Are These Old Mill Worker’s Boots?
One of the great things about my job is that many people show and send me fascinating fashion- or image-related items. In March I received these photographs from Richard Coomber, who was out walking after the River Aire floods in Yorkshire had subsided. He spotted various articles of old, abandoned footwear including several soles, a man’s shoe with a wooden sole (a clog?) and this leather boot with a nailed sole. The boot is small, evidently made for the foot of a child or a diminutive woman.
Interestingly, the spot where these items emerged in the churned-up, post-flood mud is about 200 yards downstream from the remains of New Hirst Mill, a mill built for the fulling of local woollen cloth in 1745 in Hirst Wood, Shipley, where there also existed a row of small cottages for the workforce. Richard wonders whether the boot may have once belonged to one of the occupants – perhaps a child or woman who worked at the mill.
Made with eyelet holes for laces, it seems possible that the boot could date from the late-19th or early-20th century. A local website suggests that the area had become virtually derelict by the early 1880s, with only one house still occupied:
Therefore it is not clear whether this is likely to have been the footwear of a Victorian mill worker, or perhaps a later wearer. Either way, leather ankle boots were rarely worn after the 1920s, so it is an interesting local survival – hidden for around a century or more and revealed by the movement of the river. Ideally, a museum professional or other expert on historic footwear needs to date the boot so that it can be placed within an accurate historical context and Richard is taking steps (!) to discover more about this fascinating flood find.