Monday 27 January 2014

What is that shoe doing there? by Louisa Young

This comes to you from North Norfolk, where the skies are wide and the sea turns gold at sunset, even in January. I am staying in the village where Nelson was born, where the pub - and indeed the bus-stop -  is called The Hero. You can guess which Hero. I'm not going to talk about him because he is a man who has Specialists, and Lord knows I am not one. 

But - my friend in whose honour I am here at the moment, was a builder - the kind of builder whose skill, hard work, intelligence, faultless taste, historical knowledge, local commitment and respect, as well as his splendid character, good cheer and extreme handsomeness, makes him very popular. He was the heart of the village, that's for sure. Some years ago he was working on a cottage where Nelson lived as a boy, and discovered, in the roof, a child's shoe. It was sent off, but alas was not the right age to be Nelson's own little baby shoe, to everyone's great disappointment. And why would that have been in the roof anyway? But then why would any shoe be in the roof, all alone? 

Well, it was a Concealed Shoe.  This is a technical term. Concealed Shoe. I am using a Concealed Shoe in my next novel but two, where a man goes slowly mad with grief in Dorset. Here is a bit of it:

'I started telling her about mummified cats in the roof against evil spirits, and how a concealed shoe
would distract the Devil, he’d step into it and get so confused he’d forget to curdle your milk or
seduce your daughter.
‘There’s a National Concealed Shoe Index,’ I said. ‘It’s in Northampton, which is of course the
Capital of Shoes. If you find a concealed shoe you can report it, but they advise you to put it
back.’ Which was true. ‘And I met this builder in the pub - it was quite funny actually - he was
complaining about finding all these dead cats in attics - he was a roofer - and what was all that
about, and everyone in the pub starts staring at him, as if he were a complete fool, as if he’d
said “why’s everybody hanging shiny things on a pine tree?” - anyway, one of them actually said:
“You’re not from round ’ere, are you? . . . ”.’

Usually it would be just the one shoe, otherwise the Devil could steal the pair of them, and wear them. That's why children's shoes are popular too - the Devil's feet are too big for them. Or, the shoes were hidden so the devil couldn't find it and steal it, thus taking away the protection it gave. Why would a shoe give protection? Oh - look at that again - protection is exactly what shoes give - to your feet, from the weather and the rough roads. Or they were a fertility charm, connected through time to the Old Lady who Lived in Shoe and had so many children she didn't know what to do, and to the practice of tying shoes to the bumper of the wedding car when the couple drive off on Honeymoon.

If you find a concealed shoe, Nelson's or otherwise, you should report it to the Concealed Shoe Index. They like to know the address where it was found; the date of the building and any information about alterations, rebuilds, new rooves etc; the use the building served (house, farm, pub or whatever); where in the building it was found; was it with anything else, what it looks like, and photos. They have nearly 2000 shoes on their list, from Spain and France, Poland and Canada, under the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, as well as all over the UK. 

And yes of course all sorts of other things were concealed too. will tell you more. 

I would show you pictures, but alas they have concealed themselves in the murky abyss of the internet, which is not North Norfolk's best friend. Sometimes they don't speak for days. Take it from me though that shoes which have been concealed in a roof for hundreds of years look . . .  old. And a bit manky. So here's a song instead: Hoyt Axton and Linda Ronstadt singing 'When the morning comes and you gotta get up, how you gonna find your shoes?'


Joan Lennon said...

Concealed shoes - thanks for telling us about these!

Anne Booth said...

I heard a talk about concealed shoes in Canterbury only a few months ago. I had never heard of it before. It sounds like a v interesting thing to put in your novel.

Penny Dolan said...

That Register of Concealed Shoes sounds fascinating - and I haven't even look at it yet! Thank you.

Sarah said...


There is a similar thing with vampire beliefs - apparently if you throw feel you are being pursued by a revenant and throw a single sock or shoe at it, the vampire it will get obsessed with trying to find the other one and will stop chasing you.

Ruan Peat said...

A local artist found one in a series of art residency's, she shared her work on which has a project of shoes, and other things!