Crossrail engineers find 500-year-old shoes in Clerkenwell mud

Friday, 24th February 2017 — By Joe Cooper

XTE12[298] shoe

Sixteenth-century shoes found in Clerkenwell

THE discovery of a collection 500-year-old Tudor shoes in Clerkenwell, preserved in excellent condition in damp mud, has been revealed.

Engineers working on the Crossrail route near Farringdon Station unearthed the shoes at the re-discovered Faggeswell brook, which once flowed past Charterhouse Square.

The wet ground conditions stopped oxygen from decaying the organic materials, allowing experts from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) to analyse the artefacts in detail.

The 22 shoes, made of thick cattle leather, range from unisex slip-ons, similar to modern-day shoes, to styles fastening with a strap over the instep.

These flat shoes would have belonged to ordinary Londoners and date towards the end of the 16th century when shoes with low heels for both sexes became fashionable at the Elizabethan court, according to MOLA.

Other finds include a horse harness strap with an unusually ornate buckle and knotted reins, two distinctive silk bands used for decorative trimming for fashionable clothes and various ceramic wares.

Grains of Paradise from West Africa – black pepper with a citrus flavour – were also discovered. To drive the price up, the name Grains of Paradise was invented as a marketing tool, with demand from Elizabethan England leading to a surge in its popularity.

Results from the main excavation, which ended in 2013, are reported in a recently published book which explores the life of the site surrounding the Charterhouse through archaeology and the history of the area.

Sam Pfizenmaier, a Senior Archaeologist at MOLA and author of the book, said: “From the clothes worn by noble families to waste created by butchers working at nearby Smithfield market, these finds paint a picture of London as a vibrant late 16th-century trade hub, similar to London of today.”

A wide range of artefacts and fossils unearthed by Crossrail, including many of those discovered in Charterhouse Square, are now on display in a major new exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands until September 2017.

The Charterhouse itself, which recently reopened to the public after hundreds of years, began as a huge burial pit for victims of the Black Death, before becoming a monastery, a school and an almshouse.

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