Voice 1: I get ‘em all in here, you wouldn’t believe it. I want a pair of those carpet crawlers, he says. Don’t you mean Brothel Creepers? I say. That’s it! He says. A pair of those, blue if you’ve got ’em. Well I did have ’em, I stock black and royal blue as a rule. I can sometimes get hold of a fancier design with two D rings for lace holes and a woven check pattern set within the moccasin top. Last lot of those I had sold out pretty quick, although plain black is the best seller. Carpet crawlers I ask you! They’d be carpet slippers wouldn’t they? I got some nice slippers just come in in fact, red tartan uppers and non slip soles, nice and cosy. Just right if you ain’t going anywhere much. Well, you could nip out into your yard in ’em, as the soles are a sort of waterproof Sorbo, nice and bendy. I got ’em in a deep red tartan or the dark green check. Well I suppose that’s tartan too. Maybe you’d have to ask a Scotsman.
Voice 2: For today’s edition of "That’s My Business”, I’m in the East End of London, where continuing our popular series on ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, I’ve come to speak to Mr Arthur Crabtree at his shoe shop.
Arthur: People quite often get mixed up. I don’t think they take it in in the first place y’see. A fella asked me for a pair of wrinkle pickers the other day. I said, they’re winkle pickers mate and he said Oh! What is a winkle anyway? I said to him, ain’t yer ever been to the seaside? No, he says. Well I say - they eat ’em there with vinegar! Horrible little grey things they are too, give me a nice plate of jellied eels any day, but winkles no ta.
Voice 2: Do you get many unusual requests in your shop?
Arthur: I was just closing up one evening and a smarter looking gent slipped in the door and asked if I had any ladies’ evening shoes, size ten. Well, they only usually go up to an eight. So I told him that and he wasn’t surprised. I said “Your wife must be very tall to have such long feet.”, but he just chuckled and said “about my height”!
Voice 2: Do you get much call for dancing shoes?
Arthur: Not all that much. I only stock about half a dozen ladies’ styles in black, tan and oxblood. There’s a lot of working people live round here and they don’t seem to want fancy shoes for going out. I once got some silver ladies’ heels in around Christmas time, but there just wasn’t the call for ’em. I was still trying to flog ’em at Easter and I think there’s one pair left in stock out the back.
Voice 2: But you cater for all ages don’t you?
Arthur: Oh yes. Start of term I get all the little kiddies in here for their school shoes. A nice little earner at the end of August especially. Coming in with their Mums or Dads, who always want to know about room to grow and squash in the toes of me brogues or pumps feeling for room. I sell a lot of smart black lace ups then, leather of course and mostly they buy some plimsolls for games lessons too. I got white lace ups or black slip ons. And T-bar shoes or what the Yanks call Mary Janes for the girls. Some of the kids look so fed up, so I’ve bought a big jar of lollies to give out, one per customer. Choosing one of them puts a smile on their faces, even if they’re not fussed about the shoes. Trouble is I’ve started eating them myself when it’s quiet. Sweets only come off the ration five years ago and I’ve always had a sweet tooth.
Voice 2: I believe that you’ve worked at this shop for thirty years Mr Crabtree?
Arthur: Nigh on thirty-two now.
Voice 2: Thirty-two, I see. You must have seen some changes in that time.
Arthur: Oh I’d say so yes. I first came here in 1926. The year of the general strike, when I was only 19. I’d been training to be an ostler, working at a big stables, but gave that up after I got a horse hair stuck in my eye. It went to such a bad infection, that I nearly lost that eye altogether and I still can’t see much out of it now. So when I was fit for work, it was a nice clean indoor job I wanted and Mr. Peabody, whose shop it was then, took me on as a junior assistant. He was a good sort and kept me on even through the mean years of the Depression in the thirties. There was a lot of out of work then, but in a way I think he felt sorry for me because of my eye and also he’d lost his son Jack, right at the end of the Great War, so I think he liked doing another young fella a bit of good, by keeping me in work and out of trouble.
Voice 2: Is that why the shop is still called Peabody’s?
Arthur: Partly that and partly because you don’t throw away a good reputation! Somehow the shop stayed standing all through the Blitz, which was terrible around here. Whole streets flattened and then a big crowd of people died in a crush at Bethnal Green Tube station, all rushing in when the air raid siren went. I think it was 173 people all told. My sister often used that shelter, as it was near her work, but luckily for her she had a bad headache that day and she hadn’t gone in. It was awful, a dreadful time. The shop had its windows blown in by the bombing more than once, but we boarded it up and somehow kept going. VE Day we put some bunting up and I joined in a conga line up and down the street to The Red Lion and back. They drank the pub dry that night!
Voice 2: And how’s business these days?
Arthur: Steady I’d say. The area gradually picked up and put itself together. Some people moved away from bad memories, others came in. Some new flats have gone up, while other bomb sites are still there. Some people seem to have a little bit more money in their pockets nowadays. We’ve ‘never had it so good’ apparently and most people are in work, the youngsters especially seem to have some spare cash to spend on themselves, which is very different from my young day.
Voice 2: And what of Mr Peabody, he must be long retired?
Arthur: Unfortunately Mr Peabody did die. The winter of 1953, it was, but he was quite old. Well, older than I’d thought. I found out afterwards, that he was 82, when I’d thought he was only about 72, which is a good innings for a bloke round here.
Voice 2: That is a good age. So what are your plans for the future?
Arthur: This is me now. I’ll keep this place going until I drop, even if I’m only open a few days a week. I wouldn’t know what to get up to without my shop. Some fellas want to retire to the country, but I’d go spare with the boredom. There’s always something going on round here and I know my customers. Sam Phillips at the fishmongers there, he bought his school shoes from me and Lily who works at the laundry, always gives me a wave as she goes by.
Voice 2: On that cheerful note I’ll say, thank you very much to Arthur Crabtree and to you at home, until next time, Goodbye!
Voice 3: You’ve been listening to That’s My Business, presented by Edward McHugh. Next week he’ll be in Melton Mowbray talking to a pie maker about his famous pork pies.