Cleansing the sole

BOOT SCRAPERS ARE metal objects found near the front doors of houses or on the steps leading up to them. Their purpose is to provide a sharpish metal surface on which people can rub the soles of their footwear to detach mud and other dirt from them before entering the house. An article published on the 21st of August 2011 in “The Independent” related that boot scrapers became popular in cities in the late 18th, and throughout the 19th, centuries.

Boot scrapers in Warwick

According to the article: “Though the ancient Romans built footpaths, only the poor walked Europe’s cities until the late 18th century when the bling classes of the time hopped off their carriages to amble the streets…The sudden popularity of walking the streets helped shape today’s cities, with footpaths, tree-lined boulevards, public parks and covered arcades built during the 19th century… The new taste for strolling also saw shoes morph from heavy high-heeled designs for indoors to softer, low-heeled, foot-fitting gear, as scientists engrossed themselves in the study of motor skills and local authorities turned to public hygiene, improving sewerage and offering public toilets. …In the first decades of the century, footpaths were lined with scrapers to wipe off the mud and excrement before going indoors. As more and more people adopted the walking habit, it became vital to clear a special space for the new pedestrian class, safe from the flying mud and bolting horses.”

Despite its humble and basic function, boot scrapers, like other items of street furniture, the coal hole covers and manhole covers, attracted the creative side of their manufacturer’s minds. The result is that boot scrapers can be found with an amazing variety of decorative features. The four examples illustrated were found outside four neighbouring houses in a street in Warwick (Warwickshire). The basic design of each of these is the same, but their appearances differ considerably,

People, less privileged than those who were accustomed to riding in carriages, walked the streets in Europe long before the end of the 18th century and before the advent of boot scrapers. Some of them wore pattens, which were wooden platforms held to footwear by straps, thereby raising the wearer’s soles above the mud and other disagreeable matter on the street.

Today, it is still worth glancing down when you are out walking even though many dog owners now retrieve their pets’ solid waste matter as soon as it appears. Other users of the pavement are less considerate, but, sadly, boot scrapers seem to be going out of fashion.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Leave the high street to discover hidden history

Ball Court_240

 

The City of London, the traditional business district of London that stands on the site of the old walled London of Roman and mediaeval times, is full of delightful surprises. Although much of the area was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666 and the aerial bombing in the 1940s, what has persisted to a remarkable through the ages is the mediaeval street layout.

Another charming feature are the narrow alleyways that pass between or even through buildings. Step through some of these, and suddenly you find yourself stepping back into history.

Recently, we ‘discovered’ Ball Court, which leads south from Cornhill just a few yards west of the Church of St Michaels Cornhill. A narrow alley leads beneath a building to a wider courtyard open to the sky. Two sides of this rectangular  space are occupied by Simpsons Tavern, a pub (and chop house) established in 1757. Ball Court itself is even older than the tavern, appearing on a map dated 1746. 

I can not tell you why Ball Court has that name, but I feel sure that there must have been a good reason, but it had no name on the 1746 map. In any case, when in London, leave the main streets, explore, and enjoy!