But on the recommendation of someone on this blog, I made sure to look in when I was up in Oxford last week on business. Bob and Isabel were both friendly and warm, and talked me through the shop’s variety of footwear, which is probably best described as diverse and unassuming.
Ducker’s sells shoes costing everything from £80 to £3000. It caters for the cash-poor student trying to buy a decent pair of brogues, or boat shoes to kick around in, as well as the bespoke enthusiast looking to unleash his tastes on exotic hides.
Bespoke starts at £1500, which is pretty good compared to London and only an hour away. While measurements and all fittings are done by Bob, the lasts are made by Springline to his specifications. So some difference from the London shoemakers there. Closing is done by a series of outworkers around the county and all the making is done by friends using spare space in Northampton factories. Though entirely handmade, the production is therefore a little scattered.
Although the turnover of bespoke shoes is not large, its clients have included JRR Tolkien, Evelyn Waugh and various Maharajas. More recently, Eddie Jordan and Jeremy Clarkson were added to the list. And demand is still consistent, pushing the delivery time for bespoke orders out to around 36 weeks.
The stock of ready-made shoes lines the walls of the shop on Turl Street. But it is still not that extensive and made-to-order is heavily emphasised. Depending on the style and timing with the producers in Northampton, made-to-order shoes can be delivered in anything from 4 to 14 weeks. The ability to thus pick your last, leather and sole is highlighted.
That’s the diversity dealt with. The style of the shoes, a last that Bob says he personally commissioned and designed, is unassuming. No Gaziano-style sculpting here. Just nice brogues and Oxfords with smooth, clean lines.
Ducker & Son was founded in 1898 and has been in the same family ever since. When Mr Ducker arrived in Oxford, he was one of 20 shoemakers in the city. Now there’s just one. Let’s hope it stays around, for more sartorial students than I to discover.