Walter and Son: a High Street Fixture

Daniel Walter was born on 7 January 1831 in Marden, the second son of Charles, a shoemaker & his wife Mary. On 1848, in Marden, he married Elizabeth Leeds, a famer’s daughter. Although both still in their teens, they moved to Hythe and started a business making and selling shoes and boots. Daniel at first bought, or leased, a small shop at 13 (now 30) High Street, then moved a few yards east to no. 15 (now 34).

Every pair of shoes was made on the premises, and they were of all types. In 1856, Daniel designed the ‘Hythe Shingle Boot’ for the newly-created School of Musketry. It was a sort of blucher boot, suitable for walking on the shingle at Hythe Ranges, where target practice took place on the beach (and still does). Adverts described it as ‘especially adapted for Rifle Practice, Sporting or the Country’. This was a clever move. It gave him access to the School – in 1856 they even gave him a pass – and to the officers and their ladies. Much bespoke work followed as did work from the officers at Shorncliffe camp. Women outworkers embroidered the delicate ballroom slippers and fancy ankle boots.

For more robust work, Daniel had a workshop in the yard at the back of the shop but one night in November 1865, fire broke out and quickly spread. Hythe Fire Brigade attended, but as often happened, there was an inadequate supply of water and Daniel lost his workshop, which was of wood with a corrugated iron and felt roof, and all its contents. He then discovered that the building and stock, valued at £100, were not insured, only the house and shop and their contents being covered by his policy. However, the directors of the Kent Fire Office generously allowed him £40 compensation.

He somehow recovered and in 1874, he bought no. 41 (now 88) High Street, a handsome double-fronted shop – or it was when he had redesigned it.

He wanted his new shop to stand out from the ordinary. He went up to London’s West End to see how they did things there, and decided on two fully-glazed full length windows either side of a glazed door, instead of the more usual small panes of glass from waist height and a wooden door. People thought he was mad and that the glass would soon be smashed, but it was not, and the deep windows show-cased his goods beautifully. Not only that, but the shop looked fashionable, a little bit of the West End in quiet Hythe.

The salon on the first floor of Daniel’s Hythe shop in the early 1900s

Daniel’s family grew even more rapidly than his business. He and Elizabeth had five children before her death; he then married Anne Leaver of Lydd, a greengrocer’s daughter, by whom he had another ten children before she, too, died in 1891. Three years later he married Susan Mary Challice, who presented him with a daughter in 1895. That is three wives and sixteen children.

Walter (far right back row) & his extensive family. He is standing next to his six sons

Amidst all this business and family activity, he found time for other things, He was the first Bandmaster of the Hythe Town Band and ensured that his sons played musical instruments, too; he was a member of the Cinque Ports Volunteers based at Fort Twiss; he was elected to the Town Council in 1889 representing the Hythe Ratepayers Association and was a member of the Liberal Party.

In religion, he was a Congregationalist. They had worshipped since 1817 at the Ebenezer Chapel in what is now Chapel Street, just behind Daniel’s first two shops. In 1867, the number of worshippers was growing and larger premises were needed. According to his obituary in the Folkestone Herald’ Daniel bought a piece of land in the High Street known as Old Walnut Tree Yard, then proceeded to raise the money from the members of the congregation to pay him back and also to build a splendid new church which opened the following year. Records do not confirm this, and the conveyance of the land is shown as being ‘to Joshua Wilson and others’ (1). However, Daniel was a key player in the church, which he joined in 1850, soon after his arrival in Hythe and acted as trustee, deacon and pew rent collector.   His second wife, Anne, joined immediately after their marriage in 1870 and was active herself.

One of Daniel’s sons by his second wife, Harry, joined his father in the business, which became ‘Walter & Son’ and he took over the reins when his father retired from both business and the Town Council in 1904.  One of his first actions was to have electric lighting installed in the shop. He had already started to buy in ready-made shoes from K, Lotus and Saxone, among others.


                                                                             A 1912 advertisement for Walter & Son

In 1919, he opened a shop at 29 Sandgate Road, Folkestone ideally placed for clients of the big hotels and he refurbished the Hythe shop in 1928. Harry’s son Gerald, born in 1911, joined him in the business the following year and they opened a second Folkestone outlet. Controversially, even at the time, the shops started to use x-ray machines on children’s feet for fitting shoes.

Daniel, who had retired to Coda Villa in Seabrook Road with Susan and his little daughter Dorothy,  did not die until 1930, a few days after his ninety-ninth birthday, with his wife and daughters Dorothy and Edith at his bedside.  He had been ill for only a few weeks before this. Four of his six sons attended his funeral (Harry was convalescent in France and Charles had died), but of his ten daughters, only the youngest, Dorothy, was there and of the grand-children, none except Harry’s son Gerald.  It does not suggest a close-knit family.  The funeral service was held in Congregational church and then the Hythe Town Band led the cortege to St Leonard’s church where Daniel was buried near the northern boundary.

The shoe business carried on. Harry opened  another shop in Tunbridge Wells in 1940. He died in 1943 and after the war, Gerald expanded the business further, into Dover, Deal and Ashford. The Ashford shop was officially opened by the stage and screen actress Victoria Hopper who was married to Gerald’s brother Peter.

Victoria Hooper at the opening of the Ashford shop

Another shop in Tenterden followed in 1964.

Gerald, like his grandfather Daniel, was civic-minded. He served as town mayor, founded Hythe Rotary Club (which still flourishes today) and was closely connected with Hythe’s biennial Venetian Fete. There is still a memorial cup presented in his name for the best floral float.

In 1973, the Hythe shop was graced by a visit from Marjorie Wallace, then ‘Miss World’ (though not for much longer: it was discovered that she was a single parent and she was de-throned). The Chamber of Commerce had arranged for her to visit the town.

 

More glamour at Walter & son: Marjorie Wallace being measured for shoes

A 1978 venture into Rochester was short-lived and was soon followed by closures at Ashford, Tunbridge Wells and Dover. Tenterden and Folkestone followed suit and the last to go were the shops in Deal and Hythe in 2010. Gerald died in 1998.

Kent Archives:  N/F1998/4/1/1

Sources: Folkestone and District Local History Society Newsletter no. 14 Spring 2003; Iris Pearce; Alethea Lester; Lynda Ryan; Alan Joyce; Mike Umbers; David Paton; Tim Lawrence, Peter White; Dorene McCormack