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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28 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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  3. Derek Severn says:

    My daughter lives in Cullompton and when I was down there last month spotted the Frisby logo in the doorway of a former shop (as featured). She plays frisbee and when I mentioned Frisby she thought it was one and the same – young people, eh? However, as someone growing up in the 50s in Birmingham and having an aunt in Warminster, Wiltshire I recall a Frisby shop in East Street in the town but when it closed I cannot say. But seeing the Cullompton doorway brought back many happy memories of a more innocent time.

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  4. Joe says:

    I am trying to locate a Frisby’s store shown in and old photo. Is there some where I could post the photo in case someone recognises the location. Thanking you in advance.

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  5. Jane Regan says:

    I just noticed the name carved above an estate agency at the Cross in Tewkesbury. Then I googled it.

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  6. John Quick says:

    My father worked for Frisby’s as a shop manager throughout my childhood,he started as a relief manager and became manager of the Barnstaple branch in the 1950’s until his death in the 1960’s

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  7. Catherine Dipple says:

    I worked for Frisby’s from September 1979 to September 1980 as a trainee manageress. It has just come to light today that they never paid my taxes and national insurance from my wages, so I have a years less pension. Most unhappy.

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  8. David Brake says:

    My Father worked for Frisby’s starting I believe after the war starting at Dorchester, Dorset. He became a relief manager until 1946 or 1947 when he became manager of Bridport, Dorset (8 East Street). On 13th April we moved to Wimborne, Dorset (9 East Street). Unfortunately I am unable to remember the time of his retirement.
    I have just been given some archive material dating from the war by a friend – surnames Riches. The Pilot of the aircraft was a Sgt Frisby who apparently owned 200 shoe shops.Is this the same family?

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    • Philip ashby says:

      After watching the D day service I looked out my late fathers medals which were post to Frisby’s Gillingham. I remember him talking about Dorchester branch and I know he had worked in Wimborne and my parents married in the Methodist church there in 1952. He became Manager in Moorland road branch, Bath and then on to Malmesbury where he stayed until retirement.

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      • David Brake says:

        I am afraid that I do not remember your name. When did you work in Wimborne?

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      • Philip ashby says:

        It was my Father Aubrey Ashby .I’m not sure of the dates but he married in Wimborne in 1952 to a
        Mary Hemmings and was working in Wimborne about that time.He started married life in Bath as manager of Frisby’s Moorland road.

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      • David Brake says:

        I vaguely remember the name. We moved to Wimborne in 1953 – 13th April! My father was manager at Bridport. We moved from 8 East Street to 9! Thank you for your reply.

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  9. V Rimmington says:

    I worked at Frisby’s Chesterfield branch from 1955 to September 1962 when the shop closed down,we were all very sad as we were so happy there. I can remember Mr Spindler,and our area manager Mr Blunt, our manager was Mr Reg Marshall a very nice man.l still have the letters sent to me by Mr Frisby on the occasion of my wedding,and when the shop closed down ,I have very happy memories of working there. Mrs V A Rimmington.

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  10. Harry Rogers says:

    I still use a Frisby’s boot brush in my leather workshop! Thanks for your article. I can send you a photo.
    Regards Harry

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    • john croft says:

      Harry, The head office I worked at was on the corner of St James Street with Humberstone Gate, Leicester, the building still stands there but is a in a sad state related to the time I was there. If no problem a photograph would be interesting. Regards John

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  11. Drusilla Hart says:

    I was Secretary to Jonathan and Nicholas for 16 years starting at Ash Street and then Syston. Loved the job and visited many of the shops. In those days many of the staff had been there all of their working life and I would visit with Nicholas when they retired or to check on new windows or go to openings of new branches.
    Mrs Bushnall (Pam), one of the nicest people ever was in charge of the typing pool and a very good friend. She had two daughters Jane and Sue who both now live in Wales. I unfortunately attended Pam’s funeral a good few years ago now.
    I went on to work with the brothers when they took over the Quorn Country Club which they built on to become the Quorn Country Hotel.
    Lovely to read all your experiences.
    Regards Drusilla Hart (Dru)

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    • John Croft says:

      Hi Drusillla. it’s nice to hear from someone else who relates to the Leicester headquarters of the Frisby empire, At the time I was there, the Ash street unit to me was thought of more of an annex and storage building and I hardly had any contact with that premise..I do seem to remember the name of Mts Bushnall, and I believe she worked for Mr Ludlam the hosiery etc buyer ( I may confused about that ).and the only secretary in my time there was for Mr Joseph and she was June ???? and so to hear of a typing pool suggests that it was very busy while you were there. . It was interesting also to know that .the brothers who I considered to be quite different from each other finding Nicholas the most amenable one of the two eventually took over the Quorn Country Club, quite a change from their background at Frisby’s. Considering my age at that time and the brothers relative ages to me I would think they are now deceased or at the minimum well in their nineties.
      Regards John

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      • Drusilla Hart says:

        Hello there. It was June Harris and she worked for their father I took over from there. They are still around Nicholas is 82 Jonathan a bit younger.
        Regards Dru

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      • John Croft says:

        Hello Drucilla, thank you for reminding me it was June Harris and I well remember her little office just to the left of the passage that led to the first floor. I had considered that there was quite a difference in my age to Nicholas and Jonathan but apparently it seems not too many years , that was perhaps due to the fact that i was very small at that time and felt a bit overpowered albeit later I eventually grew up to be six feet and still hold that height.
        regards John

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  12. jhowe says:

    Hi, my father worked at the building in st James Street Leicester after leaving school at the age of 14, the only time he was not there was when he did National Service, he was there at the end in Syston when Ward Whitecame in and took over before the site was closed down in the 1980’s I do have a couple of photographs from a dinner dance in the 1960’s if you want to see it, my father was Harry Norledge not as mentioned earlier Arthur Morledge and as far as I know his brother in law did not work for the company, I still have Focus shoes in my wardrobe I cannot bear to part with them. I also remember David Johnson and someone who worked in the offices who lived on Humberstone Drive area of Leicester named Mrs Tilley she had dark brown hair and I saw het when the coach the had dropped the staff off each night, they did this when they moved from Ash Street to Syston. Many thanks, Jennifer Howe nee Norledge

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    • John Croft says:

      Hello Jennifer , obviously the passage of time mixed up the names in my mind, certainly the surname of Norledge still stuck well in my head albeit I gave him the wrong first name, there was a worker ( was his name Arthur Morley ) who’s brother in law also worked there and I think his name was Harry and I recall he had very dark , curly hair and I believe he lived off Abbey Lane, Leicester. David Johnson became a friend later in his life via my wife who was acquainted with is wife and after his wife died I did as much as I could to support him until he also passed away. Mrs Tilley is not known to me. I would very much like to see the photo’s at some time convenient to yourself lf that can be arranged . Regards John ( Croft )

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