Kent Archaeological Review extract

The Old Vicarage, Upchurch, and the Discovery of Leather Shoes.
by Michael Moad.

Upchurch is most familiar to Kentish students of archaeology from the large quantities of Romano-British black burnished ware found on the marsh sites in the area. In any study of this pottery the name of John Woodruff will undoubtedly emerge, due to the extensive collection of these artifacts assem- bled by him whilst Vicar of the parish of Upchurch from 1834 to 1869. See Footnote [1]

The Old Vicarage.

It is to the Woodruff family that one must first turn for convenient records of the Old Vicarage. In his work Memorials of the Family of Woodruff published in 1889, Charles E Woodruff (son of the Reverend John Woodruff) writes "when my father was presented to the living in 1834 no Vicarage house existed, the Vicars having been non-resident from time immemorial. As the College now insisted upon the incumbent living among his people, it was necessary to make some provision for housing him. This was done by handing over the old Parsonage Farmhouse containing six rooms to the new Vicar and making him a grant of 600. This, with economy and good management, and some addition from my father's private purse, was found sufficient for the building of so convenient a house that in after days it was a favourite boast with him that Upchurch Vicarage was the best in the Deanery."

DRAWING: Upchurch Old Vicarage.

Figure 1. Upchurch Old Vicarage from a drawing found in 'Memorials of the Family of Woodruff' By C.E.Woodruff, M.A., 1889. The arrow indicates the chimney in which the shoes were found.

PHOTO: Collection of shoes.

Figure 2. Collection of shoes found walled up in a chimney of Upchurch Old Vicarage during demolition in Autumn 1975. This photo was taken by Ian Jackson before restoration at Eastgate House Museum, Rochester.

PHOTO: The same shoes after restoration.

Figure 3. The same shoes after restoration.

Figure 2. Collection of shoes found walled up in a chimney of Upchurch Old Vicarage during demolition in Autumn 1975. This photo was taken by Ian Jackson before restoration at Eastgate House Museum, Rochester. Figure 3. The same shoes after restoration.

In fact, what the Reverend Woodruff did was to leave the original Parsonage Farmhouse intact and build a large extension on to it. Fortunately, a lead fire mark of the Sun Insurance Office remained in position on the farmhouse section of the property and the number was, by good fortune, recorded prior to the lead fire mark being stolen from the building when the Vicarage was unoccupied. Research here has shown that this policy had been issued in 1740 to "Mary Young of the Parish of Upchurch in the County of Kent on her dwelling house only in the Parish aforesaid, brick and tile, not exceeding 200 and on her oast only, brick and tile, distant from the road, not exceeding 100." The presence here of an oast house would indicate that the house was, at that time, connected with local agricultural activities.

It is a matter of great regret, and a sad reflection upon our present times, that during a recent period when the Old Vicarage was unoccupied for some time, vandals entered the building and caused so much damage that the house became an unsafe structure and had to be demolished.

The Find of Shoes.

It was during this demolition, specifically of the central chimney stack of the Parsonage Farmhouse portion of the building (as indicated on the drawing from C E Woodruff's 1889 history of the family) that a number of leather shoes were found concealed within the structure. Six of these have been passed to Rochester Museum via the Reverend K Chare and Mr I Jackson, although I am informed that at least a further two shoes were removed from the site by the demolition contractors.

The finding of articles of personal apparel, frequently of leather (presumably chosen for its durability) concealed by openings into old houses, particularly chimneys and thresholds, is by no means an uncommon occurrence. This practice is believed to have been considered an effective charm against evil influences entering the house. See Footnote [2]

The shoes found at Upchurch comprise three ladies' walking slippers and three shoes, probably for male children of varying ages (one of these may be for a youth rather than a younger child). All the shoes are of leather and in general style they may be dated as circa 1740/1820. This may seem at first a rather wide dating range. However, it should be borne in mind that in a village such as Upchurch far away from the centre of fashionable society, footwear styles would, as would also be the case with other clothing, change at a rather slower pace, therefore making precise dating difficult. A fair dating estimate of these particular specimens would probably be circa 1800. The fact that the shoes post-date the original erection of the building is not uncommon. During alterations to a 16th century building in Rochester High Street (the restaurant, Elizabeth's of Eastgate) recently, a child's shoe and the lock from a flintlock gun, both circa 1800-1820, were found concealed in the chimney. See Footnote [3]

The Upchurch shoes as submitted to the Museum were in a very dirty, hardened and brittle state and were also considerably distorted in shape after their long stay in the chimney structure. Immediate conservation treatment was obviously required and the following steps were taken with remarkably successful results. The shoes were first thoroughly washed to remove the accumulation of mortar, soot and caked mud which adhered to them. To stabilise the leather against chemical decay, the shoes were then treated with a solution of Potassium Lactate and allowed to dry. Finally the shoes were consolidated by the use of British Museum Formula Leather Dressing which restored flexibility to the leather and allowed the shoes to be returned to their original shape and general appearance.


Footnote 1.

The Woodruff Collection is now housed at Eastgate House Museum, Rochester. . Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 2.

Rochester Museum has two pairs of leather stays and a crossbow of the early 17th century found in similar circumstances in a house at Milton-next-Sittingbourne. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 3.

see A History of Shoe Fashion by Eunice Wilson, published by Pitman, London, 1969. Return to the paragraph.
Close Window
Accessed this page via search engine or bookmark? Full K A R Index here.