Next time you walk around town, look down and see whether you can spot a shoe scraper. These practical decorations were fitted alongside doorways during horse-drawn carriage days.
Tony Hawkins’ research into Shaftesbury’s shoe scrapers has recently featured in the members newsletter of Gold Hill Museum. “A shoe scraper is what it says it is. It scrapes your shoe of what was left on the road by horses before you go into your house. How successful they were remains to be seen,” said Tony.
Most shoe scrapers are contained in a recess into the stonework of a building. They consist of an inverted ‘U’ and a bar across the middle, like the blade of a knife, shaped to take a shoe’s instep. Tony explained that this was known as the ‘Lethbridge’ design.
“In Bimport alone, there are six shoe scrapers – two on the north side just before you come to the T-junction at the High street. And there are two on the south side, one just outside Rutters Solicitors. The metal parts of that one have disappeared. There’s another one in the wall of the Trinity Church yard that is also missing. I’d like to get them both replaced,” he said.
Tony appreciated a decorative example of this ironwork found a few inches off the ground outside Adrian Thompson’s office, next to the Cancer Research UK shop. “That is rather special because, at the top of it, it looks like a Medusa’s head looking down on what you scrape off your shoe.”
Tony says that the owner of No 8 Church Lane says that his shoe scraper is recorded in his property paperwork. “He is pleased about it. He says it is in the deeds of his house,” said Tony. This ornate type of ironwork is also found on Bell Street. “Where Punch’s was, there is one there and two more before that, on the righthand side.”
One scraper, suitable only for a lady’s shoe, can be found in the side of a door on Mustons Lane. You’ll find shoe scrapers on Salisbury Street, too. “On that raised pavement, before you get to Chutneys, there are two more,” said Tony.
Homeowners stopped incorporating shoe scrapers in their properties when motors replaced horse-drawn vehicles. “They stopped being needed when the horses no longer made a mess of streets. We’re talking about the 19th century.”
Tony wonders whether Shaftesbury merchants actively promoted their shoe scrapers to homeowners. “Do you think that the ironmongers in the town used to rap on people’s doors asking, ‘don’t you think you ought to have one of my shoe scrapers?’,” he mused.
It seems that the trend started in Brussels. Shoe scrapers were first adopted in the city when walking became fashionable. In 2012, a photographic exhibition of the city’s 1,000 shoe scrapers was held. A professor at the Free University of Brussels is considered an authority on the subject and Tony has made contact with him.
“Brussels is apparently the headquarters of shoe scrapers in Europe. Dr Christian Loire is meant to be an expert, although he denies it. He’s referred us to a book on the subject that we tried to get from Amazon, but it is unavailable. There must be a huge demand for this book,” smiled Tony.
Back home, Tony is keen to receive pictures of any shoe scrapers spotted in and around Shaftesbury. “I want to know if there are any more scrapers around. Please let me know.”
You can email hello@ThisIsAlfred.com and we will pass your pictures on. “Keep your eyes on the ground and you’re bound to see some more,” said Tony.