Joseph Frisby Ltd

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Detail of Frisby’s shop in Cullompton, Devon

Frisby’s was one of the earliest chains of boot and shoe shops to develop in England. The founder, Joseph Frisby (1848-1902), was the son of an agricultural worker from Frisby on the Wreake in Leicestershire. In 1871 he married Harriett Rowley, whose brother Robert was a hosiery manufacturer in nearby Syston.

Joseph entered business in Leicester, setting up as a general dealer at 59 Belgrave Gate. Although described in the Census of 1871 as ‘tobacconist’, by 1872 – when a pair of boots was stolen from an iron rod outside his shop – Joseph was selling footwear. After a spot of financial trouble in 1873 he seems to have concentrated on selling boots and shoes, to the exclusion of all else.

Frisby soon branched out. He ran market stalls in several distant towns on different days of the week. Every Saturday, for example, he manned a stall in the Cattle Market in Chesterfield, and on Wednesdays he traded from Powis Market Hall, Oswestry. For the remainder of the week, the stock for the Oswestry stall was stored in boxes and kept in the Market Hall. Aberystwyth and Wakefield markets were also attended regularly by Frisby in the late 1870s. One widow who stole a pair of shoes from the Wakefield stall received the harsh sentence of 10 years penal servitude.

Frisby opened branch shops as well as market stalls, for example on King Street, Huddersfield. He had to employ assistants to help run these outlets and, for preference, his managers were married men. By 1880 Joseph’s brother William Frisby (1851-1924) had moved with his family to Dorchester, where he managed one of the largest branches, at 14 South Street. This traded as ‘Frisby’s Great Leicester Boot warehouse’ and was augmented by new premises across the road at 7 South Street in 1899. Another important branch, trading under the same name, was at 35-37 Market Street, Lichfield. The shops offered a boot and shoe repair service.

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Stone plaque on Frisby’s shop, Tewkesbury

Joseph Frisby ended his days in a large house, ‘Stoneleigh’, on Knighton Park Road in Leicester. His son Joseph Rowley Frisby (1879-1929) continued to run the business. His daughter Elizabeth is rather better known, as a suffragette who burned down Blaby railway station.

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Frisby’s shop, Weston-super-Mare

Frisby’s escaped the clutches of Charles Clore in the 1950s and 1960s. It remained a privately-owned family firm until 1982, when it had 156 outlets. In that year it was bought for £6 million by Ward White, which owned Tuf shoes and a chain named Wyles.

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Frisby’s, Cullompton

As with so many chain stores from the past, the biggest clue to identifying Frisby’s shops is the lettering that survives on the terrazzo floors of entrance lobbies. These lobbies were usually trapezoidal in plan. Similarities between the shopfronts in Weston-super Mare and Cullompton – with square mottled brown tiles that recall mid-century fire surrounds – indicate a house style, although the simplified lettering at Weston suggests a slightly later date.

This blog will be updated as additional examples of Frisby’s shops come to light. Please let me know of examples you come across.

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7 Responses to Joseph Frisby Ltd

  1. John Croft says:

    Hi, I first started in the offices adjacent to Mr Brankin Frisby’s office of Joseph Frisby’s on Humberstone gate, Leicester in 1958 at the age of fifteen and was there for two years , during which time I did book-keeping, was the general dog’s body in the office, sometimes using the switchboard, apart answering the hatch for visitors that came, taking post to Campbell Street post office for dispatch, collecting postage stamps from Southampton St post-office and on Fridays collecting Brankin Frisby’s supply of cigarettes for the weekend from a nearby newsagent on Lee St circle, at the end of day I collated the post to go out in addressed shop envelopes that was to be dispatched to the many shops owned by the group the first one being in Ashburton. I can almost to this day recall most all of the over one-hundred branches. the office consisted of Mr Buckley, Mr Ken Workman, Mrs Gamble,Mrs Cook, Hazel ??? and other ladies who at this time i cannot remember. The staff of the different areas of buying were Shoes etc Mr Walker, Mr Taylor, Mr Chris Tame,Mr Graham Stevenson, hosiery etc Mr Ludlam, Mrs Lewis , Director Mr Spindler and if I tried harder might recall others. The warehouse in the basement of the building was run by Mr Bromley , one of whose staff was Mr David Johnson. Paddy Palmer was another staff member who had association with the farm at Carlton Curliue .The upper floors with there various stock were staffed by others one of whom was Arthur Morledge and also his brother-in-law, —– Jarvis. Also the two sons Jonothan and David were on the premises.I can to this day still walk round the building in my mind starting with the sweeping staircase that led from the corner of the building on St James street, through the door at the top of the stairs with the hatch that I opened when visitors called just to the right.

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    • Great to hear these memories – thanks John!

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    • Ann Harriman says:

      John, I think you were in my form at Wiggy and I too worked at Frisby’s from ’59 to ’61 I think. Worked with Mr Bill Marvin in the ‘specials (big feet etc) dept. Were the sons not Jonathan and Nicholas? The daughter was Joanna, I used to wrap parcels for her to send to Roedean! Chris Tame was my best friend’s best man! It was Graham Stevenson who informed me of JFK’s assassination, I had just been dropped off near my parents’ and he was just passing! So many familiar names and so many memories. I went out with Mrs Bushnell’s daughter for a time. Regards Bob Harriman

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      • JOHN CROFT says:

        Hi Bob ,thank you for the reminder to me that it was indeed Jonothan and Nicholas ( not David, where that came from I do not know , perhaps it was his middle name!). I was never at Wiggy , my senior schooling was at Ellis Avenue which I left during the summer holiday in 1958. , Mrs Bushnell’s name rings a bell but I can’t quite recall who she worked alongside, perhaps you can remind me!. It’s hard to appreciate that possibly almost all of those named are no longer alive now as I was only 15 to 17 yrs of age during my time there now heading towards 74 and they all seemed very senior to me then. Regarding Graham Stevenson while I was there he had had a holiday in Spain and I bought from him a Spanish currency note from him which I still have to this day. Regards and cheers, John

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      • Ann Harriman says:

        John, I had just finished my post when the penny dropped that the times didn’t fit! It was of course at St Peters in Gopsall Street that we were contemporaries. I have a form picture that Valerie Nosworthy, as was, sent to me some time ago. I think I have the right chap! We have a new e-mail address ,not the one below, should you wish me to send a copy let me know at riaharriman@btinternet.com then I can send it as an attachment Regards Bob Harriman.

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  2. clairewonders says:

    I loved reading all the stories about Frisby shoes.
    Frisby shoes is apart of my family history

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