Ipswich Icons: Shoe shops stepped up as road conditions in Ipswich improved

Butter Market in Ipswich showing Aldertons and the now demolished ABC cinema.

Butter Market in Ipswich showing Aldertons and the now demolished ABC cinema. - Credit: Archant

Thomas Alderton started his business in a shop in Brook Street in 1853, following an apprenticeship in boot-making in Norwich, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society

Butter Market in Ipswich with Jones (formerly Alderton's) and BHS (where the ABC cinema used to be).

Butter Market in Ipswich with Jones (formerly Alderton's) and BHS (where the ABC cinema used to be). - Credit: Archant

He was a country boy from rural Norfolk but was a natural at boot making, particularly ladies’ footwear, a skill that required the finished product to be both fashionable and comfortable. As a consequence his business was successful and quickly grew too big for its original premises.

In 1857 he opened his new retail outlet at larger premises, 44 Butter Market (a shop that still sells quality shoes). Again trade was brisk and the business prosperous. Existing customers recommended Alderton’s footwear to their friends and family and all were welcomed into the shop.

An important factor in the increased demand for shoes was the condition of the highway. Until the end of the 18th Century the majority of roads had been crudely constructed, and quickly rutted. They became caked in mud and most acted as drains for the adjoining property. Not a pleasant place to walk. During the Industrial Revolution town centre roads were levelled and surfaced, albeit with loose gravel or other available material compressed into a reasonably smooth surface. Some were surfaced in wooden blocks, and further north (where stone was available) with cobbles and sets. This enabled the town’s folk, particularly women, to walk about dry shod and, as things got better, their shoes could double up as a fashion statement. This was good news for Thomas Alderton who saw his trade grow and grow.

The population of Ipswich increased three fold in the first half of the 19th Century, (1801: 11,200; 1851: 32,900) thousands of agricultural workers displaced by new machinery came into town to work in the engineering industry, the very industry that had displaced them from the rural countryside. For example, Ransome’s (1795), ER&F Turner (1837), Cranes (1855) and the opening of the Wet Dock in 1842.

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Thomas Alderton became a town councillor and one of his first decisions was the widening of the Butter Market to accommodate the increasing amount of horse-drawn traffic.

The old jettied fronts of the timber framed buildings opposite were replaced by a long and imposing white brick property (with red brick reveals) of three and four storeys. Alderton’s ancient timber framed shop wasn’t to be altered, there was to be no interruption to his trade.

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Alderton was keen that his business was as up to date as possible and when the opportunity arose to have the internal lighting converted from gas to electricity he was first in the queue. An enterprising young man had set up a steam powered generator in a builder’s yard at the rear of property in Carr Street and, in a Heath Robinson arrangement, cables were run over the rooftops to Number 44 Butter Market, the first shop in Ipswich to be illuminated by electricity.

In 1884 his son, Walter Bullard Alderton, aged 14, joined the family business, firstly in the workshops fetching and carrying, then into an apprenticeship making boots and later managing the business. In 1900 Alderton’s became T. Alderton & Son.

Thomas Alderton died in 1916 and immediately following the war the shop was extended to become the largest shoe showroom in East Anglia. New oak frame picture windows were fitted to the front of the shop and the richly carved oak beamed ceilings and panel walls exposed for the first time in a century.

In 1929 the third generation entered the family business, Arnold Thomas who had worked his apprenticeship at Church and Company in Northampton.

Alderton’s continued trading for 140 years until, in 1992, there was an unfortunate fire. The double jettied building next door, (number 42, occupied by Hughes) suffered an electrical fault and together with numbers 44 and 46 was destroyed. There was a major rebuilding exercise, all three shops were rebuilt in their original style and the ABC Cinema (adjacent) was demolished and became BHS. When Number 44 reopened it became Jones’s Shoe Shop which had moved from 18-20 Butter Market.

For junior members of my family the most memorable feature of the shop was the traditional rocking horse and persuading our children to go shopping with mum was easy if a trip into Alderton’s was planned.

See more from John Norman here

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