Friday, April 21, 2017

The Northampton Museum the Concealed Shoe Index




Have you ever been renovating and found something clearly out of place, that could almost be hidden in a secret place. If you have, chances are, it was a shoe.



The Northampton Museum the Concealed Shoe Index (CSI) contains more than 1,900 records of shoes found in the fabric of old buildings. The practice was widespread in Europe and may relate to a very old custom of human sacrifice then placing the body in the foundations to ensure the building holds together. One the earliest examples in the Northampton Museum is a Tudor shoe circa 1540, discovered in an Oxford college, but others come from as far away as Egypt and Chile. Shoes are frequently found alongside other objects but no one has ever found a written record of why this custom was practiced.



Most concealed shoes are usually well worn and are found in old chimney stacks or in the loft of old houses. These are thought to have been placed there by either the original builders or when the shoes date to a period after the houses were built, subsequent occupants. According to Swann(1999) an old Hertfordshire custom for luck was to discard old shoes by putting one to water and other to fire. This may in part explain one shoe hidden in the chimney. A pattern has however, emerged and old shoes are frequently restricted to openings on the north-east corner of a structure. Occultists believe this is the side evil spirits are thought to gain entry.



The most popular theory is superstitious people kept old shoes of loved ones in the belief shoes retained the spirit of the owner and as omens bring good luck or more likely ward off evil. A common belief is the devil and his cohorts do not like human smell and would find the smell of leather and sweat repugnant.



A considerable number of concealed shoes belong to children and may well have been kept as a keepsake of a lost child. Others believe these were a sign of fertility with a child’s shoe in the master bedroom a zemi to having lots of children. A child’s shoe also to occultists is pure and unsullied by adult life which would make it a stronger and more powerful totem.

Should you ever discovered concealed shoes please contact Rebecca Shawcross at museumservices@northampton.gov.uk with the following information

Address of building
Date of the building if known and date of any alterations / building work
What the building was / is such as a private house, pub, farm etc.
Where it was found within the building
Note if anything else was found with it
Description of the footwear
Date of the footwear
Images of the footwear in situ

Interesting Read
Swann J. (1996) Shoes concealed in buildings Costume no.30,p.56-69

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