FREE daily The museum is closed Plan your visit For families For schools Collections

This group contains the leather shoes and pattens from the Museum of London's reserve collections, dating from c. 900 to c. 1500. The Museum holds some of the best leather collections in the world, due to the good preservation conditions in London. The footwear in this group is dated by comparison with examples of known date, mainly from archaeological excavations.

Most of the shoes are of a fairly simple construction, comprising a single layer sole (usually in one-piece or, from the 14th century, in two or more pieces) and an upper (the part around the foot) of one or more pieces. The front of the upper is called the vamp and the back, the quarters. The sole and upper usually also had a narrow strip of leather called the rand inserted in the seam between them. The shoes are all turn-shoes, meaning that they were made inside out and then turned the right way out.

The footwear in this group belonged to ordinary Londoners, with few examples of high status shoes. Few of the shoes are decorated. Many show signs of wear and distortion from use. In London shoes were made by the cordwainers, whose guild was in existence by 1272. However, shoes were repaired by cobblers, who were not allowed to make shoes. Many of the shoes in the collection show signs of repair in the form of clump (patch) soles.

The earliest shoes date to the 10th century and are mostly of a very simple form comprising a sole and an upper. They are similar to examples known from elsewhere in London and from York. The collection also includes a number of good examples of shoes with pointed toes, the form that most people think of medieval people wearing. These were fashionable in the late 14th century and again in the mid-15th century.

Pattens were used for outdoor wear and were normally slipped on over the shoe to protect the wearer from the muddy London streets. Pattens with wood soles and leather attachment straps are known in London from the 12th - early 13th century but become more common from the late 14th century. In the early 15th century soles made from multiple layers of leather became popular. These became increasingly narrow with long pointed toes and were more likely worn as indoor slippers or sandels over hose rather than as pattens.

For each shoe or patten, where possible, complete measurements are given, for the length, width and height. Often these include three width measurements: across the tread (the front of the foot), waist (where the foot narrows under the arch) and seat (across the broadest area of the heel).

Further reading:

Quita Mould, Ian Carlisle and Esther Cameron, 2003, Leather and leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York, The Archaeology of York, The Small Finds 17/16, Craft, Industry and Everyday Life, Council for British Archaeology

Goubitz, O, van Driel-Murray, C and Groenman-van Waateringe, W, 2001 Stepping through time: archaeological footwear from prehistoric times to 1800, Stichting Promotie Archeologie

Francis Grew and Margarethe de Neergaard, 1988, Shoes and pattens: medieval finds from excavations in London: 2, HMSO London

Frances Pritchard 'Footwear' in A. G. Vince (ed), 1991, Aspects of Saxon and Norman London 2: Finds and environmental evidence, London and Middlesex Archaeological Society Special Paper 12, 213-238  

See all related objects See all collections in focus