"Shoe Stories" Chronicle the Past

When looking at some of the intriguing artefacts in the Bata Shoe Museum, people are often curious to have more information then it's possible for us to provide for each item on display - who did they belong to, what do they tell us about the historical period they came from, what is that shoe's story? Beginning this fall, we're introducing a fascinating series of podcasts which will take an in-depth look at some of the "shoe stories" in our collection. As a sneak peek, here are the stories of two exemplary artefacts.

The cherished footwear of two 17th century ladies reveals the importance of shoes in their lives. This pair of 17th century slap-soled shoes is so exceptional that when the Bata Shoe Museum acquired them at a Sotheby's auction in England, an import license was originally denied on the ground that they were irreplaceable examples of British cultural heritage.

Slapsoles, Possibly made in Italy and worn in England, c.1660's.

These slap-sole shoes were once the property of the descendents of Frances Walsingham, whose secret marriage to Robert Devereux, the last favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, may have contributed to his downfall. The attenuated toes reflect 1660's fashion and suggest they may have been a gift to one of Walsingham's family members during that decade. They certainly must have been considered a prized possession as they have remained in the family of her last husband since the 1600's. Visual evidence of the origin of the slap-sole, which was originally a mule and a heeled sole joined together, almost disappears in this late version of the style. The mule is no longer a structural component of the shoe but is simply indicated by a decorative braid outline.

On the sole of this finely crafted mid-17th century mule is an inscription which reads "Sarah Hammersley, Prince William III".

Mules, England c.1670-89

It has been established that Sarah Hammersley was the daughter of the Lord High Mayor of London, but why does the name of Prince William appear? Prince William of Orange became King William III of England in 1689. This information helps to date the mules to before 1689, but we are still left to ponder what connection Sarah may have had to the Prince. Do these beautifully shaped mules reflect her taste, or that of Prince William?

All images copyright 2021 Bata Shoe Museum

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