shoes


shoes
   The popular custom of tying an old shoe to the back of the car in which a bride and groom are setting off for their honeymoon is a specialized form of what was once a widespread practice, that of throwing an old shoe at or after someone to wish them luck, especially on a journey. It is mentioned in John Heywood's Proverbs (1546).
   Another practice, generally interpreted as defensive magic, was more secretive. As Ralph Merrifield writes:
   There are few local museums in southern England that do not possess a few shoes, mostly dating from the 17th to the 19th century, that were found hidden in old houses, usually in a wall, roof, or chimney breast, or under a floor ... deposited in places that are normally accessible only at the time of building or structural alteration, or by taking considerable trouble at other times, for example by raising a floorboard .... [A] child saw his father and a workman put an old worn-out boot, that significantly did not belong to the family, in the rubble when laying the kitchen floor, at Wareham St Mary, Norfolk, in 1934-5. He could get no reason for this from his father, who seemed slightly ashamed of what he was doing. (Merrifield, 1987: 131-4).
   The only first-hand explanation recorded is this comment from Lincolnshire: 'In the old days, a lot of kids died young, so to keep part of the kid with them, or the spirit of the kid if you like, a shoe was buried in the wall of the house so the kid was still with them' (Sutton, 1992: 135).
   Similar finds were made in England's oldest coal mine, at Lounge, near Leicester, in 1990; medieval leather boots, dating from about 1450, had been laid in certain galleries. This must be a forerunner of a custom reported from abandoned lead mines in Yorkshire and Derbyshire, and an old copper mine in Wales, namely placing a single clog at the far end of a passage (i.e. at the last point reached in working it), or in the backfilling of such a passage, or at a spot where a shaft had collapsed.
   Explanations as to why shoes should be considered protective can only be conjectural; the two main ones are that they are dirty, especially when old (cf. the saying 'Where there's muck there's luck'), and that they symbolize the female sexual organ. Small model boots or shoes in various materials were used as mantlepiece ornaments 'for luck', or as 'lucky charms' in jewellery.
   One common *love divination in the 19th century was for a girl to set her shoes at right angles on going to bed, saying:
   I set my shoes in the form of a T, Hoping my true-love for to see.
   She would then be sure to dream of her destined husband.
   ■ Radford, Radford, and Hole, 1961: 305-7; Opie and Tatem, 1989: 350-4. For shoes in buildings, see Mer-rifield, 1987: 131-6; June Swann, Journal of the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery 6 (1969), 8-21, and Costume 30 (1996), 56-69; for clogs, FLS News 11 (1990), 3-4; 12 (1991), 10. An extensive listing of shoes found in buildings throughout Britain is kept at Northampton Central Museum, and now numbers over 1,500.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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