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Robina (Robin) Pitfield - Shoe buyer at Suters in Uxbridge

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My mother Robina (Robin) Pitfield worked at Suters for 20 years. In 1950 as I started school. my mother took a temporary Christmas job at the Uxbridge store and was assigned to the children's shoe department. She liked it, did well and was offered a permanent full-time role.My mother was very ambitious, for herself, my father, and for me.

My mother got of very well with 'Tommy' Thompson, the Shoe Buyer. I recall him well, very distinguished and formally dressed - was it a morning suit? He was a big man with a large 'corporation' stomach across which was a gold pocket-watch and chain. Always kindly, every time he saw me as a child he would give me half-a-crown.

Tommy recognized my mother's ability and hard work and acted as a sort of mentor to her. I think he trained her to succeed him. She was indeed hard-working and very capable as Suter's recognized. With the company's support she often went on training courses at Clarks shoes (C. & J. Clark International Ltd, trading as Clarks) in Glastonbury.

Training course at Clarks in Glastonbury. Michael Pitfield's mother Robina is in the centre wearing the light-coloured outfit/skirt, holding a light-coloured long clutch bag. (Third from right front row.)

Suters was very much part of my life for 20 years. Not least because my father's office was next door when the NTG (North Thames Gas) building was finished. (It had begun in 1939 but with the onset of war building stopped so that only the girders remained. It was not completed until the mid-1950s). From age 13 I went to school in London, getting the tube back to Uxbridge where we would all meet up at the end of the day to drive home.

As a small child I was fascinated by the 'Pedoscope' X-ray machine in the children's shoe department. Later I would get back from school at about 5.00 and wait in the shoe department until closing time at 5.30. It was usually quiet at that time and Tommy used to love explaining to me the structure of shoes and how they are manufactured. He took a great interest in me, how I was getting on at school etc.

My mother often went to London to meet suppliers and to assess competition in the big stores, sometimes she would take me with her. Occasionally I was given shoes by the suppliers. On these trips we would always have lunch in the Rose Room at Bourne & Hollingsworth- a great treat for me!

I remember that my mother also went to Tampere in Finland to view and buy boots. It was part of the Scandic event described elsewhere on the website. It resonates with me because I have spent time in Finland and have been to Tampere.

Suters was very much a warm community and I can remember many people from those days I can't remember all their names though. I vividly remember Doreen Norwood and Gina Fox who worked with my mother. Also Esther O'Reilly, she and my mother became great friends and after my father died my mother often went to stay with Esther in Fermanagh. I also remember the window-dressers Derek Browne and his partner Reg, they were openly gay and were very kind to me, getting me involved in their amateur dramatic group. I can't put names to other faces I recall but they were all lovely people in the 'family' that Suters fostered.

In 1970 we moved from Hillingdon to Northwood and as my father was doing very well in his career my mother decided to 'retire' from Suters. She didn't intend to work again but Bill Bowley (of Bowley's Shoes in Northwood) whom she knew from the trade persuaded her to work for him. He recognized her ability so it was on her terms as a sort of part-time advisor. It suited them both well.

I was my parent's only child and got married in 1972. We had our first child (of three) in 1975. My parents were planning for my father's retirement. Sadly he died of a heart attack in 1976 at the age of 56. There was a letter of condolence on behalf of Suters (from 'Mr John'). The shock of my father's death had a profound effect on my mother. Though she had me and my growing family she became somewhat purposeless and introspective. She ceased her work at Bowleys. She made efforts to be positive (for example visiting Esther) but she lost her 'joie de vivre'. She suffered from angina, though was otherwise fit, and died of a heart attack in 1996 at the age of 76.

Source: Michael Pitfield September 2020

Michael Pitfield originally contacted Philip Suter in August 2020.

Philip replied " Many thanks for your email. Very pleased you found the site. I certainly remember your mother and as a youngster used to be taken to Uxbridge for my shoes. My late father John had the responsibility for men's and boy's clothing together with shoes and from memories at home he was always praising your Mother, who would have been the buyer for years. I believe that your father worked for the police, or fire, London Transport or the gas company and wore a uniform? I of course could be completely wrong, but somewhere along the line this must have cropped up in a him conversation. I would be very happy to have memories from the Suters community and my only regret was that I had set up the site some ten years or more earlier."

Michael replied "Thank you for your message - and for your kind words about my mother. I remember your father very well, and his brother Frank, I met 'Mr Clarence' occasionally too. My parents met and married during the war, both were in the RAF. They settled in Hillingdon (the village) where my father came from. When I started school in 1950 my mother was able to get a job. She took a temporary Christmas job at Suter's and was assigned to the children's shoe department. She liked it, did well and was offered a permanent full-time role. My father worked for North Thames Gas, I don't recall him ever having a uniform. My mother was very ambitious, for herself, my father, and for me. With her encouragement my father did very well with NTG, eventually achieving a senior executive position.

My mother got of very well with 'Tommy' Thompson, the Shoe Buyer, do you remember him? I recall him well, very distinguished and formally dressed - was it a morning suit? He was a big man with a large 'corporation' stomach across which was a gold pocket-watch and chain. Always kindly, every time he saw me as a child he would give me half a crown. Tommy recognised my mother's ability and hard work and acted as a sort of mentor to her. I think he trained her to succeed him. She was indeed hard-working and very capable as your father recognised. With the company's support she often went on training courses at Clarke's in Glastonbury.

I have a photo of her group on one such course if you would like a copy. Suter's was very much part of my life for 20 years. Not least because my father's office was next door when the NTG building was finished. (It had begun in 1939 but with the onset of war building stopped so that only the girders remained. It was not completed until the mid-1950s). From age 13 I went to school in London, getting the tube back to Uxbridge where we would all meet up at the end of the day to drive home.

Philip replied - "My apologies for not replying before and thank you so much for all that interesting information. It now makes sense about your father working for NTG. I think he had to visit my parents at their house in Gerrards Cross and remember he was wearing a dark coloured raincoat or overcoat, hence this "uniform" idea was in my mind. Very sad he died so young and I reckon it would have been my late father who would have written a letter of condolence as he usually did this and attended funerals, even after the business was sold in 1978.

Now you mention Tommy Thompson, I also remember him at Uxbridge in the era when I must have gone there a lot in the 1950s as a youngster before starting school and in holidays. You were talking about Finland and I think it would have been in the era of the Scandinavian promotion and also believe the buying controller would have been a Mr Morley. I will forward this email onto my cousin Tom who spent most of his Suters career at Slough and is the surviving son of Clarence.

The email was passed onto Tom Suter who commented "Mrs Pitfield, I remember her very well. When the two stores amalgamated and the Slough buyer retired I asked her to take on the task rather than advertise . Later I asked her to do a more senior job which she declined for I think family reasons. I was aware of her abilities and was sorry when she did not take on. She always looked the part and was greatly admired by the family"

Robert Suter commented "I do remember her, although mainly when Dad was buying new shoes or "Cotton Oxford" rugby boots, when I was at Thorpe House school and then later at St. Pauls school in London. Mrs Pitfield was a charming lady, who knew her job very well. I was always intrigued by the "Pedoscope", which she showed me.

You could look into it. It showed your foot in skeleton form and I would wriggle my toes. I believe that the machine was eventually removed, as it was deemed to be unsafe!! I joined Suters in August 1968 and was a merchandise manager in my 2nd year at the Uxbridge store, before going back to Slough in 1970 to prepare the company for Decimalisation in February 1971."

Left: Shoe department at Uxbridge in 1950s

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Source of images, unless otherwise stated - Suter family archives

 

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