Beneath the floorboards

Adult's left boot, used as lucky charm under floorboards at Old Gwernyfed, Felindre, Brecon.
Adult's left boot. 9 button fastening at side (buttons missing). Used as lucky charm under floorboards at Old Gwernyfed, Felindre, Brecon.

Renovating an old house? Stay alert! Who knows what you'll find beneath the floorboards or behind the walls. You might discover a deliberately concealed garment, hidden by a previous occupant to bring good luck and fertility to the home. These concealments are called 'caches' — a term deriving from the French word 'cache', meaning 'to hide'. St Fagans National History Museum has collected several caches over the years. Each new find provides a valuable insight into this little known but widely practiced folk custom.

Hidden shoes

A leather shoe found behind a fireplace at Ty Cerrig, Llanfachreth, in March 1994
A leather shoe found behind a fireplace at Ty Cerrig, Llanfachreth, in March 1994

The most frequently found hidden garments are shoes. They are usually discovered near chimneys or fireplaces, but rarely are they found in pairs. Children's shoes are the most commonly found garments. This mid 19th century leather shoe was discovered in 1994 behind a fireplace in a stone built house in Llanfachreth. The owners found four other shoes in the same location, each well-worn and in a degraded condition. They almost certainly belonged to a family unit of two parents and three children.

Chimneys and fireplaces were probably chosen as hiding places because they served as the main focal point in most homes — a source of heat and comfort and an important place to congregate as a family. Shoes were also hidden under floorboards, around doorways and below staircases. Some considered these places to be the weakest part of a building, where evil spirits and witches would enter. Shoes were placed in these areas in order to trap or corner potential evil.

A concealed corset

A fragment of a mid-18th century corset found in a wall during restoration work to a thatched cottage in Pontarddulias
A fragment of a mid-18th century corset found in a wall during restoration work to a thatched cottage in Pontarddulias

Although shoes are the most frequent finds, other types of garments have also been discovered — for example, hats, jackets and breeches. This fragment of a corset was found in a thatched cottage in Cae Cerrig Road, Pontarddulais. It was discovered in 2002 lying in soil behind a thick wall to the side of the fireplace. Dating from the mid 18th century, it is roughly heart-shaped and is constructed from three layers: an outer layer of buff coloured wool, a stiffening layer of whalebone strips and a linen lining. Evidence of silk stitching remains in some areas. In its original condition, this fragment would have formed the front panel of the corset, covering the chest and abdomen.

What should you do if you find a concealed garment? If possible, avoid excessive handling and contact your local museum for further guidance. Remember to take plenty of photographs or drawings of the garment in its found location. Above all, stay vigilant — that heavily worn 'rag' could be a piece of history!

Comments(7)

Elen Phillips - Principal Curator Contemporary & Community History Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
15 January 2020, 16:14

Hi,
Thank you for getting in touch. We believe that the custom was practiced in North America, I'm afraid we don’t have further information in our archives here at Amgueddfa Cymru. However, Northampton Museum has a concealed shoe index which includes records of finds in North America which might be of interest to you.
Kind regards,
Elen
 

Nia Meleri Evans Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
13 January 2020, 10:14
Hi Ryan,
Thank you very much for your comment. I have passed your question on to my colleague who will be able to advise further.
Kind regards,
Nia
(Digital Team)
Ryan Kerney
11 January 2020, 23:23
I found a child’s shoe next to an old chimney in our mid 1700’s home in Pennsylvania. Any records of this being common in America?
Jon Banks
8 August 2019, 14:56
I found a very old child's shoe under some floorboards in an old house in Dorset. I also found a porcelain Madonna wedged into the rafters, and an old penny placed under the threshold of a door. My feelings (literally) were that it was a troubled house.
paul needham
3 August 2017, 14:29
I found a childs boot in the thatch of my 17c cottage in Christchurch Dorset .... I have kept it but now its in the house ,,,, always wondered why it was there !
Sara Huws Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales Staff
29 February 2016, 09:59

Hi Paula - thanks for your comment - I'm glad we were able to put your find in context!

You may be interested in the Deliberately Concealed Garments Project, which records caches from all over the UK (and maybe beyond?): Concealed Garments Project.

I will pass on your comment to the curator responsible for our textile collections - your email address will be passed on to her for any correspondence, but I have edited as per your request.

Many thanks again for your enquiry

Sara
Digital Team

Paula Neustatter
28 February 2016, 22:30

I had never heard of concealed until we found some just a few days ago sealed in an attic in a part of the house we were renovating. It was very odd. We knew that addition had been added about 1900, but no specific time. However, when we started taking down a wall and celling we found “Melvin April 07” written under the siding and the shoes in the attic. Melvin was a child that lived here between 1905 until the early 1920s. We have photos of him and his family.

The shoes were very old; there were 7 left shoes, 4 rights, and one complete pair. They were a mix of men’s, women’s, boys and girls. If you are interested in any further information or photos please feel free to email me.


Thank you for all the good information

Paula Neustatter
Woodford Virginia
USA

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