Little is known about the superstitious practice of concealing old, worn shoes in domestic dwellings. Though its origins are thought to be medieval, this folkloric tradition continued to be performed in the United Kingdom until the late 1800s. Concealed shoes have been found in a wide variety of properties including humble cottages and farms, hospitals, workhouses, orphanages, barracks, as well as manor houses and even royal palaces such as Hampton Court and Kensington Palace.
Normally a single, worn-out shoe would be concealed – a good shoe being too valuable to squander. Such shoes were secreted at various threshold points within the very building fabric – in the chimney or the rafters, or above a window lintel or doorway. Whilst speculation abounds, the most likely explanation for this ritual was a means to ward off evil spirits. Shoes appear to have been specially chosen because unlike other garments, they retained the shape of their owner. It is thought that this link to the original wearer bestowed quasi-religious status upon shoes, imbuing them with supernatural protective qualities – a symbolism which was all the more poignant when the shoe had once belonged to a child.
Concealment and this use for a higher purpose transformed shoes from the everyday into the divine, effectively ensuring their survival through history. Whilst the shoes of the wealthy, due to their luxurious materials and high-value, were more likely to survive, the footwear of the everyday person would normally be worn, mended and worn again until they fell apart. In this way concealed shoes offer an important record and insight into the usually lost footwear that shod the common man.