The first thing to point out about this post is that we are going back to the pre-Velcro era. Nowadays children don’t have to learn to tie shoe laces or fasten buckles before starting school. It was very different back in the 50s and 60s. Even in the mid 80s, when my children were starting school, Velcro wasn’t yet used on shoes although it had been around since the 60s. Children were expected to know how to tie their laces by the time they started school. It was a rite of passage! As a teacher I get that you couldn’t be tying 30 laces several times a day when your class changed from outdoor to indoor shoes or into PE pumps.
Shoes back then were made of leather. Indoor shoe like slippers and school pumps were fabric and wellies were made of rubber. But your main shoes were always leather and either laced or buckled. Generally, summer shoes and sandals were buckled and winter shoes laced. PE footwear was the standard issue black canvas shoes with an elasticated insert. Most people called them pumps or plimsolls. In South Wales we call them daps. This name arose, according to Nicholette Jones’s book The Plimsoll Sensation, because the coloured horizontal band joining the upper to the sole resembled the Plimsoll line on a ship’s hull, or because, just like the Plimsoll line on a ship, if water got above the line of the rubber sole, the wearer would get wet.
New shoes were bought in the autumn (ready for winter) and the spring (ready for summer). Your new shoes were ‘best’ shoes for the Harvest festival and and Easter Sunday and were then your main shoes for six months.
Our local town (tiny, 2 000 people) had one shoe shop. It sold Clarks shoes. Sometimes we had Start-Rite or Birthday shoes which we bought in a bigger town further away. There was an X-ray machine in our local shoe shop which checked the fit of the shoes once you’d tried them on. It was So exciting to look down and see your foot bones inside your new shoe. They were discontinued by the 60s when it was found that X-ray is hazardous. I have, learned through researching for this post, that these machines were called flouroscopes.
I remember a brand of shoe called Tuf which were around in the 60s. They weren’t sold in our small town but when my brother wore them in his early teens we were able to buy them in bigger towns like Swansea and Cardiff. Tuf came with a 6 month guarantee. If they wore out before 6 months you got a new pair free. My brother was very heavy on shoes at the time and it saved my parents a lot of money being able to get him new shoes a two or three times a year at no cost!
Here are a few pictures showing the standard style of buckle shoe which all children wore when they were small. The two children with the rocking horse are me and my brother (sorry Bruv!). It was common practice back in the old days, before most people had cameras, to have a studio portrait taken. The prints could then be sent to relatives. After this picture was taken my dad bought his first camera and there were no more posed studio pictures. I’ve worked it out that this photograph was taken for my third birthday.
Seeing the picture above, and the prices of the shoes, I looked up what the prices shown would be today. £5 in the mid-fifties is the equivalent of £92. If that ad is from the mid 60s the equivalent in today’s money is £64. No wonder we were only bought two pairs of shoes a year!
Wellies – absolutely essential in a wet area like my valley! – were always black. Now kids wellies come in a vast array of colours and designs. Many even have little handles on the side to make them easier to pull on. How I would have loved these when I was a kid!
Credit to Google, Wikipedia and Google Images. As usual, I make every effort to ensure that my facts are correct and that by using the photographs I source I am not infringing copyright. If anyone objects to anything in this post please contact me and it will be removed (including Bruv!).