You will not believe some of the medieval shoe fashions in Hull

Published: Wednesday 6th September 2017 by Courtney Farrow

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Leather has proved itself an important material throughout the ages., with a wide variety of uses. Alongside being tough and pliable, it is also waterproof. And staying dry has always been a crucial part of British life!

On top of all this, leather trade played a key role in the medieval economy. Many people would have benefited from the industry, especially in the towns. Skinners, curriers, and tanners were needed to produce the leather and this created jobs and opportunities for traders. Cobblers, pursers, saddlers, and glovers used leather to produce consumer goods.

The process of manufacturing leather is a bit gruesome. Firstly, you need a rawhide from an animal. This piece is then cleaned, with the flesh and hair removed.

Then, the material is treated with a harsh chemical called tannin. This is carried out by a tanner.

Meanwhile, leather can also be treated with alum and other oils to make lighter skins or fur pelts. A skinner would usually choose this option

There is some evidence to suggest that leather treatments, including alum, were imported into Hull during the Middle Ages. Alum was included in the cargoes of ships entering the city from the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) during the 1300s and 1400s.

Hull and East Riding Museum has a vast array of medieval leather goods to ponder over. Incredibly, many of these were found just a stone’s throw from the building in Hull’s Old Town.

This is because this area was the heart of the city during this era, so there would have been a lot of activity, such as leather trading and people wearing the latest fashions in this part of town.

Luckily for us, when archaeological excavations were carried out in the 1970s, the area was waterlogged, which preserved many of these fascinating leather artefacts. Unbelievably, they were found in a wonderful condition, in spite of being hidden underground for over half a millennium.

You will be able to see the assortment of leather shoes at the museum, most of which are ‘turnshoes’. Craftsmen would make slippers by stitching the upper part and the sole together. They would then turn them inside out so that the seams weren’t visible.

Footwear in the Middle Ages came in all sorts of shapes and styles, which regularly helps archaeologists and researchers when trying to date artefacts.

An outward pointing long toe resembles a pair depicted on the effigy of the Black Prince, which dates the shoe style to around 1376.

In the same way, future archivists may be able to date our belongings by researching the past fashion trends of celebrities and fashion icons.

Long-toed pumps were popular throughout the medieval period. Amazingly, some people embraced this fashion and had pointed toes that extended two or three feet long.

It seems a bit odd now, but the length of the shoe actually indicated your class. This led to King Edward III passing a law limiting the length of boots. Common people were only allowed to have 6-inch toes, whereas wealthier folk could extend their feet up to 15 inches. Nobel families could go even longer.

As you can probably imagine, the footwear was impractical, to say the least. Your toes could be raised off the ground so much, that many attached a chain from their toes to their knees so that they didn’t trip over!

See these shoes for yourself at Hull and East Riding Museum on the High Street. It’s open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sundays 11am-4:30pm.

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Published: Wednesday 6th September 2017 by Courtney Farrow

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