Sole-searching call to shut Bridlington’s ‘oldest shop’

Dawn and David Marshall
Dawn and David Marshall

In 1895, Fred Marshall opened a shoe shop in High Street, selling farmers’ boots and wellingtons.

The Old Town branch will be transformed into offices for the internet arm of the business

The Old Town branch will be transformed into offices for the internet arm of the business

It was next door to the old Free Press office, which it later expanded into, and has survived as Bridlington’s oldest shop, but it will close its doors next month.

1895 was a year before the town’s first telephone exchange opened, a year before the opening of the new Spa and gardens and before even the start of donkey rides on the beach.

It was also a century before the internet would transform business forever, and it is the emergence of online sales which has prompted the Marshall family to reshape their business.

The Old Town shop will be turned into a warehouse and office from where they will run their website operations, meaning Whiteleys in Promenade is likely to take on the title of Bridlington’s oldest shop.

The shop was opened by Fred Marshall in 1895

The shop was opened by Fred Marshall in 1895

Marshalls’ branches in Bridge Street and South Cliff Road will remain open and the transition will not cause any job losses.

David Marshall said the decision to close the shop after 123 years was made with a heavy heart.

“The Old Town premises are still going to be selling shoes, just in a different way,” he said.

“It’s sad because I have memories of my mum and dad here, and I remember the big long counter I used to sit under when I was little.

Sally Atkinson, Amanda Robertson, with Dawn and David Marshall

Sally Atkinson, Amanda Robertson, with Dawn and David Marshall

“But High Street is not the retail street that it was. It is heading more towards art and antiques.

“Since the banks and post office closed, we have noticed a big difference in trade.

“We’ve thrown everything at it but when one part of the business is subsidising another, you have to ask why you are doing it like that, and you can’t just keep it open for the sake of sentimentality.

“One half of me is saying we are doing the right thing, but the other half is not so sure.”

Herbert Marshall

Herbert Marshall

Hopes that the Dad’s Army movie, filmed in Old Town in 2014, might give the shop a shot in the arm did not materialise.

The shop front appeared in the filmand one of the high-profile stars was charmed by the old-fashioned shoe shop.

David’s wife Dawn said: “Bill Nighy was lovely. He came and said ‘I’ve just come in to smell the leather’.”

Marshalls only started their website six years ago but it already accounts for 70% of their sales.

As part of the restructuring, the company will scale back its children’s shoes range, selling only kids’ Dr Martens boots alongside adult footwear from its Bridge Street store.

David joined the family business when he was 16, working alongside his father Herbert, who was Fred’s nephew.

David said: “In its day, this was a great shop. I remember staying open until 8pm on Christmas Eve because it was so busy and then coming in on Christmas morning to clear all the boxes.”

And in these days of worries about plastic carrier bags and their effect on the environment, all shoes were given to customers in brown paper, with handles tied with string.

A closing down sale has already begun and the High Street shop will put its closed sign up permanently from February 20.

“We would like to thank all our loyal customers that have supported the business over many years,” David said.

Marshall Shoes founder James Marshall originally started a general store in Hunmanby and his son Fred worked for him before opening the Bridlington shop, part of which was originally his sitting room before he expanded.

In 1945, Fred’s nephew, Herbert, came to help him after serving in World War Two.

David said: “Fred used to wear a tan coloured coat, like on Open All Hours, and when he saw people outside looking he would go and see them and say ‘come in and have a look’. Dad was the same.

“Mum used to hate it but he’d rub his hands and say ‘if you never get them in, you’ll never know if they’ll buy anything’.

David said he remembers his dad’s early days at the shop.

“He used to deliver wellingtons to the farmers in Burton Fleming and Hunmanby on a pushbike,” he said. But trying to get the payment off some of them after a bad harvest was something of a challenge.

Herbert eventually took the reins at the shop when Fred suffered ill health, and by this time the post-war economy was improving.

Business continued to grow and Herbert’s wife Florence began to work with him, a partnership which lasted for 40 years.

Their son David took a full-time role when he turned 16, and at 21, the store changed name to H Marshall & Son.

Forty years ago, David started a second shop in Bridge Street which targeted the tourist market.

David’s wife, Dawn, become involved in 2008 and Herbert finally hung up his shoe horn, aged 89, due to ill health in 2014.