Archaeologists find dozens of medieval shoes in good condition at Greyfriars dig in Oxford

By Ben Miller | 17 July 2015

Shoes, bag and "perfectly carved" bowl discovered by archaeologists during early stages of major dig in Oxford

A photo of a pair of ancient black medieval shoes
Archaeologists followed the footsteps of historic communities in Oxford© Oxford Archaeology
Archaeologists say they have recovered the remains of about 50 medieval shoes during the early stages of excavations in Oxford, where a complete leather shoulder bag and a “beautiful”, simple small wooden bowl have also been discovered.

The high water level of the Thames floodplain has helped preserve leather and wood, which usually rot away to be lost forever, in the area of old watercourses and the medieval Greyfriars. Turned black by waterlogging, the 700-year-old artefacts are said to look like they were “thrown away yesterday”.

“These finds are as rare as gold and often as informative,” says Ben Ford, the Project Director for Oxford Archaeology.

A photo of a woman examining a piece of blackened archaeology inside a laboratory
Geraldine Crann, the Finds Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology, takes a look at the leather bag© Oxford Archaeology
“Gold tells the story of the elite but these objects tell us about the everyday people, their lives, the objects they made and the clothes they wore.

“It’s amazing to think these shoes were worn by people who walked the streets of medieval Oxford.

“The shoulder bag would have been a valued possession and probably belonged to one of the Greyfriars.

A photo of archaeologists in high-visibility jackets and hard hats examining some ground
Archaeologists working in the trench© Oxford Archaeology
“Although there was nothing inside the bag, the details of how the leather was cut and stitched are really clear and reveal exactly how these items were made.

“The wooden bowl is my favourite object so far – it’s so perfectly carved and the grain of the wood is lovely.

“It’s quite delicate and to think it survived all these hundreds of years is incredible.”

Timber structures have allowed the alignments of posts to be plotted, showing the locations of revetments used to stabilise the muddy banks of the Trill Mill Stream. One phase of the stream revealed the complete remains of boards used in a sluice gate, attached to uprights and raised or lowered to control water through the channels and allow the flood plain to be managed.

“During the course of the excavations we expect to recover hundreds of these types of objects,” says Ford.

“We hope to find other items including clothing and more wooden items which will help to build a wonderful picture of medieval life in this part of Oxford. It’s all very exciting.”

Flood plain water could also have been directed to the Friary or a potential watermill.

  • The excavations are open to the public daily, with an open day on July 18 and a pop-up museum running until the end of August. Visit for details.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three museums to see medieval stories in:

Lincoln Medieval Bishops' Palace
Built in the late 12th century, the palace was one of the most important buildings in England. Its architecture and scale reflect the enormous wealth and power of the medieval bishops as princes of the church.

St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow
Opened in April 1993, this museum explores the importance of religion in people's lives across the world and across time. The building which stands on the site of the medieval Bishop's Castle.

, London
Current exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain looks at the extremes of footwear from around the globe, presenting around 200 pairs of shoes ranging from a sandal decorated in pure gold leaf originating from ancient Egypt to the most elaborate designs by contemporary makers.
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I would be very interested in looking at the footwear you found as I make historic shoes and boots.
My email is
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