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.
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.
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.
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.