Shoes, anchors, and thimbles: secrets in the walls uncovered

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A series of fascinating discoveries were made in the walls of houses in Chichester in 1978.

In October, a tiny child’s shoe was found shut off by brick walls behind a chimney breast in an East Street building which was then Country Casuals shop.

Builders who were reinforcing fractured beams with steel girders came across the shoe, which was estimated to be about 300 years old by experts from the Chichester Museum.

The shoe was hand made of leather to fit a child aged about two.

It showed clear signs of wear, with heels worn down slightly at the sides.

Theories abounded as to the purpose of the shoe.

The manager of Country Casuals hypothesised that “It has obviously been put there on purpose for some silly sentimental or superstitious reason. It was definitely not just a little trifle left there by accident. It had been completely built in, and this helped to keep it in good condition.

Eric Parr, the man who found it, had a different idea for the shoe’s purpose, suggesting that it could have been put there to ward off the devil.

Following this dicovery of the child’s shoe, an Observer reader contacted the paper in November about a similar find in her own home in the village of Bosham.

Carol Hall of Green Lane End, one of Bosham’s oldest properties, told of various oddities which came to light during house renovations.

When she and her husband had moved into the house, which dates back to the fifteenth century, they found several strange items hidden around the house as they began to undertake the renovation work.

Like the shoe in Chichester’s East Street, Mr and Mrs Hall found a buckled military shoe, which was made about 200 years ago. Like the Chichester shoe, it was found behind a chimney wall, and with it were various other pieces of leather work.

Mrs Hall had a firm idea of why it was put there - as a good luck charm, when the chimney was built.

Many other interesting items were also found during the renovation. In the floor they uncovered a Roman anchor. It was a huge flint with a hole in the middle, and there were marks made by ropes or chains which connected it to the galleys.

Other oddities included thimbles hidden above doors, several teaspoon handles, pieces of marble in the garden and a flagstone floor under three layers of linoleum.

Concealed shoes have a history of being hidden in the fabric of buildings since the early modern period, and are often hidden in chimneys, walls, under floors, and around doors as magical charms to protect those in the house.

The hidden shoes were not the only secret lurking in the walls of Chichester, however.

In 1978, another surpise came to light in a house in St Martin’s Square. Tudor flues were discovered in the house during restoration work which was taking place. Like many houses in Chichester during that time, the house had a Regency appearance, but the flues confirmed that its origins went back even further.

The flues had to be taken to pieces are their weight was causing a wooden beam to bow.

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