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It’s shoe time as exhibition lifts the curtain on historic footwear

Published on Tuesday, September 12, 2023

4 minute read

Vintage CG Allen and Son poster

SHOES of all shapes, styles and sizes from across the centuries will be under the spotlight at a new exhibition taking place in Leicester.

The event, entitled “Out of the Stores: SHOES”, will bring together some of the extraordinary and often beautiful shoe fashions from over the last four hundred years.

Exhibits will include a shoe from 1570, shoes worn to raise the wearer above the dirty pavements of the 1800s, evocative stiletto-heeled court shoes from the 1960 and impressive platform shoes from the 1970s.  Visitors can also learn how a button hook helped fasten tiny boot buttons in Victorian England.

It all takes place at Newarke Houses Museum, Leicester, from Saturday, September 30 until Sunday, January 14.

Shoemaking was a major industry in Leicester by the 1870s. The exhibition celebrates Leicester’s shoemaking heritage with shoes, catalogues, photographs and advertising from many local firms and brands, including Liberty by Lennard Bros Ltd, Gypsy Queen by Wilkes Bros & Co, Freeman, Hardy and Willis and Pax women’s shoes by S Rowsell & Co Ltd.

The variety of shoes on display illustrate the many different reasons behind the choice of shoes and their role in celebrating special life events and major milestones. Shoes in this section include wedding shoes, first shoes, baby shoes, Land Army shoes, slippers and shoes decorated with Leicester City FC badges and insignia to celebrate LCFC winning the Premiership in 2016.

The exhibition also examines the numerous shoe superstitions, including never putting new shoes on a table and discussing which shoe should really be put on first.

It will also explore the practise of concealing shoes, where shoes have been deliberately hidden in buildings for no obvious practical purpose and no intention of retrieval. There are many reasons put forward, including they are protecting the house or for bring good luck.

Leicester deputy city mayor for climate, economy and culture, Cllr Adam Clarke, said: “Leicester has a rich heritage in terms of hosiery and shoemaking industries, and this delightful exhibition looks at some of the wonderful and unusual shoes and items which form part of that history.”

A programme of shoe-themed events is also due to take place alongside the main exhibition.

They include:

Walk this Way! Saturday, September 30, from 11am to 1.30pm.

Children can bring along old trainers to create, decorate and customise, using the museum’s shoe collection for inspiration. Decorative and upcycling materials will be supplied. Visitors can also have a go at customising T shirts using fabric pens. The workshop costs £4 and booking is essential.

The Shoe Must Go On! Sunday, October 1, 2pm

The talk, by Senior Shoe Curator of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Rebecca Shawcross, will look at some of the amazing shoes, shoe-related items from shoelaces to buckles, tools to machines, photographs and catalogues from Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, which is home to one of the largest collections of shoes and shoe heritage in the world. The event costs £5, and booking is essential.

Shoe Stories – Monday, October 16, 11am to 3pm

A fun-filled activity day during the half term holidays, with child-friendly crafts inspired by famous fairy tales, along with shoe stories and a shoe trail to follow. Activities cost £3.

Followers of Fashion – Sunday, November 5, 2pm

A talk by Senior Shoe Curator of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Rebecca Shawcross, looks at the highs and lows of shoe fashions over the last 900 years. The illustrated talk will look at some of the different and not so different styles and fashions that have appeared over the centuries. Booking is essential, and tickets cost £5.

Working Life in Leicester – Sunday, January 21, 2pm

This talk by local historian Philip French explores working life from about 1850 to 1960.  It will look at who worked, the range of work available, some famous local names and the social aspects of work. The talk costs £5 and booking is essential.

For more details of all events at Leicester’s museums, visit their website here



NOTE: Picture credits - Leicester Mercury.