Cuckfield Museum - new exhibits - shoes!

By Phillipa Malins    

Cuckfield Museum re-opened on 13th February with a new display looking at footwear from the last 250 years.  The village had its own shoemakers, the best known being Newnham’s in the High Street (right) founded in late Victorian times and which carried on until after WW2. 

One of the oldest shoes in the collection is an C18th woman’s latchet tie shoe, part of the cache of deliberately concealed objects found under the attic floor in 1 Church St in 2002. Perhaps because the shoe bears the imprint of the wearer’s foot, they have always been associated with superstition – in this case it is thought the objects were a form of protective magic to safeguard the house. This cache was hidden near a chimney where harm could enter. The other cache shoes date from the second half of the C19th (right).

We also have a pair of pattens dating from the C18th – these were wooden soles fixed on top of a metal ring and worn under the shoe with a strap to keep them in place. The patten served to raise the shoe out of the mud at a time when skirts were worn to the ankle and there were no made-up roads to walk on. Interestingly, we have been loaned two metal patten rings which were found tied up in a chimney – again probably a form of protection for the house (top far right).

Worthing Museum has generously loaned us some little silk boots from the 1830s, which would have been worn by a gentlewoman in the house. We have been struck by how tiny women’s feet were in the past and how very narrow (middle right). 

This narrowness is a feature of a recent gift to the museum of a pair of women’s boots dating from around 1916 – modern women, used to wearing open sandals and flip-flops, would find it impossible to wear them (above). We were able to date these boots with the help of Worthing Museum and an advertisement for an almost identical pair, dating from 1916 (right). 

What a contrast with the shape of these shoes bought recently from a shop in Brighton – they may be outrageous but they have width and could actually be worn (far right)! 

Other shoes in the display include a pair of workhouse child’s boots, steel-rimmed with neither a left nor right, a Polish aristocrat’s pre-war boots from his London bootmaker, some beautifully made wartime utility shoes and a pair of dizzingly high velvet platform soles which have been made into a set of bookends!

The display will run until June. Opening hours: Wed 10am-12.30pm, Fri and Sat 10am-4pm. More details at