THE OWNER of a shoe shop which has been running for eight generations has said she is “very lucky” people in her family have shared a passion for the trade.

Caroline French, 46, is the managing director of W. J. French & Son, one of the oldest shoe-making businesses in the country.

Francis French set up the business in 1803 from his house in Kingsland Place. He later relocated to Charlotte Place until his death in 1867.

His son William took over the business at the age of 23 working from several other addresses and in 1890 the shop moved to Bedford Place where it remains today.

Five generations have since run the business.

Caroline took over in 2014 after her father, William Richard French, retired.

Daily Echo: Picture of third, fourth, fifth and sixth generation of the French familyPicture of third, fourth, fifth and sixth generation of the French family

She is sharing the story of her family's historic business ahead of Independents' Day on July 2 and 3 - an initiative aimed at supporting local traders and encouraging people to visit them.

She said: “[The business] has always passed down to a child in the family and I just think we have been so lucky to have someone that has loved the job and loved the craft.

"We have customers who say they have been shopping with us for three or four generations.

"If people remember going to our shop as a child, they know that we are famous for fitting shoes, measuring feet, and providing a very good service.

"We know families very well who say they have been served by my grandad."

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Caroline’s brother, Michael, the financial director at the firm, added: "Customers come to me and say their grandfather and great grandfather used to buy shoes. So, it’s almost a tradition, not just for our family but for many families across Southampton and in the area.

"That’s something we’re all quite proud of, the ability to share that tradition with so many other people."

Shop manager, Roy Wallbridge, 72, has worked at the shop for almost 60 years.

He says the secret to its success is good service and word of mouth.

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"Customers come in with their kids and buy their school shoes and probably hate them. But their parents keep bringing them in every half a year. That builds a relationship with the kid, even though he might hate the shoes.

"When they get to the age of leaving school, but they have been very loyal over the years, after a couple of years, they come back. They come back with their kids.

"If you stop the care and the good service, their parents stop coming and so do the kids."

Daily Echo: GO! SouthamptonGO! Southampton

WJ and Son can be found at 40 Bedford Place in Southampton, SO15 2DG.

This story is part of Go! Southampton's bid to support local businesses as the upcoming Independents' Day on July 2 and 3 is aimed at supporting local traders and encouraging people to visit them.

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