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Non-food shops, mid 20th century


Shoe shops in Britain in 1940s wartime and into the 1950s

The main shoe shop in Edgware where I grew up in the 1940s was Lilley and Skinners, which at that time was a chain store. It was where ordinary people went to buy their shoes and where I was taken for mine as a child.

The layout arrangement inside shoe shops

All Lilley and Skinner shops had the same layout. There was a double row of chairs down the centre of the shop for customers to sit on and the walls were lined with boxes of shoes. There was very little in the way of displays.

The procedure for buying shoes

As I remember, we walked in, sat in a chair and waited for an assistant to come up to serve us. We usually had little idea of the details of the shoes that we wanted, only that they were for school or walking or whatever.

Makes of shoes

The shoes could be any one of a number of makes. Particularly well-known were Stead and Simpson, Bata and Clarks.

Inside a typical mid-20th century shoe shop. Tap/click for a larger image.

How shoes were fitted

Shoes were available in several sizes and half sizes for length and in several widths indicated by letters. The assistant always measured the length of each foot separately using a wooden measure with a sliding attachment and a tape measure for width.

Once she knew the shoe size and the type of shoe required, she climbed up a step-ladder to retrieve a selection of boxes from the packed walls.

We tried on several pairs and walked up and down in them. If a pair weren't right, the assistant was always at pains to try something different, and we could end up with opened boxes all around us. In view of her efforts, it could be quite embarrassing to admit that none of the shoes felt right and to leave without buying anything.

The X-ray device to check how well shoes fitted

At that time there was what seemed to me to be a wonderful device to show how well the shoes were fitting. We put our feet into it and looked down onto a screen which showed the outlines of the shoes and our bones inside them. It wasn't long before these devices disappeared.

X ray device, pedoscope, to show fit of shoes.

Advert for the X ray device, called a pedoscope, which showed how well shoes were fitting.

I thought it quite fun to look down this device, waggle my toes and watch them move. I was quite upset when they were no longer in the shoe shops. I assumed that they couldn't be obtained in the austerity of wartime and the years afterwards, but now I realise that they must have been withdrawn. They worked with X-rays which are of course dangerous if experienced to any extent.

Cheaper shoe shops

In the next town there was a Co-op department store which also sold shoes. It always looked rather grubby to me, and the shoes and slippers were the sort that I could imagine my grandmother wearing. I suspect that everything it sold was on the cheap side - and of course there was the added bonus of the Co-op dividend.

More expensive shoe shops

There was another shoe shop in Edgware which always struck me as too expensive for the likes of us. It specialised in ladies shoes and had a ground plan that increased its window space with an island window in addition to its regular shop window. This arrangement enabled us to walk round and look at the shoes without actually going into the shop - and many a time we did this to shelter from rain. I wonder, now, how the shop ever got much in the way of expensive stock in wartime and post-war austerity. Perhaps it never did, and the elegance that I remember was solely due to the elegance of the shop front.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased if you would contact me.

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