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An archaeological find shows another superstitious object at The Dockyard

06 March 2019

An archaeological find shows another superstitious object

Last year when Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust was renovating The Fitted Rigging House as part of an £8.2m project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), they came across an archaeological find in a staircase. At first glance, finding some leather shoes wasn’t the greatest of finds they were hoping for. But after some investigation of them, a superstition attached to their location came clear.

During the renovations, construction workers found two shoes without realising their significance. It was then brought to the attention of the collections team at the Dockyard who studied the objects in greater detail.

From the shape of the shoes it was discovered that they were not from the same pair. The style of these shoes also places them in the English Regency Period, 1790-1830. With wear marks on both, evidence shows that they were originally worn and not new. But why were they in a staircase?

Concealed together in the bottom step of a staircase, it was an odd place to find shoes. However, looking at folklore, concealing garments and shoes in buildings is a mark of superstition in almost every county in the UK. The reasoning to this placement is a superstitious belief that the objects are believed to bring good luck to those within the building and the building itself. It is believed that it will protect them against malevolent forces.

As with all archaeological finds, the Collections Team at the Historic Dockyard considered how best to care for the new find.  When investigating the shoes, it was discovered that they required a lot of treatment to remove ingrained surface dirt from the leather. They were then gently humidified to ease some of the set-in creases in the material and reduce the stress across the surfaces, before having supports specially made to fit each object so they could be stored safely.

Both shoes have been accessioned into Chatham Historic Dockyard Trust’s museum collections. Owing to their fragile condition they are not on permanent display, however they are available to researchers by pre-booked appointments.

Superstition plays a huge role in historical folklore – even today.  The conversion of the Fitted Rigging House has played a significant role in unlocking the financial sustainability of the wider Historic Dockyard site and its role in contributing over £26.3m to the local economy each year.  Some could say that the shoes are providing good luck to the building – even to this day!

Keep a look out for more information on what The Dockyard’s Collections team do to help preserve the collections they have on forthcoming blogs on The Dockyard’s website.

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