The background to Andrew Begg Shoes in more detail …
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 grandchildren of ALEXANDER BEGG who born in 1847, the son of a farmer at New Deer in the heart of NORTH-EAST 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 started 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 family trait evident to this day) and was also regarded as a particularly good highland dancer. Until the beginning of the Second World War Andrew (1) MANUFACTURED QUALITY FOOTWEAR for the local community as well as sending goods further afield – he regularly made 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. 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 just 21. It was around this time that RETAILING footwear rather than small-scale manufacturing, became a financial necessity and so this 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 one roof at the shop on New Pitsligo’s High Street. 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 living 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 with his grandfather, 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. He graduated with an MA and teaching diploma in 1954. Immediately following this, Mac then had to do National Service in the Army for two years, serving in the Education Corps at Harrogate. 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 was subsequently released slightly early from his National Service for ‘good behaviour and unusual circumstances’ and took over the John Rhynas’ shoe shop at 2-6 South Street, Elgin late 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, he was offered the choice of joining the family business or finding a job in Forestry (his degree subject) – he chose the former. Garek was racing for the British Alpine Ski Team at this time, when out of the blue a property in Aberdeen became available. 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, both studying accountancy in Aberdeen, worked in the shop in their free time in order to keep costs down, a trait which continued when baby sister Katharine went to university to study languages in 1989. In 1983, when Garek graduated in Management Accounting, Grandfather Andrew (2) decided to retire and Garek went to run the Fraserburgh shop. In 1984, Garek started negotiations to buy the John A Dunn shop at 46 Marischal Street, Peterhead, and almost simultaneously a property in Inverness became available – it never rains but it pours! Andrew started to oversee the Peterhead and Fraserburgh shops, allowing Garek to develop and manage the shop at 28 Union Street, Inverness.
Since then ongoing consolidation, modernisation and development has been necessary to survive challenging trading conditions. In July 2002 the business was split between Garek and Andrew (4), Buckie was closed and South Street, Elgin was sold and its’ business relocated to the other existing Elgin shop (an adults-only store located on High Street called ‘The Foot Garden’, purchased in 1994, ). Also in 2002 Garek bought a new shop in Scott Street, Perth (formerly David Guild Shoes) and in 2003 Andrew welcomed his youngest sister, Katharine, into the business when they jointly purchased the other existing David Guild shoe store in West High Street, Forfar.
The severe economic conditions from 2008 onwards brought in their wake the closure of Andrew Begg Fraserburgh and Peterhead, much to the sadness of all concerned. Andrew also had to take the difficult decision to stop selling children’s shoes in Aberdeen, a trade which he had built over many years and was sorry to lose in the face of competition from larger retailers and the internet.
Despite these difficulties, the Andrew Begg name lives on strongly in Aberdeen and Forfar (Garek, still based in Inverness, has developed a stable of shops with his wife and sons which trade as Begg Shoes rather than Andrew Begg). 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 lived in Fraserburgh until her death in 2011. Mac and Isabel continue to live in Elgin and have largely retired from the business .
Historically, we have always strived to provide customer satisfaction. We have changed our emphasis and direction as the marketplace has dictated, expanded our selection, and continually offered the individual service expected from a small independent retailer. The skills acquired over the last 142 years in the footwear business (understanding of footwear shapes, materials and fittings – to suit toes, joints, arches and heels), has played no small part in the continued survival of the business and we continue to grow our knowledge. Over the last 35 years, Andrew (4), having a keen interest in amateur dramatics, has developed a healthy Dancewear business, ultimately leading to a full blown Dancewear Department in Aberdeen. We are not afraid of change and will continue to embrace it while retaining our integrity, independence and commitment to quality product and service.
We have never been and never will be ‘just another shoe shop’ …