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Hidden shoes

Period:
Late 19th Century
Description:
These Victorian boots and shoes, all left feet, were found beneath the attic floorboards of a house in Drummore. They were meant to bring good luck to the household.

Until quite recently it was a common practice to hide old shoes around the house. They would be left under floors, concealed in a recess next to a hearth or hidden away in the roof space.

This custom, which goes back to the Middle Ages, is found throughout Europe. It may have its origin in the belief that the Devil could be captured in a shoe or boot. A hidden shoe, especially if concealed near a chimney or window, would help protect a house from the entry of unwelcome spirits. Over time this changed into the more general belief that shoes were ‘lucky’ items. There is an echo of this in the modern practice of tying a shoe to the bride and groom’s wedding car.

Hidden shoes are nearly always well worn. Shoes keep the shape of the wearer’s foot. It was also believed that a shoe could hold a person’s character and spirit after they died. This increased a shoe’s magical or protective power.

A variation on this custom comes from the Mull of Galloway. A few year’s ago a knitted woollen sock was found deliberately hidden close to the chimney of an old cottage. The sock, which probably dates from the 18th century, had been stuffed with burrs and thistle heads. Perhaps the idea was that the thistles would prick and scratch any bad spirits captured in the sock and so deter them from future visits. Or does the thistle-stuffed sock from the Mull represent the opposite of the lucky shoe tradition? Was it hidden with the more sinister intention of bringing bad luck to the inhabitants of the cottage? This strange example of folk magic seems to be unique to Wigtownshire.
Source:
Stranraer Museum
Accession number:
WIWMS 1993.70.1-5
Digital Number:
SROG003n
Creation Date:
late 19th century
Copyright:
Dumfries & Galloway Council