It’s believed that people as far back as the 14th century thought that concealed shoes would ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. They are often found near chimneys, perhaps because evil spirits would enter through the highest point of the house, as well as near other access points like doors and windows. The shoes are usually well-worn, and are more likely to have belonged to children or women than men.
The earliest known concealed shoe was discovered behind the choirstalls in Winchester Cathedral, which were installed in 1308. Concealed shoes have been discovered in many European countries, as well as in North America, Australia, and perhaps even China. An analysis of the Concealed Shoe Index maintained by Northampton Museum, conducted by June Swann and published in 1996, reveals that the most common place of concealment is the chimney, fireplace or hearth (26.2%), followed by under the floor or above the ceiling (22.9%), and almost as many concealed in the roof. Shoes have also been found around doors and windows, under the stairs, and among the foundations. Concealed shoes have been discovered in many types of building: country cottages, town houses, manor houses, hospitals, workhouses, factories, public houses, and two Oxford colleges, St John’s and Queen’s. They have even been found in ecclesiastical buildings, including a Benedictine monastery in Germany and a Baptist church in Cheshire, England.
The custom of concealing shoes in the fabric of a building appears to have more or less died out some time in the 20th century, although not entirely.