Wales

The mystery of a ruined Snowdonia cottage's 100 shoes

Workers restoring a 300-year-old ruined cottage in Snowdonia have dug up a mystery under its fireplace.

Almost 100 single shoes were discovered at Gelli Iago, a home which has been uninhabited for more than 50 years.

The National Trust, which acquired the property after 1998's Save Snowdon campaign, is appealing to the public for an answer to the mystery.

"Why would someone keep these single shoes and hide them under a fireplace?" said the trust's Rhys Evans.

The discovery was made by contractors working to save the cottage's external walls and chimney stack.

The shoes are thought to date from the Victorian period.

"We're baffled by this strange discovery," said Mr Evans, the trust's manager for Snowdonia.

"We know the house was probably built sometime during the 17th Century and that it is one of the oldest buildings remaining in Nant Gwynant," he said.

"But very little is known about who lived here over the centuries."

'Symbolic presence'

One explanation the trust is looking at is the "concealed shoes" phenomenon - an ancient and superstitious practice aimed at guarding a house against bad luck.

It was thought that a worn shoe was a manifestation of a person as it retained the shape of the foot, the trust explained.

It therefore had a certain power to guard against perceived evil forces.

"No one knows what became of the other shoe but it has been speculated that one was placed in fire (the hearth or chimney) and the other in water (a river or lake), said a spokesman.

"Perhaps there was also some reassurance of the symbolic presence of their ancestors, especially if placed in the centre of the home under the hearth."

More than 1,000 recorded concealed shoes discoveries have been made in the UK, the earliest dating back to the 14th Century.

If the Gelli Iago shoes were proved to have been concealed, then it would represent the largest hoard to have been found in the UK, said the trust.

Another theory is that the shoes could merely be old stock hoarded by a cobbler.

Salvage

When acquired in 1998 the roof at Gelli Iago had already collapsed and its chimney and external walls were in a precarious state, said the trust.

A decision was made to salvage the ruin before it was lost forever.

Funds from the Snowdonia Appeal have helped to stabilize the building and prevent it collapsing, the trust said, though it is appealing for more donations.

Image caption Gelli Iago cottage was acquired in the 1998 Save Snowdon campaign

"Knowing more about Gelli Iago would greatly help with our fundraising efforts and with deciding what use this significant old cottage could have in the future," said Mr Evans.

"We need the public to help us solve this mystery and to help us build a better picture of life at Gelli Iago over the centuries."

The National Trust is appealing for volunteers to help with cleaning and restoring the shoes and to research the history of Gelli Iago using local archives and census returns.

Anyone interested in volunteering or anyone with information about Gelli Iago and the people who have lived there can either call at the National Trust's Craflwyn centre near Beddgelert, email rhys.evans@nationaltrust.org.uk or telephone 01766 510123.

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