If you were to take a sledgehammer to homes across the British Isles, you’d likely come across a few pairs of shoes stuffed inside the walls of old homes. Some of these "concealed shoes" will have sat in hiding for hundreds of years, and they were put there to carry out an important job: keeping evil at bay, or at least distracted.
Yes, in the 18th and 19th centuries, shoes in the wall were considered an effective decoy for evil spirits and witches, who were considered the most formidable evil forces at play. Witches were more frightening to people even than goblins and demons because they walked freely among them in human form.
Concealed shoes have been found in homes across Europe and beyond. After receiving lots of shoes found packed into properties, Northampton Museums, UK, decided to launch a Concealed Shoe Index, and their records now stand at around 3,000 shoes retrieved from 2,000 locations.
One theory is that stuffing shoes into the walls of your home was thought to act like a witch deflector because they took on the essence of the wearer as the shoes molded to their feet, which is why particularly old and battered pairs were favored. Placing concealed shoes in “weak spots” of a home like near the windows or chimney would act as a good spirit that could prevent evil spirits from sneaking in.
Alternatively, concealed shoes may have been a sort of lure intended to trap witches on the prowl.
"In earlier centuries, it might have been about protection from witches or the devil, one theory proposes that the shoes were intended to act as lures for witches, spirits, and other supernatural threats,” said historian Ceri Houlbrook from the University of Hertfordshire to the BBC.
"The theory is that the evil force believes the shoe to be the person, attacks the shoe instead, and becomes trapped inside it.”
And that’s not all beaten old boots are allegedly capable of.
“Shoes sometimes have been associated with fertility,” wrote Northampton Museums. “Children’s shoes may have been hidden to ensure fertility or to specifically protect the household’s children.”
So, if you’re doing home renovations and find a pair of shoes in the foundations, you might consider popping them back. If you’ve not yet had your place raided by witches, they might’ve been working all along.