the world.

They bought 19 High Street, Chesham in 1910 and completely rebuilt the building to their own specifications before opening a branch here in 1912. At one time, they had 500 branches nationwide and were a familiar name on many high streets.

In 1929 they were acquired by Sears plc and their subsidiary, the British Shoe Corporation took over management.

The High Street. People on horseback travel up the road with people and dogs walking on the pavements either side.
A rainy day in the 1930s? FHW is the shop on the left, with 4 white lights outside it

In the early 1990s, the BSC converted approximately half the shops to the Hush Puppies brand and sold the remainder to an entrepreneur from Sheffield named Stephen Hinchcliffe. His business empire collapsed after only one year and Hinchcliffe was jailed for bribing bank officials to obtain loans to buy the company and trading ceased.

They were replaced by another chain of shoe shops – Stead & Simpson – but they too suffered a similar fate to FHW and after a buy-out, new owners Shoezone gradually closed down all their retail outlets and the Chesham shoe shop had gone by 2012.

Part of FHW is shown in this black and white photo. There is a white car parked outside.
A glimpse of FHW shortly before closure

View more shops on Chesham’s High Street

Thank you to the following authors for their contribution:

A History of Chesham Shops: Gwyneth Bradley, Anne Crabbe, Tony Eustace, Keith Fletcher, Pat Kent, Frank Pearce, Eleanor Phillips and Vanessa Worship
A History of Chesham Shops Volume 2: Anne Crabbe, Tony Eustace, Keith Fletcher, Pat Kent, Eleanor Phillips and Vanessa Worship
Pubs of Chesham & Villages: Ray East, Keith Fletcher and Peter Hawkes
Chesham – the Origin of the Town’s Services: Eleanor Phillips and Keith Fletcher
More Tales of Old Chesham: George Piggin
The Story of John Brazil: Jean Archer
Photographs: courtesy of Chesham Heritage.y