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About Us

Welcome to W. J. French & Son, the oldest and largest independent shoe shop in Hampshire.  W J French & Son is an independent family run business which has been trading in Southampton since 1803 and is now in the hands of the eighth generation of the French family.  

We are well known by our many regular customers for our expert and personal service. Many of our members of staff have been with the company for over 20 years and have Society of Shoe fitter qualifications.  We are very aware of the importance of fitting shoes and the damage which can be done to feet if shoes are not fitted correctly.  This is why we hold an enormous selection of quality brands in order to provide the customer with an excellent choice and standard of fitting.  We are recognised by the Children's Foot Health Register as a centre of excellence for shoe fitting.

   We stock ladies, men's and children's shoes in whole and half sizes.

   We stock shoes that are available in a wide range of width fittings.

   We employ trained staff to measure feet and ensure shoes are carefully fitted.

   Our staff receive continuous training.

   We are committed to the principle of excellent customer service and care.

The shop is arranged over 3 floors and has a work shop on site where repairs and shoe alterations can be carried out.  Our two cobblers have over 40 years experience between them and are willing to tackle most requests.



Shoe Making and the French Family

W. J. French & Son is one of the oldest shoe making businesses in the country and is now over 200 years old. Francis French started as an apprentice shoemaker in 1794 and in 1803 became a master shoemaker and began his business from his house in Kingsland Place, Southampton.  He later, after several moves, relocated to Charlotte Place, until his death in 1867.  His son William (2nd generation) at the age of 24 carried on the successful business working from several other addresses such as Hanover Buildings near Paradise Row, Above Bar and in 1848, to Manchester Street.  It was not until 1890, that the family moved to the premises at 40 Bedford Place and in 1964, the adjoining properties were bought to extend the store as we know it today.

Bespoke Shoe making

William George French (3rd generation), started his business life making and altering the smart button boots of the period.  As late as 1850 most shoes were made on absolutely straight lasts, there being no difference between the right and the left shoe, breaking in a pair of shoes was not easy.  So William, who insisted that shoes must fit both feet even when the feet are odd, developed many of the techniques now used for altering one or both shoes.

First Factory shoes

It was about 1880, when the first practical ready made shoes were coming from Norwich and Northampton.  William (3rd generation) refused to alter his bespoke methods of shoemaking and as a result his son, William (4th generation) opened the shop in Bedford Place, to handle the ready made shoe trade.  The introduction from America of Gold Cross multiple fitting shoes and the bespoke service offered by the workshop blended new products with old skills which helped pioneer the way forward to establish Frenchs as one of the few shoe-fitting specialists in the United Kingdom and which helped to start a revolution in shoe buying. The workshop is still onsite today, backing a fitting stock which is seldom seen elsewhere. 


Only the best

A great majority of French's customers start young and for generations children have been introduced by their parents to correctly fitted, quality footwear.  W. J. French & Son pride themselves on providing a huge range of stock for customers to choose from, supplied by many of the world's leading manufacturers.

The friendly and knowledgeable staff are always available to assist customers of any age and help carry on the tradition that has been in Southampton for over 200 years.