The childhood shoemaker: A tribute to Toni Barbara and Valletta’s British Boot & Shoe Factory
Strolling through the quiet side streets of Valletta, you can’t help but admire the many old, wood panelled shops, with brightly coloured facades. Apart from adding a sense of cultural richness to this famous historic location, throughout the years, these old shops have stirred in many a sense of nostalgia. One of these much-remembered shops is Andrew Barbara’s British Boot & Shoe Factory, located in St Mark Street, Valletta.
A recent post on the public Facebook group Valletta Photos, which aims to tribute the late Toni Barbara, has caught the attention of several people, arousing memories in those who remember their visits to this lovely shoemaker, or better known as l-iskarpan.
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The post, which was published by an old friend of Toni’s, details a short tale written in memory of their friendship. The writer notes how the Barbara family has been in the shoe making business for over a century, and that Toni followed in the footsteps of his father, whom he started working for at the early age of 14.
According to the writer, in the 60s, there were a variety of shoe factories in Malta, and Toni quickly found employment outside of the family business. He learnt the trade of shoe making and started to design and make custom tailored shoes. After some years, he returned to take over his father’s business.
Remembering the shop, the writer adds that he’s known the Barbara family all his life, as he would take shoes and football boots for Toni’s father to repair. Recalling Malta under British rule, he explains that officers would bring a template of their partner’s feet on a cardboard cut-out, to which the Barbara’s would then create a pair of shoes matching the shape and size.
Many in the comments section remember Toni, who passed away around four years ago, and send their condolences to his family. They remember going to the shop with their parents when they were younger, taking shoes with them for Toni to mend. After giving him so many shoes to repair at a time, one commentator remarks how Toni would tease her daughter for destroying her shoes so quickly!
According to the writer of the post, after paying the shop a visit a few years back, he observes that it has barely changed, going as far as comparing it to a museum. He notes how throughout the years, the shop has become a sort of meeting place for Toni’s friends to recall past times and reminisce about their childhood days.
Do you remember Toni and the British Boot & Shoe Factory?