Click here to return to the main site entry page
Click here to return to the previous page
From an interview with Rae Drage, March 16th, 2009. Transcribed by Jacky Lawrence
Philip Leeding
Philip's father, Edgar, outside the shop. Photograph showing the modern shop in 2006.
Edgar Leeding ouside shop
Leedings in 2006
The business was started by my grandfather, in August 1914, after he came from Spaldwick and at that particular time it was a not mainly shoe repairs but general retailers with basically anything from a pin to an elephant. Unfortunately he died suddenly in 1936, at the age of 66 and the business was then taken over by my grandmother for about two or three years, I’m not sure. They lived over the shop and at the back, so then my father, who ran the shop for his mother, had it. He started it in 1939 and carried on the business the same, he developed a bit of it, and he died in 1957. That was a short life, 58 years. That then passed over to my mother but, at this particular time I’d been married in 1951, and was living over the shop myself and was there for 29 years.
Philip,aged 6, with his grandfather, John G. Leeding, who started the business.
Philip with his grandfather
Anyway, I bought it from my mother in 1960 and carried on the same for a period when I got a bit tired of fashion and retail. So, when my son was one, he’s now 50 this year, I stripped the place out one August fortnight holiday and refurbished it and moved the machines around and put new machines in. And turned it all over to shoe repairs plus the sidelines of shoe repairing, such as laces, polishes, all leather goods, bags, handbags and started to build the business up like that, which was a bit of hard going. I did start helping my father and grandfather when I was about 9, no sorry my father, when I was about 9. Standing on a box and just pulling a few top pieces off, that sort of thing.

Eventually I joined the shop when I was 14 ½, and I’ve been there right up until 1996 when I retired, having done 55 years shoe repairing which was I thought long enough. In 1942 my father still had the workshop and it caught fire and burnt out and from then on I stayed there. I helped him clean it up, clean it out and stayed there myself and developed it. From there I was putting in long hours, anything up to 18 hours or plus a day until eventually, one particular weekend, it was prior to the August holiday, I started work at 5 o’clock on a Thursday morning and worked continuously until 1 o’clock on Saturday. I told my wife this has got to stop and from then on I started to put employees in and when I retired I finished up with seven staff, four on benches and a van driver.

I had a van go out for a 35 mile radius covering Cambridge to Towcester. My wife was looking after the retail side of the shop, which is the leather goods and the office work which had increased because I was doing trade work for large high quality shoe shops. We had another lady come in to help with the booking and whatever my wife wanted some help doing. Unfortunately I was taken ill in ’92 with three heart attacks in five days. A fortnight coming out of hospital my wife was taken in and found that she had cancer and lived until Christmas ’94. I kept the business going for about two years and then I retired. Trying to sell it but we were too large, I’d worked it up so it was too large for shoe repairs. Various inquiries but all they want was heel bars but it’s still in operation.
Leeding's van outside the shop in 1974
Leeding's Van

The new owner, Chris Coles ,walked in the shop one day and said did I want any heels, could I use them. I said. ‘No, thank you.’ He said. ‘Well they’re all right.’ I said. ‘No, thank you, I’m trying to sell, I’m getting out, retiring.’ We had a little natter, he came back the next day and he said, was I serious. So I said, yes I was serious. So from then on I’d sold the shop and retired. We moved over to where I live now in 1980 because the shop wasn’t large enough for what we were doing and it was a case of moving the business or moving out. So I said. ‘Well the business has been here since 1914. It’s silly to move it out, we’ll move out ourselves and enlarge it.’ We were sort of talking ready to get retiring and as soon as we had retired we were both taken ill. The business is carrying on the same with Mr. Coles, but he works on his own with, I think, a little help, about two or three hours a week from one of the staff.

Inside the shop in 1974

The materials changed most, the shoes didn’t change, the make-up generally was the same but it was the materials, the new materials they were bringing out. We had to keep finding a way of counteracting that, especially the ones that were moulded and stuck on. At that particular time there was quite a few repairers in Rushden and somebody said to me one day. ‘What, why is it you’re got work and we haven’t?’ So I said. ‘Do you do moulded?’ ‘Oh, no can’t do those.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘alright.’ I said. ‘You can.’ ‘Oh, no I don’t think you can.’ I said. ‘I do them.’ Our moulded trade increased, you get reps coming round to see what you’re doing, your name spreads round and that’s, that’s, it.

Leeding's shop window, photograph taken in 1974.
The shop window in 1974
I mean the gents welted shoe hasn’t changed, it’s just the design possibly that’s changed. But this new stuff from Taiwan and China which is no good, it can be repaired, but it’s not the same quality. I always made sure that my quality was the top you could get. I had top staff and somebody said to me one day. ‘Why is it you can make such a good job.’ I said. ‘Well, firstly, I don’t want my shoes messing about. I do yours like I would do mine.’ In 1963, I think, I was round at one of my agents and I went in and they said. ‘Oh, there’s her ladyship down the road (I won’t give her name) wants to see you.’ So I said. ‘Oh, what am I done wrong?’ ‘No, she just wants to see you.’ So I went down there and knocked the door with me knees going and the housekeeper came to the door and I said. ‘I believe her ladyship wants to see me.’ So she said. ‘Oh, yes come in.’ She said. ‘I’ve been all over the world, my husband was a diplomat but I’ve never seen anyone who could mend my shoes, an orthopaedic shoe, like you do.’ So I said. ‘Well, thank you very much, that’s nice to know. We don’t often hear these things. But if there’s something goes wrong we soon hear about it.’

I miss some of the customers and not all of those. No, I didn’t miss it because my wife had died, I’d got no more interest down there, my son wasn’t interested in taking it on but it’s still trading under the name of Leeding and 2014 it will be one hundred years old and out of the period of time I had it the longest.

Leeding's Advert

Note: Philip Leeding died aged 82, on 10th March 2011.

click here to read more about Leeding's

Click here to return to the main index of features
Click here to return to the People & Families index
Click here to e-mail us