Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: December 02, 2020
Webpage updated: December 02, 2020




The surgical boot making and shoe repairing business of Messrs Parsons and Son was founded by Mr Frederick Alfred Parsons when he left the Royal Navy circa 1920.

Messrs Parsons and Sons factory on the corner of Hastings Street, left,
and Hastings Terrace, right.
From the author's collection.

Frederick Alfred Parsons was born in North Allington, Bridport, Dorset, on May 12th 1878.  His father, Mr Alfred Parsons, was a machine net braider.  He had married Miss Dinah Welch on May 23rd 1875 at the Ancient Parish Church of Saint Swithin.  Fred was their second child and first son.  By 1901 Mr Parsons had changed his occupation to that of domestic gardener and moved the family to Tiverton, Devon.

In about 1893 young Fred, as he seems to have preferred to be known, joined the Royal Navy.  In 1901, during a visit to his parents, he met Suffolk born Miss Maud Mary Beeton, a domestic servant of retired Major Smith H Gardner living at Tiverton.  They were duly married on June 3rd 1903 at Saint Mary's Church, Upton Pyne, Dorset.  Soon afterwards they moved to Devonport and Maud took a position at Cann House, in the parish of Tamerton Foliot, to the north of Plymouth.

A family naturally followed.  Henry Frederick Parsons was born in 1904 followed by John Beeton Parsons on November 4th 1905.  The family was completed with Miss Lily Maud Parsons in 1908.

In 1912 Fred Parsons was selected by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Royal Navy, for an important task.  He was to join the Captain aboard his ship "Terra Nova" to sail to the South Pole.  Scott was a Devonport boy, having been born at Outlands, near Milehouse, on June 6th 1868 and baptised in the Ancient Parish Church on June 30th that year.  The story of Scott's fatal journey to the South Pole is well known but young Petty Officer Fred Parsons did make it back to Devonport and was awarded the Antarctic 1910-1913 Silver Medal and Clasp by His Majesty King George V at Buckingham Palace on July 26th 1913 before Admiral Prince Louis of Batteberg, a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty.

As a result of that event, Fred was promoted to Chief Petty Officer and it was in this rank he left the Royal Navy at the end of the Great War.  Now a civilian, he set up in business as a boot and shoe maker and repairer.  His first premises are said to have been at number 1A Winston Avenue, Mutley.  It is also claimed that he hated to be referred to as a 'cobbler'.  His second son, John Beeton Parsons, joined him and the business was known as Messrs Parsons and Son.  By 1932 they ad a second shop at number 1 Hotspur Terrace, North Road.

Fred was known as a bit of an innovator.  He produced a penny-in-the-slot machine which for one penny issued a pen and a ticket.  After writing the customer's name and address and any special  instructions on the ticket, it and the boots or shoes requiring repair were popped through a slot if the shop was not open.  The penny was returned when the repaired items were collected.  Son 'Jack' used his bicycle to collect and deliver footwear all over Plymouth until eventually three three-wheeled tri-cars were purchased from Messrs Stevens and James, the manufacturers.

Mr John Beeton Parsons married Miss Rita Adelaide Woodgate at the Anglican Church of Saint Stephen's, Devonport, on April 11th 1928.

A former furniture factory on the corner of Hastings Street and Hastings Terrace became available in 1934.  It failed to sell at auction in September 1934 and was still on the market at the end of the year.  By July 1935 Messrs Parsons and Son were inoccupation of the premises.  The business produced another innovation - a pre-paid one penny postcard which the customer could send requesting a van driver to call and collect boots or shoes for repair.  An example is shown below:


On October 18th 1936 Mrs Maud Mary Parsons passed away.  She was buried at Efford Cemetery on October 21st 1936.  The following year Mr Frederick Alfred Parsons married Winifred Harding.

During the Second World War Mr Parsons junior joined the Auxiliary Fire Service and the staff joined the services, both creating a shortage of workers.  Fred started to employ women and then deaf-and-dumb or disabled men who had previously not been able to get employment.  Both father and son continued this principle after the War.

After the War father and son decided to go separate ways.  While Mr Parsons senior remained at Hastings Street and in the Plymouth Fruit, Fish and Poultry Market, Mr John Beeton Parsons, known as 'Jack', who lived at 29 Ponsonby Road, Stoke, opened his own shop at 71 Wolseley Road, Ford.  The work-room was in the basement and a chute was used to send boots and shoes downstairs.  He used a similar red postcard to his father for requests to call and also sent one out when the repaired items were ready for collection.

Now Prince Louis of Battenberg was the father of the first Earl Mountbatten of Burma and maternal grandfather of His Royal Highness, the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, both of whom served in the Royal Navy.  With Frederick Alfred Parsons being a leading member of the Submariners Old Comrades Association, indeed he was president of the Plymouth branch for his last four years, and thus a regular attendee at parades in London, it is no surprise that he made the acquaintance of the Duke.  They often met at Royal Naval and Polar Expedition events.  It is said that the Duke introduced Fred to Her Majesty the Queen one day as 'My friend Fred'.

Mrs Winifred Parsons died on October 23rd 1960 and was cremated at Efford Crematorium on October 26th 1960.

Fred Parsons retired in 1963 and implemented another of his innovations - he handed over the business to six of his former staff along with 100 in the bank and two of the vans.  The lucky recipients were his secretary, Mrs Mashford, and Messrs Ball, P P Glanville, Jones, Harding, and Willis.  'Jack' Parsons either retired or gave up his business in 1967.

Mr Frederick Alfred Parsons died at his home, "Terra Nova", 35 Churchill Way, Peverell, on Friday January 16th 1970 at the grand age of 91 years.  He was the world's oldest submariner and the last survivor of Scott's expedition.  The business remained at Hastings Street until around 1975, when it moved to North Hill.

Mrs Rita Adelaide Parsons died in 1976 and was cremated at Efford Crematorium on December 14th 1976.  Mr John Beeton Parsons passed away in Leicester on June 4th 1987 at the age of 81 years.

It is not known when the business ceased to trade.