Northampton Museum

Northampton Museum

Boots at Northampton

Boots at Northampton

 

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery has the largest collection of historical footwear in the world, designated as being of international importance. The ground floor is given over to the display of some of the museum's 12,000 shoes, spanning the period from the Ancient Egyptians to the present day. There are also two galleries dedicated to footwear: Life & Sole focuses on the history of shoemaking and contains a re-creation of an old shoe factory; Followers of Fashion concentrates on the history of fashions in footwear throughout the centuries. Some of the paintings on display reflect the museum's focus on footwear, such as the 17th-19th century Dutch and Flemish works by Jan Miel and Hendrik van Oort featuring cobblers, shoemakers and shoeshiners. The second and third floors of the museum house displays of Oriental ceramics and Italian art from the 15th to the 18th century. The collections at Northampton Museums include social history, fine and decorative art as well as 5000 items of military history, 35,000 geological specimens and 5000 items of leather.

 

The simplest way to protect feet was to grab what was handy - bark, large leaves and grass - and tie them under the foot with vines. In hot countries this developed into the sandal made from woven palms, grass or plant fibres and attached to the foot with toe loops. Examples of early sandals have been found in Japan, Polynesia and America. Few early shoes have survived. Fragments of Bronze Age footwear have been found in excavations but not enough to determine styles. But from the Roman times onwards many shoes have survived suggesting that there were many more shoe styles than one would expect. Romans arrived in Britain wearing the military sandal, called the caliga, which exposed the toes, had a lattice - patterned upper, front lacing and a heavily nailed sole. Other styles were the calceus and the gallica, both with a closed toe - a style more suited to the British weather. After the Romans left, Britain began producing its own styles, usually a closed toe leather shoe with an oval or round toe shape. The ankle shoe was popular in the 9th Century.

 

Footwear styles continued to change during the Medieval age. The length of one's toe was an indication of status. The King and his court had shoes with the largest toes. This style wasn't worn by women. The ankle shoe remained popular, it was usually side laced with three pairs of holes. The pointed toe disappeared at the end of the Middle Ages and was replaced by round and square toe shapes. At first a sensible size, toes became larger and larger. During the reign of Henry VIII soles reaching 6.5 inches wide were common and known as foot bags. After 1500, a blunt pointed toe returned, followed by a round toe in the 1590s. It's about this time that heels emerge. By the end of Elizabeth I's reign heels grow to 2-3 inches, all footwear is made straights and sides are opened up. During the reign of Charles I, flamboyant knee boots were popular.

 

In the 17th Century, men wore shoes and mules with a square toe, often blocked and domed. Women decided that a pointed toe was more feminine. An important innovation in 1660 was the buckle to fasten a shoe. Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary of 22nd January 1660, "This day I began to put on buckles to my shoes". At first popular with men, women eventually wore them too, replacing ribbon latchets with buckle latchets. In the 18th Century, women's shoes reflected the elaborate patterns of their dresses. Men's shoes became quite plain made of black leather with pointed toes and low heels. Towards the end of the 18th Century and beginning of the 19th Century women's shoes became lower and lower cut, heels became lower until they disappeared altogether and the pointed toe is replaced by first narrow oval toes and then square toes. Shoes became so dainty, made from satin and silks, that ribbon ties are added to keep the shoe on the foot.

 

Shoe Collection

Shoe Collection

Shoe Collection

Shoe Collection

The 19th Century was characterised by the predominance of boots both for men and women. Popular styles were the Blucher boot, cloth boots, the elastic sided boot, the button boot, and the Balmoral boot. Apart from boots, women wore court shoe style shoes in a variety of different materials, from satin and silk to reptile and drawn leathers. Men had a choice between the Oxford shoe, with front lacing and a closed tab and the Derby shoe, with front lacing and an open toe. The 20th Century saw a variety of shoe styles and the rise of the shoe designer. From 1920s bar shoes to 1930s co-respondent two-colour shoes to 1940s utility styles to 1950s brothel creepers to 1960s winklepickers and stiletto heels to 1970s platform soles, shoe designers were prominent throughout the 20th Century.

 

The Social History collection includes objects dating from 1600 to the present that which illustrate aspects of community life including civic affairs, working life, and the full range of personal and domestic life material, including costume. The Archaeological Numismatic Collection consists of about 12,000 items, principally locally found Roman, English Medieval and later coins and tokens. Particular strengths are the coins from Northampton Mint, and a large number of Northamptonshire tokens and checks. The Social History collection includes around 800 medals relating to local people, clubs or societies. The Geology collection has its roots in the very beginnings of the museum in the 1860s. Two names stand out as being the main collectors from whom specimens were obtained: Spencer Compton (Lord Northampton) and Beeby Thompson. Both were outstanding local geologists. The collection consists of about 40,000 items of which 75% are Northamptonshire Jurassic finds acquired mainly from Compton and Thompson.

 

Northampton Borough Council is the custodian of the Northamptonshire Regimental and Northamptonshire Yeomanry collections. The collections reflect both the military and civilian aspects of these services. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible with a lift to all floors. There are accessible toilets and Baby changing facilities. Assistance Dogs are welcome.

 

Location : Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Guildhall Road, Northampton NN1 1DP

Transport: Northampton (National Rail) then bus or 8 minutes. Bus Routes : 1, 5, 25, 37, 43 and 108 stop nearby.

Opening Times : Tuesday to Saturday + Bank Holidays 10:00 to 17:00. Sundays 12:00 to 17:00

Tickets : Free

Tel: 01604 838 111