17th century bunion sufferer's shoe, dolls and knives found under mansion floorboards

By Ben Miller | 28 February 2014

A 17th century shoe of a bunion sufferer, knives and dolls are among hundreds of finds beneath the floorboards of a Cambridgeshire mansion

A photo of an ancient shoe
The buried 17th century shoe would have been fastened by a buckle© NT
A mid-17th century gentleman’s shoe, detached from its heel and buckle and found by an asbestos contractor under the mansion floorboards at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, could have been hidden as a spirit-carrying superstition, according to a team preparing to put it on show following a six-month cabling project at the mansion.

Imprints show its last wearer had a pronounced bunion when his shoe was consigned to the dusty foundations, possibly during the reconfiguration of the hall by architect Henry Flitcroft, commissioned by the 1st Earl of Hardwicke in 1742.

“It was found under a floorboard directly in front of a window, presumably to stop any evil spirits entering the house through it,” says Mary Luckhurst, the Conservator for the Wimpole Project.

“The burying of shoes in walls and under floors was a well practiced method to ward off evil spirits.

“Shoes were usually concealed in this way during alterations to a house.”

Two counters, embellished with coloured paper on one face and notable geographical locations on their flipside, have also come under scrutiny from Steph Parsons, the Assistant House Steward at the Hall.

“Steph reckons there could have once been a map with them as well,” says Luckhurst, surveying a total of 320 artefacts found by staff and volunteers, from letters and animal bones to wallpaper, newspaper cuttings and sewing items.

“She believes the pieces date from around the 18th or 19th centuries.

“To give a rough idea, they are roughly the size of a two pence piece.”

Curators are appealing to the public for insights into how the counters might have been used. They suspect the pieces would have been part of a game.

“All the items are ivory and there are two knives,” says Luckhurst.

“The smallest knife here looks tiny enough to perhaps belong to a doll, and the slightly larger one could have been a child’s.

“They are both quite plain, not too fancy. You can almost picture a small child posting little counters and dolls toys through gaps in the floorboards.”

  • A selection of the items go on show in the Documents room on March 1 2014, 11am-5pm.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of two people looking at small archaeological discoveries from a floorboard
The counters contained descriptions such as Divisions of Canada and Islands of America© National Trust / Wimpole
A photo of a decorator carrying out paintworks
A paint job on the new smoke detector© National Trust / Wimpole
A photo of various small circular tokens and two old ivory knives on brown floorboards
These items were found at the top of the main staircase© National Trust / Wimpole
A photo of a man working with wiring inside a dilapidated mansion hall
Wiring works above the dome of the yellow drawing room© National Trust / Wimpole
A photo of the inside of a decadent bedroom within a mansion
The Chancellor's bedroom - a show room - was kept under wraps© National Trust / Wimpole
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