Norfolk shoe mender says repairing Queen's wellies and fixing King's slippers a 'privilege'

Retired shoe mender John Wells holds up a picture of him fixing the Queen's horse riding saddle. Credit: ITV Anglia

When John Wells became a shoe mender at a small shop in the village of Dersingham aged 17, little did he know of the royal footwear he would be fixing in the future.

'Shoe Service', an unassuming shop in John's home village, was local when the Royal family were in residence at their estate in Sandringham.

That may be why John and his colleagues got the call up to mend shoes and slippers for Their Royal Highnesses in the first place.

But it was the quality of their work that kept them on the royal books.

One of John's first royal appointments was a pair of the Queen's wellington boots.

"The Queen sent down some wellingtons, little rubber wellingtons, to have patches on, but they were porous, so we sent them back.

"But she sent them down again, and the man who brought them down told me that she had said, 'Men have their wellies patched, why can't I?'

"So, we patched them. And then the Queen Mother sent some down as well!"

The Queen seen wearing wellingtons here at the Royal Windsor Horse Show Credit: PA

Working at the shop for 47 years, John fixed other royal shoes too, including putting new soles on the Queen's riding boots and on the then Prince Charles's slippers.

"They were made of velvet, black velvet with leather soles and his crest on. All done in gold thread."

Despite being in such close proximity to royal footwear, John says he was never tempted to slip them on, but he did reveal what size they were.

"The Queen was a four. The King? I think he is an eight!"

But it wasn't just shoes John was tasked with fixing. One of his most prized mends was the leather straps on the pram used by generations of the Royal family.

Seen at Sandringham, when the Queen's great-granddaughter Princess Charlotte was christened at St Mary Magdalene Church in July 2015, it also carried her son, Prince Edward when he was a baby.

The Royal family celebrate the Queen's 39th birthday at Frogmore House in 1965, with baby Prince Edward in the pram. Credit: PA

"That's a very old pram that I repaired, very old. It's been I don't know how old it is, but, it is still used here, when they're here at Christmas, if there's any young children.

"I had to make new straps in the end - when I see them on the television, I think I hope they're still okay!

"They didn't want to throw anything away. Oh, no! It wasn't a case of, you know, that's worn out, we'll buy something else."

Princess Charlotte, in the pram that John repaired, at her christening in Sandringham in 2015. Credit: PA

Although John has never met the Queen in person, he did get a royal phone call of thanks from Buckingham Palace, once.

It started with a call from Balmoral, the Queen's case had broken. Not much John could do from Dersingham, he thought. But, he was wrong.

There was a car coming down from Scotland to Sandringham, and on its way it brought the bag to John. He repaired it, and then next thing, there was a call from the Palace.

"Wow - I didn't think I'd get a call from Buckingham Palace!

"I feel very privileged that I've done that work for the Royal family. It was my job, so I just did it and I didn't think too much of it then. But, it hit me when the Queen died, that I handled things that she wore. It's very special.

John Wells chats to ITV Anglia's Charlie Frost at the Sandringham Estate. Credit: ITV Anglia

"We were neighbors, you couldn't get much closer! Unfortunately, I never did actually meet her. But, she often gave a wave, when she would go by in the car.

"I feel very sad (that the Queen has passed away), I know a lot of people have said it, but I've known her all my life and she feels like a grandmother, that you've lost, because she's been here.

"And I think it's very sad because she has been a very good queen and she's well, she's held the country together and she's never moaned about what she's had to do, I don't think."

John retired from the shoe fixing trade 10 years ago, passing on his craft of leather work to the next generation. A skill Her Majesty valued very much.

"You know, I think we will never have anybody that is is quite like her."

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