Best foot forward for Cuckfield Museum’s new display

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Cuckfield Museum opens after the winter break with a new display looking at footwear from the last 250 years.

The village had its own shoemakers, the best known being Newnham’s in the High Street founded in late Victorian times and which carried on until after the Second World War.

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One of the oldest shoes in the collection is an 18th century woman’s latchet tie shoe, part of the cache of deliberately concealed objects found under the attic floor in no 1 Church Street in 2002.

Perhaps because a shoe bears the imprint of the wearer’s foot, they have always been associated with superstition – in this case it is thought the objects were a form of protective magic to safeguard the house. This cache was hidden near a chimney where harm could enter.

The other cache shoes date from the second half of the 19th century.

The museum also has a pair of pattens dating from the 18th century – these were wooden soles fixed on top of a metal ring and worn under the shoe with a strap to keep them in place.

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The patten served to raise the shoe out of the mud at a time when skirts were worn to the ankle and there were no made up roads to walk on.

Loaned to the museum were two metal patten rings which were found tied up in chimneys of old farm houses in Kent and Devon – again probably a form of protection for the house.

Worthing Museum has loaned some little Regency silk half boots from the 1830s which would have been worn by a gentlewoman, presumably only in fine weather!

Volunteers and staff said they were struck by how tiny women’s feet were in the past and how very narrow.

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This narrowness is a feature of a recent gift to the museum of a pair of women’s boots dating from around 1916 – modern women, used to wearing open sandals and flip flops, would find it impossible to wear them.

The museum was able to date these boots with the help of Worthing Museum and an advertisement for an almost identical pair, dating from 1916.

Curator Phillipa Malins pointed out the contrast with shoes recently

bought in Brighton which, while outrageous, had width and could actually be worn.

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Other shoes in the display include a pair of workhouse child’s boots, steel rimmed with neither a left nor right, a Polish aristocrat’s pre-war boots from his London boot maker, some beautifully made wartime utility shoes and a pair of dizzingly high velvet platform soles which were made into a set of bookends.

The display will run until June at the museum in Queens Hall, High Street, Cuckfield RH17 5EL. Opening hours are Wednesday from 10am-12.30pm, and Friday and Saturday from 10am-4pm.

For more details, log on to www.cuckfieldmuseum.org .

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