Soul to Sole: Old Boots Concealed in Ancient Buildings
The phenomenon of old, worn-out leather shoes having been deliberately concealed within ancient buildings is now an attested practice, acknowledged and recorded as ‘intentional deposits’ by archaeologists.
Evidence suggests that the concealers believed that they acted either as a prophylactic (an all-purpose measure taken to fend off a range of diseases) or were concealed to bring good luck, ward against the evil eye or to avert the attentions of the witch’s familiar.
Concealed shoes are found in building contexts all over the English-speaking world and are widespread across Europe. They are by far the most common charm used to protect buildings in post-medieval times. In medieval graffiti studies, shoe outlines are considered to be one of the universal motifs that occur all over England and throughout history.
Shoe and clothing caches have been found in chimneys, under floors, above ceilings and sometimes guarding ‘danger’ points such as doors, windows and stairs. The chimney, fireplace and hearth as well as its inglenooks were a particular focus for concealments.
Dating techniques have shown that the practice often coincided with periods of political and socio-economic stress such as at times of war, or when superstitious practices generally increased – such as during the height of the ‘Witch Craze’ in England, between the 16th to 17th centuries.
Child’s shoe, connected to the Legend of the ‘Little Blue Lady’
Collection of shoes recovered renovations at Ightham Mote 14th century manor
Old 19th century postcard (photo credit: I Evans 2015)
Wayne Perkins has been an archaeologist for over 22 years, seven of those spent excavating in France. He is a member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists.
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