It’s a mildly curious thing that Swindon’s Old Town has, within a few yards of one another, three long-established family businesses. On Wood Street there’s Deacon’s Jewellers, founded in 1848 and now in its sixth generation as a family business. Then there’s Gilbert’s furniture store on Newport Street. I’ll cover that one in another post, so for now suffice to say that. this business was established in 1886, becoming a fixture on its present location from the early 1870s.
Then there’s the subject of this blog post: Blaylock’s shoe shop on the corner of Bath Road. This business is a youngster compared to the other two, being started in 1920 when the senior Blaylock – Robert – opened a shoe repair business in Swindon’s Gorse Hill. This brilliant business remains one of the south of England’s leading independent shoe businesses, with a wide range of brands for adults and children.
I lOVE this shop and I do buy most of my footwear from it. It’s what I call a proper shoe shop – with shelves in the shop itself stacked with boxes and boxes of shoes. Going in there is a great nostalgia trip – with some good old fashioned service.
The business is now directed by Robert’s grandson David, and managed by David’s son Mark. In this 2014 feature in the Wiltshire Business Online News, David said:
‘In terms of how we run the business, we have tried to maintain the same principles. We believe people come to us because of our stock, our staff and the service we offer.
We still endeavour to give personal service and carry a range of stock you wouldn’t find in a normal High Street store.”
NB: When Robert Blaylock’s business moved to Old Town in 1928, it was first situated in what is now Pizza Express in Bath Road before it later moved to where it stands today.
Now – with a nod to Mark Childs, author of The Swindon Book from where (well – actually The Swindon Book Companion) I sourced this material – though it’s in my own words – is a potted history of this wonderful Swindon business:
Established by Robert Blaylock (1896-1955 – from Bowness, on Windermere in Westmoreland), this Old Town shoe store is four generations old.
When a youngster, young Blaylock contracted rheumatic fever. The condition left him with heart problems and medical warnings that he should do nothing manual. Warnings that he appeared not to heed given that the age of 15 saw him apprenticed to a local boot and shoe repairer.
WWI brought Robert to Swindon and a billet at the Chiseldon Camp where he repaired army boots. Come the end of the war, he remained in Swindon and opened a boot repair workshop at 254 Cricklade Road. In his spare time Robert was an active lay preacher at Florence Street Mission Hall. There he met Lilian Skinner, whose father, Daniel Skinner, ran the mission. The couple wed in 1921, moved into 158 Cricklade Road and produced seven children. One wonders if they were the worst shod …. ?
By 1928 Robert moved his business to No 5 Bath Road, Old Town where, at the rear of the premises, the operated a shoe repair business.
The landlord of No 5 refused to give Robert Blaylock a lease, though Randolph Pollard, gent’s outfitter next door at No 3, had a long lease. When No 5’s landlord decided to sell, Pollard bought it, moved his business in and transferred his lease at No 3 to Robert Blaylock.
By 1949, Robert Blaylock had failing health and not one son willing to take on the business. Yet, his son Robert Arthur resigned from his position in the National Provincial Bank to take it on. Shades of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ there methinks!
Thus, when the property came up for sale, Robert Arthur bought it and the adjacent property on the corner of Devizes Road, along with a little lock-up called the Corner Cabinet which sold antique glassware. In so doing, he expanded the business.
Robert Arthur’s son, David John Blaylock, was also not inclined to follow in his father’s footsteps. Yet, like his father, he too relinquished his clerical work with Swindon council to keep the business going. (More George Bailey heroism!) He ran it from 1988, and in 1997 his son, Mark Adam Blaylock joined him.
As well as shoes, Blaylock’s also sells handbags, polishes, shoe trees and laces.
Phone: 01793 534271
See also: https://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/8790518.Muriel_retires_from_shoe_shop_after_50_years/