Imagine being in the midst of a renovation of an older home or building. Anxiety is at an all-time high when it comes time to open the walls. There is a fear of what could be lurking…bad electrical? (knob and tube, if you’re really lucky!), asbestos? Perhaps a small, old worn leather child’s shoe?
The mystery of placing /finding a shoe within the structure of an old building started around the early modern age (1450-1750). Studies have shown that about half the shoes found belonged to a child, most were worn leather and missing their mate. They are most commonly found in the chimney/ fireplace, followed by under the floor or in the ceiling, and lastly, around door frames and window frames. The earliest concealed shoe so far to be discovered was found behind the choirstalls in the Winchester Cathedral which were installed in the year 1308.
Concealed shoes have been located in different parts of the world, with the majority found in England. There have also been several other European countries that have reported shoe findings, also in Canada, Australia, and in the United States where there seems to be a large concentration in the New England area.
The reason behind the concealed shoes remains a mystery, except we do know it is based on superstition. A common theory amongst scholars suggests that it serves as protection against evil influences such as spirits, demons, and witches. Folklore suggests that witches are attracted to the scent of a worn shoe, and after entering one, find themselves trapped and unable to get out. Other sources say that it could be related to a household deity (a helpful spirit commonly found in folklore from Northern Europe to parts of Russia). The helpful deity is said to have been attracted to domestic items such as shoes or an article of clothing placed in the structure for it. It’s interesting to note how widespread this phenomenon is.
So, when the time comes to start doing a renovation to an older property, just remember that old wiring might not be the only thing hiding in your walls.