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So Long, Ahmet Kamil

April 10, 2020
by the gentle author

Ahmet Kamil of Newington Green died of the coronavirus last Wednesday April 1st,  just one week after his father Sattretin Kamil

“I always trust my work”

Ahmet Kamil has been one of the most popular characters around Newington Green in recent decades. His modest repair shop was firmly established as a local hub where everyone was constantly popping in and out getting news, exchanging the time of day and having their shoes mended while they were about it too. At the end of a fine seventeenth century brick terrace, tucked in beneath a green awning, Ahmet’s premises have not changed for as long as anyone can remember.

Winter was the busy season for Ahmet but rainy days in summer sent people into his shop too, so I took advantage of a sunny day to pop over to Newington Green and have a chat with him while the business was quiet. Possessing a soulful charisma and a generous spirit, Ahmet spoke his thoughts to me as he continued with his work and I enjoyed my morning in the peace of his beautiful workshop, offering a calm refuge from the clamour of the traffic outside heading up to Stoke Newington.

“This is a family business, we’ve been here about thirty years – maybe more. My father Sattretin Kamil started it up and passed it onto me, his son. Then I took over and now my son, Tevfik Kamil, will follow me. He hasn’t fully taken over yet but he will do so. He tried other things but he’s not been happy with them, so now he’s got interested in this and has decided to do it.

My father Sattretin made shoes by hand in Cyprus, he learnt it when he was only twelve years old and, after he came to this country at thirty-five, he couldn’t get a job so he decided to make shoes here. But he was advised that mending shoes might be easier and more profitable. He had four shops – in New Cross, Charlton, Hornchurch, and this one, all run by the family. After my father retired, we cut back to just this and the one in Charlton. When my son takes over, he’ll be here and I’ll be in Charlton.

I was twenty-five when I decided to give my father a hand and the business just stuck on me – he didn’t push me into it. Because everything’s done by hand, the more you do, the more you like it. Over the years there has been no real competition. If you trust the quality of your work there will never be any competition. I do everything by hand and my work is quality. There are chains with fifty or hundred branches where they do poor quality shoe repair and key cutting, and charge more money. My customers often complain to me about them. I always trust my work.

Shoes are getting more expensive and people’s habits are changing with time. They’re taking more care of their shoes, not throwing them away and getting a new pair – so there is a tendency to repair. Also, there’s a lot of secondhand shops popping up and people are buying old shoes, but the leather dries out and comes away from the sole, and stilleto heels get brittle and smash – and, as a consequence, they are bringing them to me. There’s a healthy future in it, yet there are easier jobs than this in which you can make better money.  I’ve always thought of shoe repair alongside dry-cleaning, those shops make more money for less work. We are under pressure with the rent that is constantly going up and the price of materials, but we try to keep the service as cheap as we can.

Not many people will do shoe repair, you have to be fully committed and make good quality shoe repairs, and the work grows on you. But it’s the most difficult job you can do. It’s dirty and it’s hard work. While I was playing football until the age of thirty-five, I never had any aches and pains, but now standing still I get back ache. It’s midday and I’ve been working since nine o’clock – see how dirty my hands are. I work six days a week all year round. I’ve never had a Saturday off in thirty years. I’d like to go and watch the football, but instead I listen to it on the radio and watch the highlights.

You make a lot of friends. I’ve met a lot of people doing this work and many of my customers call me by my name. I’ve just recently been in hospital for an operation for ten days and my son was running the shop, and everybody was coming round, asking about me, ‘Where is he?’ So they are not just customers. Every year I take four weeks off in August and go back to Cyprus. When I come back again, everyone brings in their shoes. They say, ‘We wouldn’t take them anywhere else.’ They tell me, they wait until I come back because of the friendship. That’s the bond I have with my customers.”

“Because everything’s done by hand, the more you do, the more you like it”

“I’ve never had a Saturday off in thirty years”

“It’s midday and I’ve been working since nine o’clock – see how dirty my hands are”

“You make a lot of friends”

At the end of a fine seventeenth century brick terrace, tucked in beneath a green awning, Ahmet’s premises have not changed for as long as anyone can remember.

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42 Responses leave one →
  1. April 10, 2020

    How very sad, what a loss.

  2. April 10, 2020

    Sad loss, seems like a very decent sort.

  3. Susan permalink
    April 10, 2020

    My heart goes out to the Kamil family, who have suffered such pain. I am sure his customers will also miss him very, very much – not just because he was a good cobbler, but a lovely man as well.

  4. April 10, 2020

    That is just so so sad.

  5. Jill Wilson permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Indeed – a very sad loss. Condolences to his family and his many friends and loyal customers.

  6. April 10, 2020

    Goodness me, what a terribly sad story, I am so upset by this. This awful pandemic ripping the heart out of many families and communities. Please stay safe and healthy everyone.

  7. Amanda permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Heartbreaking. Deepest condolences to the Kamil family for both their losses.

    He looked such a kind, contented man.


  8. paul loften permalink
    April 10, 2020

    I am very sad to read about Ahmet., what a loss to the locality and to us all.
    In the last few days I have been feeling some symptoms myself. I am in a position where two of my children are off work and at home, and I am the only person who can drive and go out and bring back the necessary food for survival. No deliveries are available from supermarkets, despite me being in an “at risk”age group. So I am having to stand in long queues for hours an on end. The other day I opened a letter and inside was a fine from parking company for overstaying my time in my local Aldi car park. Despite having stood in a line for 2 hours to get in.
    I believe that one should have a personal strategy in place for dealing with this illness if or when it will come calling. I won’t go into it, I don’t know if it is effective or not but I will let you know if it is.

  9. April 10, 2020

    An Amazing Man, God Bless Him.???????

  10. Ros permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Very sorry to read that Ahmet and his father have both died of coronavirus. Ahmet’s customers will be very sad. Condolences indeed to his son and the rest of his family.

  11. Mike Shingleton permalink
    April 10, 2020

    This is so very sad. It is something at least that his life has been recorded and acknowledged on these pages.

  12. April 10, 2020

    Another sad, sad lose. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

  13. Richard Smith permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Very, very sad GA but thank you for reminding us about Ahmet’s wonderful life.

  14. Julie Cruickshank permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Ah after weeks of bad news this finally made me cry. How proud he was of his shop and trade. Thank you for remembering him.

  15. Leanne Teves permalink
    April 10, 2020


  16. Judy Slater permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Always friendly. A sad loss.

  17. Ellie Ling permalink
    April 10, 2020

    This brought tears to my eyes. How sad. And now his family are mourning both him and his father. He sounds such a nice man…and one who lived a life in which he felt fulfilled and valued but also (by the sound of it) quite humble and self-effacing. It sounds like he will be deeply missed by a lot of people. R.I.P Ahmet and Sattretin

  18. Pauline Taylor permalink
    April 10, 2020

    How sad this news is this morning, to lose one member of your family must be bad enough, but to lose two so quickly is truly shocking,
    I send my heartfelt sympathy to all the Kamil family and to Ahmet’s customer friends, RIP Ahmet.

  19. Annie S permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Oh no, I’m so very sorry to hear that – how tragic for the family – my sincere condolences.
    He fixed up a pair of very loved skate shoes for me a few years ago – proper old school shoe repairers.

  20. Adele permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Sad, sad. Condolences to the surviving family members. Reminded me of a shoe maker I used to go to in Islingon. Also from Cyprus. These craftsmen unfortunately are a dying breed.

  21. April 10, 2020

    “You make a lot of friends.” This photo caption caught my eye today.

    As I question everything nowadays, I wonder if this is our mission? To work earnestly at what we do, and make friends.

    The beautiful photos above show a man in his personal element — working with a smile and bringing his capability to others.

    Sending my best along to everyone. And reader Paul — Please let us know how you are doing.
    Stay safe.

  22. Esmond Fernandes permalink
    April 10, 2020

    Newington Green is never going to be the same again: never! One by one the regulars who came together daily in his shop passed on until there was just him and I left and now he has gone and has left such a gaping hole! There were so many of them all from the former British possessions and colonies. We talked about everything from sports to politics with great zeal. He was by far the brightest and most witty Turkish gentleman I have ever met and as kind and generous as you could ever want. What a surprise! What a loss! What a good and conscientious shoemaker! What a rounded and warm personality! My condolences and sympathies I extend to all his family with the same sincerity as he radiated whenever I arrived at his shop for regular visits. And his son will have an almost impossible act to follow and I will give him all the support I can. Esmond

  23. Sue Mayer permalink
    April 10, 2020

    I am sorry to read that Ahmet and his father have both died. Ahmet’s customers will be very sad. I am sure that Ahmet will not be forgotten by his customers and readers of this blog.

    Condolences to his son and the rest of his family.

  24. Robin permalink
    April 10, 2020

    A real artist and craftsman; a kind-hearted neighbor and family man; a beautiful human being.

  25. April 10, 2020

    I came down from Scotland and bought a fair few pairs of Chelsea boots from Ahmet – Really sorry to hear the news of his sad passing . Tony

  26. Sonia Murray permalink
    April 10, 2020

    This is a dreadful loss to the community as well as to Ahmet’s family. Thank you for the pictures of this very kind man who spent his life helping so many people. We have just one shoe repair shop in our area, and I hope they never close. My deepest sympathies to everyone who has lost someone they love.

  27. Nejla Djemal permalink
    April 10, 2020

    So sad to hear of Ahmet and his fathers passing. I’ve known Ahmet for over thirty years, My husband and I had a dry cleaning shop on Newington green road and it was always a pleasure to walk into his shop and have a chat. He was a lovely man and always had time for everyone. I have recently lost two members of my family to this awful virus and so being part of the community together with Ahmet for so many years makes him feel like family too. He will be greatly missed in the community and I’m sure Ahmet’s son will do a good job in carrying on with his fathers good work. Our condolences to Ahmet’s family at this sad and tough time.

  28. Mary Foley permalink
    April 10, 2020

    I’m so sorry for his families loss. He was a kind and lovely man.

  29. Nurri permalink
    April 10, 2020

    So saddened by this news… Big condolences to Ahmet’s family, and please rest in peace…

  30. April 10, 2020

    What sorrowful and tragic news .
    My thoughts are with the family at this most saddest of times.

  31. April 11, 2020

    The photograph of Ahmet holding out his hands as if both proud yet surprised by the skill within them is a work of art. Such a sad passing. It is clear from your piece and the tributes here that he will be deeply missed.

  32. Tanya permalink
    April 11, 2020

    A beautiful tribute to Ahmet and his father, bring them to life for those, like me who didn’t know them. I felt as if I had visited their shop with this post. Their warmth and quiet dedication is very inspiring to read about. I only wish that they hadn’t both lost their lives in this terrible pandemic. My condolences to his son and remaining family. I’m sure they will be very sadly missed.

  33. April 11, 2020

    What a very sad loss, to Ahmet’s family, and to the whole community. My sincere condolences to all the Kamil family. I trust that in time Tevfik Kamil will still feel able to carry on the honour of his father and grandfather, through ensuring this wonderful service thrives; particularly in such an elegant end setting of this 17th century building. May Ahmet and his father rest in peace, and with thoughts to all those other families who have lost beloved family members to this terrible virus.

  34. Marcia Feldmann permalink
    April 11, 2020

    This is so incredibly sad . I’ve gone to this shop for years and he was such a nice man .
    Sending my deepest sympathy to Ahmet’s family .

  35. Linda Granfield permalink
    April 11, 2020

    My condolences to Ahmet’s family–what extreme losses for them.

    I’m sure that joyous smile and those twinkling eyes will be long remembered.

  36. Menna permalink
    April 11, 2020

    What a lovely man and friend, as a family we actually have been coming here for everything for around 30 yrs cos u know he will fix it and not rip u off, I once came with a pair of stilettos tbat were too high and he cut them back for me.. not many peo0le would even bother with that..will miss him and his chats but let’s hope his son takes over. Eakshamla

  37. April 11, 2020

    A wonderful soul. So saddened to hear of his passing. I was one of his loyal customers and everytime I visited his shop I thought ‘what a nice man this guy is!’

    There would always be some other guys in the shop wanting to chat with him while he was so deeply absorbed in whatever he was doing and I remember always thinking this guy must be so popular, they never leave him alone!

    He would always try to find a solution to whatever problem I had. Whenever I had something I wasn’t sure how to fix, I would think ‘maybe the guy in Newington Green knows how to do it’. Last time I went there he helped to straighten a bolt from my bed that was bent, saving me a dreaded trip to Ikea to find a replacement or even a new bed base. Always with a smile on his face.

    May you and your father rest in peace. Newington Green won’t be the same without you.

  38. Janet permalink
    April 12, 2020

    This is really sad news . I am in tears reading this . I went to Ahmet’s shop many times over the years from nearby Stoke Newington and also when I worked in the local library.
    Newington Green will really not be the same. Heartfelt condolences to the family. RIP X

  39. Alex permalink
    April 13, 2020

    Such sad, sad news which brought me to tears. Ahmet was a not only a great shoe mender but simply a lovely man who was a pleasure to be around. He often lent his shop window to community groups for local exhibitions. This a great loss to Newington Green which will never be the same. Sincerest condolences to his family.

  40. Clem permalink
    April 13, 2020

    Devastating news…

    Ahmet will be greatly missed. He was so professional, helpful, friendly. Such a good ambassador of the neighbourhood. He was much appreciated by all his clients, including us.

    Thoughts and prayers for his family.

    This is one of my favourite poems. I hope it can help:

    When I feel overwhelmed by destruction

    Let me go down to the sea,

    Let me sit by the immeasurable ocean and watch

    The surf beating in and running out all day and night.

    Let me sit by the sea,

    And have the bitter sea winds slap my cheeks with

    Their cold damp hands,

    Until I am sensible again.

    Let me look out at the sky at night,

    And let the stars tell me of limitless horizons and

    Unknown universes,

    Until I am grown calm and strong once more.”

    Marjorie Pizer

  41. April 13, 2020

    Mr Ahmet Kamil — R.I.P

    Love & Peace

  42. Daniel Hawes permalink
    April 23, 2020

    I was shocked and saddened to read this as when I lived in Stoke Newington Ahmet was my go to cobbler. I have a pair of Church shoes in my wardrobe now that he fixed for me about 5 years ago. RIP

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