Forest Shoe Repairs, Barkingside – not a load of cobblers

This post is about shoes again – and it’s for My Favourite Shop. (Yes, me again – Barkingside’s most famous shopper and consumer of high street services.)

Becoming vegan acted as something of a curb on my shoe purchases. On that day (the day John Paul II met his maker, incidentally) my thoughts turned to preserving the leather footwear I already had. I have some beautiful shoes, and this brings one of the points of this post: many so-called cobblers are a load of cobblers. They won’t mend stuff. I don’t mean cheap shoes – I realise that few erstwhile cobblers call themselves cobblers today and also that the cheap shoes which make up the overwhelming majority of shoes on the street these days are difficult to mend. But even footwear that has lasted 40 years, like the pair of boots below which I bought second hand when I was 15 and I think probably date from the 60s seems beyond most. One of them began to let in water in my late 20s but several shoe repair people refused to take them on and so they were shelved for about three years.

When I moved to Barkingside I took them to Forest Shoe Repairs – between Stems the florist and, I think, Smart dry cleaners). The man appraised them. He explained what he would do in such detail that I recognised I was in the presence of a craftsman. He mended them good and at surprisingly little cost. Since then he has mended a pair of walking boots, the zips on Matt’s rucksack, the sandals below (cheap, cheap sandals – but vegan and worth mending), and he will even out the heels of my (15 year old) biker boots when I take them in next weekend. Bags, buckles, soles and lasts – everything. What made me write this post is that I turned up the day before yesterday with a pair of Matt’s good leather-soled shoes asking for a sole and he advised me against it. The peeling layer of leather which had triggered Matt’s worry was, he said, only cosmetic. He then explained to me how the shoe had been made and why the peeling layer of leather wasn’t anything to worry about. I must have still looked unconvinced because he took his glue brush, daubed the sole, and held it against his spinning thingummy, and handed them back. No more peeling bit. He said if Matt wanted a stick-on sole then we were welcome to bring them back.

So I put them in my bag again, no lighter of pocket. I started to effuse about his craftsmanship but he held up his hand modestly: “But I can’t make a decent cup of tea”, he said. What a prince among shoe men.

Forest Shoe Repairs, 147a High Street, Barkingside, Ilford, Essex, IG6 2AR.

And how’s this for a pun, emblazoned on the t-shirts of the staff in the shoe repair and key-cutting place at the Old Broad St exit of Liverpool St Underground: “time wounds all heels”.

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6 thoughts on “Forest Shoe Repairs, Barkingside – not a load of cobblers

  1. I’m sure he would. This guy took a look and said he only did shoes. A shame, because he seem to only be scraping a living. Maybe I’ll stick my (Dad’s brown leather GPO-issue) gloves in the post to you.

  2. Do by all means (but make the parcel small so I don’t have to go to the depot) and I will take them straight in. Oh, actually, wait – don’t want egg on my face. I’ll ask him first.

  3. I worked for harry forrest as a shoe finisher in the late fifties,he was a craftsman ,so was bill quew,brian and ron also made up the team ,I worked for him from school leaving till my parents moved to surrey,about three years,till early 1962, I thouraly enjoyed my time

    • I think the High Street future lies in shops like Forest Shoe Repairs. And these people are great – they have real pride.

      I’ve taken in several things to be mended since then, including some vegan boots which they reheeled and also mended to prevent water getting in.

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