24 - 26 Upperkirkgate ABERDEEN

Telephone +44 (0)1224 647737

 

A History Lesson ...

The Andrew Begg Shoe Business - 1866 to 1998 and beyond? ... Absolutely!

 

The business as it is today has been handed down from father to son for five generations and is currently being run by the great, great grandsons of Alexander Begg.

 

Alexander Begg, born in 1847, was the son of a farmer at New Deer in the heart of NE Scotland. He 'served his time' (his apprenticeship) and became a journeyman (time served tradesman) making shoes and boots with Queen Victoria's shoemaker at Ballater. In 1866 he decided to start a business of his own in New Pitsligo making boots, shoes and dancing pumps for the local population. He was a hard working man and had a son, Andrew (born 1877) to whom he taught his trade. Andrew, carried on the business at 54 High Street, New Pitsligo and developed a trade not just confined to the local area.

 

Andrew, was small of stature, very musical (a trait which was to follow down through the family) and was also regarded as a particularly good highland dancer. Up until the beginning of the Second World War Andrew (1) was regularly making boots for a client in Johannesburg, South Africa! He had two sons and a daughter, Andrew (2) (born 1908), Alexander (2)(1915) and Rachel (1906).

Andrew (2) and Alex both followed into the business, but the war years were to disrupt the business in different ways. Alex joined the Cameronians and eventually returned to New Pitsligo running the business there with his wife Ethel until his early death due to Multiple Sclerosis. He did a correspondence course in what, today, would be called Marketing. Most of the family say that with hindsight, Alex would have been excellent in that field. (His Professor asked that he attend Edinburgh University to further his apparent natural talent.) Ethel continued to run the original shop until her retirement over a decade ago. Andrew (2), meanwhile, saw that there was going to be insufficient trade in New Pitsligo to support himself, his brother and his father and having met and married his first wife, Barbara, decided to try and develop a business for himself. This he did in 1929 at Cuminestown, buying over an existing business at the age of 21. It was round about this time that retailing footwear, other than for, just what you could make yourself became a necessity and was the beginning of our family selling and repairing, instead of making and selling.

In 1931, Andrew's (2) wife, Barbara, died giving birth to their son Andrew (3), which meant that the young father would need help to raise his son. Andrew's (2) sister Rachel (lovingly known as Auntie Eck) did this willingly and they all lived under the one roof at the shop on the High Street in New Pitsligo. In order to make the whole situation manageable, Andrew (2) wound up the business at Cuminestown in 1932 and moved back to his home village buying a shop in New Deer, some 6 years later prior to the beginning of the Second World War. When war broke out, Andrew (2), initially too old for active duty, was seconded to Fairweather's Boot Factory at Arbroath, where he was to work for three years, making and repairing boots for the Armed Forces.

At the end of the War, he moved back to New Pitsligo, and continued to run and redevelop the shop in New Deer, whilst still staying in New Pitsligo. Meanwhile, son Andrew (3)(now known as 'Mac') was growing up. He learned to cut soles from large bends of leather and repair shoes after school, alongside his grandfather again learning the trade without realising it. Mac's father, still eager to succeed and do better for himself, got the opportunity to buy the shoe shop and flats at 27-29 High Street, Fraserburgh. He sold up at New Deer and moved to Fraserburgh in 1950. Mac went to university in 1949, an option never available to his father, studying Law, English and Latin, finally graduating with an MA and teaching diploma in 1952. Immediately following this, Mac then had to do National Service in the Army for two years, strangely enough in the Education Core at Aldershot! Mac's father was still sniffing out business opportunities, and a few weeks prior to completing his duty in the Army, Mac received a call from his father saying that he had found a shop in Elgin and would he like to run it! Mac got out prematurely from his National Service for 'good behaviour and unusual circumstances' and took over the John Rhynas' Shop at 2-6 South Street, Elgin in 1956.

Mac married his childhood sweetheart Isabel in 1957, and the fourth Andrew (4) was born in November 1958 and they lived above the shop for two years before moving out when brother Garek was born. In 1958 the Baltic Shoe Store at 14-16 High Street, Buckie was bought and was run jointly between Mac and his father. A few opportunities were taken to allow expansion, namely in Keith and Forres, this happening when Garek, Andrew and their two sisters Isabel and Katharine were growing up. Summer holidays in Grandad Begg's workshop in Fraserburgh were just a part of growing up and once more a subconscious learning process for Andrew (4) and Garek was taking place. (They can both turn their hand to repairing a shoe if necessary.) When Andrew (4) finished university in 1979, Mac put an ultimatum to him - work for the family business or find a job! Garek was racing for the British Alpine Ski Team at the time, when out of the blue a property in Aberdeen became available. At this point the Forres shop was sold, and our List B property (built in 1696) at 24/26 Upperkirkgate, Aberdeen was bought and developed. Andrew, Garek and their sister Isabel moved in above the shop in 1981 and so the expansion continued, this shop being managed by Andrew. Garek and Isabel, at college and university respectively, both studied accountancy but worked in the shop in their free time in order to keep costs down, a trait very much continued when baby sister Katharine went to university to study languages a decade later. In 1983, when Garek finished college with his Diploma in Management Accounting, Grandfather Begg (quite coincidentally) decided to retire and Garek went to run the Fraserburgh shop. In 1984, Garek started negotiations to buy the John A Dunn shop in Peterhead, and almost simultaneously a property in Inverness became available - it never rains but it pours! Andrew whilst managing Aberdeen, had to take over the overseeing of 46 Marischal Street, Peterhead and the Fraserburgh shop to allow Garek to develop and manage the shop at 28 Union Street, Inverness.

 

 

Since that time, consolidation and internal development has been necessary, developing computerised stock control and ordering systems, payroll systems and accounting systems. Both brothers are now married and have children of their own. Who knows, maybe the history will continue. As the world of retail gets 'tighter', so too does the small business, such as ours, get squeezed from all directions. Andrew (2) right up until his death at 97 in 2006, still took an interest in the business, and was survived by his second wife Margaret who still lived in Fraserburgh until 2011. Mac and Isabel live in Elgin and have largely retired from being actively involved in the business. In July 2002 the business was split in two in order to allow further development by Garek and Andrew (4). Economic pressures and a desire to thrive has led Garek to rationalise the distribution, Buckie was closed, and the South Street, Elgin shop was sold and all business moved to the High Street shop (formerly an adults only concept shop purchased in 1994, The Foot Garden). Garek then bought a new shop in Scott Street Perth and 18 months later Andrew (4) purchased an existing business in Forfar in 2003. Andrew and Garek’s sister, Katharine manages the Forfar shop again an adult only unit, where she helps keep the family flag flying! Andrew continues to live in Aberdeen and manages the Aberdeen shop and continues to be responsible for Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Forfar. Garek lives in Inverness and manages the shop in Inverness as well as looking after Elgin and Perth. All of Garek’s shops now sell adult only product whereas Andrew’s shops, with the exception of Forfar and Aberdeen, also have children’s shoes.

Historically, we have always tried our best to give our customers satisfaction. We have changed our emphasis and direction as the marketplace has dictated, expanded our choice, and have continually offered a service that is second to none. The accumulation of skills acquired over the last 142 years in the footwear business, styles, fittings of toes, joints, arches and heels as well as materials, has played no small part in the continued success of the business. In the last 25 Years, Andrew (4), having a healthy interest in amateur dramatics, has developed a healthy Dancewear trade, ultimately leading to a full blown Dancewear Department in Aberdeen. We have always prided ourselves in our integrity, independence and ability to stock, sell and support at good value for money prices, products with further backup from major national and international Brands.

We have never been and never will be just another shoe shop...

 

 

 

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