Friday, August 22, 2014

A Concealed Shoe on the Cusp of a New a Century

This part of New England, where I live, and  Northampton UK share a rich history of shoe making. The Northampton Museums and Art Gallery maintains a collection of shoes both touted and obscure. The touted shoes can, through elegance or notoriety, elicit an immediate positive response, but what of the obscure shoes, the concealed shoes, the well worn shoes hidden in a wall? Worn shoes have been hidden in the recesses of houses for centuries, a practice designed to protect the house and its inhabitants from evil. As shoes have been discovered some communities have noted their existence and recorded the information. Happily for anyone interested in concealed shoes, the Northampton Museum in the UK keeps an index of concealed shoes from several countries from around the world. The curators compiled a list of categories and attributes of the shoes discovered over the years. It's worth a look at the the whys and where's:

So what does this custom have to do with New England? Well, you never know where a custom may fall. Our house was built in 1914-15 so it’s on the cusp of its centenary. Over the years we’ve removed some questionable bits and added our own. A number of years ago we converted the house from a two-family house to a single-family house. Never a large house, the rental apartment could not fit the larger furniture many people owned, which made our decision a little easier.  One of the tasks was the replacement of the ground floor front door leading to the upstairs unit with a window. Each apartment had its own entrance, so one needed to go. As I removed the door frame from the wall frame a workman’s shoe fell from the space between the studs and hit the floor. Usually these voids have broken plaster keying and bits of wood from the construction, but this time a shoe!

It startled me, as we have never found anything in this house other than what should be--no treasures, no forgotten documents, just a house, which is fine by us. So the falling shoe was the first artifact discovered in the house. When I retrieved the shoe from the floor, I looked inside and there was a label describing the shoe as, “The Elite Shoe” manufactured in Brockton (MA?).  A utilitarian shoe for a working man, with a hint of style provided by the punched leather detail. Did the shoe manufacturer decide this touch make it an elite shoe? We may never know.

The beauty of the discovery was not the quality of the shoe but the connection it provided with the past. A modern shoe transformed to become part of a centuries old tradition--a good luck token from the builders. It may have been left to protect the house form evil, but how intriguing that it still occurred in the early twentieth-century, not just the fifteenth-century.

Such a simple, utilitarian and delightful reminder of the power we invest in articles of clothing, which occasionally transcend time and perhaps even space.  For the record another concealed shoe has been found in another old house.

Jeff Hopper: Consultant, Historic House Steward and Social Historian


  1. Whoa, so cool! That must have been quite the surprise!

  2. I'd love to see the shoe close up.

  3. This was found in your house? Can you tell me what town and state you live in so I can add it to my records on concealed shoes? Thanks!

    1. So sorry for the delayed response! This shoe was found in my home in Portsmouth, NH. We have a few other examples you may be interested in throughout New England. Will you be sharing your findings? Cheers!


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