Ritual Objects

One of the first tasks in restoration of the building was the removal of insulation from the attic. Hot, dirty work, we started to discover shoes mixed in with the insulation. However since the shoes were in piles upon a plaster ceiling over the upstairs store that had presumably been installed in 1896, it seems they had been moved from their original locations. We found the remains of at least 14 shoes - all women's and children's shoes.

Figure 1. Womans cloth shoe

Worn out shoes are a common finding in old buildings. The Deliberately Concealed Garments Project (1) of the University of Southampton has compiled a comprehensive study of concealed garments and indicates it as a common practice from the middle ages to about 1900 when the practice abruptly stopped. The web site Apotropaios (3) indicates that in the 14th century John Schorn of Buckinghamshire claimed to have cast the devil into a boot. Apparently the hidden shoes were to trap evil spirits before they entered the building which was a common practice across Europe, North America and Australia, though hardly ever mentioned. The objects were usually placed near windows and doors and around chimney columns.

Figure 2. Child's boots

Other hidden objects were stone jars containing urine to scare away witches, and similarly desiccated cats were often placed in walls for the same purpose (2). We did find a stone jar in the attic along with early cutlery and some thread spools with a rose-head nail driven through the axis (suggesting it was from near the construction date), but the house was re-sided in 1896 and presumably any remains in the walls were removed. Other early houses in the region have discovered cats in the walls.

Figure 3. Stone jar, knife and fork and thread spool with central rose-head nail from attic

Apotropaios Marks (from the Greek - turning away evil) were also viewed to have magical powers. The central joist over the master bedroom was white-washed above the plaster (as none of the others were) and had crossing 'W' and 'V' letters etched into it. This was apparently to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary with interpretations such as the 'Very Virgin'.


Figure 4. Apotropaios Marks over master bedroom

Another common mark is the Daisywheel or rosette - scribed with a compass - which was believed to bring good luck and protection from ill-fortune. The most stunning discovery was a large 6-peddled daisywheel on an attic joist over the upstairs store. Even more amazing was the discovery of the compass used to make this pattern, rusted open to the radius of the outer circle, sitting on top of a north window frame at the other end of the building. This daisy wheel was concealed above a tongue and groove and later plaster ceiling since 1840.

Figure 5. Large Attic Daisywheel (about 8" tall) with dividers

Similar, much smaller daisywheels were found around the cook fireplace and drawing room mantelpieces. These were early as they were under the second layer of paint on the mantelpiece and were completely concealed by layers of paint when we began our restoration. Part of a daisy wheel was found started on a plank in the store and more were found on the underside of the addition roof decking.

It is not clear whether these ritual objects dated from construction of the building, but they were certainly early. The shoes must have been moved as they were on a plaster ceiling installed about 1896. However other aspects of the discovered objects such as the thread spool suggest they date from near construction date.


1. Deliberately Concealed Garments Project, University of Southampton: www.concealedgarments.org

2. Ian Evans World of Old Houses, Australia: www.oldhouses.com.au

3. Apotropaios: www.apotropaios.co.uk