Les Flanagan

The Cobbler's Tale

By Gina Da Cunha

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Les Flanagan' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Les Flanagan' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Les Flanagan' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Les Flanagan' page

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Les Flanagan is originally from south London and grew up in the shadow of the world-famous Oval Cricket Ground.  A shoe-repairer by trade, he moved to Crawley in the early fifties following his stint of National Servce.

A childhood disjointed by war

'I grew up by the Kennington Oval. There was mum, dad who died when I was three, my twin (non identical) brother, but he died about 30 years ago. We were evacuated, so we didn't see much of our grandparents. We used to go to the pub on Saturday to join the sing-along. I was evacuated to Brentford; because of this I don't really remember my grandparents. They died early. My mum was older when she got married. I only saw them once.'

A V2 rocket strike has devastating results

'When I still lived in London, I studied shoe repairing as a trade at Cordwainers College in Hackney three nights a week, paying for my studies by working in a factory on Tottenham Court Road until a bomb landed near and blew out all the doors and windows. When it landed it hit five trolley buses near to University College hospital and killed lots of people. The area cleared by the bomb left space to construct the GPO tower. It was a V2 rocket which made no sound.' 'After this I was drafted and went to Kingston for training. I was very skinny, so they put me and my brother on a special diet to fatten us up, but then they used to send me on the assault courses and long runs, so I lost everything I'd gained in weight!'

Boots. Boots. Boots

Les Flanagan moved to Crawley in 1953. 'I am a shoe repairer by trade and after being in the army in East Surrey regiment, I was stationed for a time with my brother in Canterbury, Kent, and then we both decided to come to Crawley. I was also stationed in Greece repairing army boots. I used to inspect soldiers boots. They had to have 13 studs per boot: 2 rows of 4 studs, a row of 3 and a row of 2, as well as a steel toe plate and heel plate.'

A 45 year working career - and still tinkering in the workshop

'There was no work in Canterbury when we were demobbed, so me and my twin brother came to Crawley for work.' Les has lived in many places in Crawley. 'I've lived on Woodfield Road off Northgate Avenue, Selham Close in Ifield and The Dingle in West Green. There used to be a shoe repairer on shopping estate at that time.' Les had a workshop in Three Bridges and the outside of his workshop which was built in the 1930s. 'I was in the workshop for 45 years from about '56 till 1999 in Mill Road, Three Bridges. I worked there 10 hours a day 5 days a week and a half day on Saturday 8-1pm. The shop rent was £1 per week with rates included. This stayed the same for 20 years and then went up to £2. It cost £3/4 to mend a pair of shoes. On my days off I used to go on day trips to Brighton with my mates, and visits to Chinese restaurants, and my favourite Austrian meals, Weiner Schnitzel. Some of my materials are in Crawley museum. I retired in 1999, but still have a home workshop for tinkering.'

This page was added by Gina Da Cunha on 01/04/2008.
Comments about this page

Les I lived over the road from your workshop at no28. There was competition for snobmen at Hazelwick Road in the shape of Tommy Knight now long gone. I have not been to 3 Bridges for years is your workshop still there?

By roger jones
On 18/01/2009

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