Protecting Hearth & Home: Ox Row Inn, Salisbury

The Ox Row public house resides in a timber framed building built in 1594 on the Market Square, Salisbury. It is Grade II Listed.

For a folklore researcher, the most remarkable thing about the building is the quantity (and quality) of apotropaic graffiti cut into the stone fireplace lintel, which almost acts as a compendium of protective marks.

As well as initials and Marian Marks (in their ‘W’ form) can be seen two stags ( in Christian symbolic art the stag can represent Christ or act as a metaphor for renewal) and a prominent multifoil -possibly two superimposed six-petalled rosettes.* The design has been intentionally left incomplete as is often the case with compass-drawn designs.

Among this small corpus of marks, the one design that I find the most intriguing is the depiction of a shoe which seems to have been adorned with tally marks and a possible stitched ‘patch’ on the lintel. The folk practice of intentionally concealing worn and heavily-repaired shoes within the fabric of buildings is now an archaeologically recognised phenomenon and recorded accordingly.

Old boots and shoes are often found concealed in chimneys; on the smoke shelf; inside inglenooks; in side ovens or just lodged up the flue. In the past, shoes and boots were believed to have acted as vessels for good luck and were once considered to act as prophylactics or apotropaic devices in their own right when deployed within the building’s structure.

The corpora of graffiti collected from churches often include shoe outlines – not the feet themselves – which can be appended with heels or show the divisions between the leather elements. In some cases, known apotropaic marks are added to the shoe outline on the sole. When recorded in ecclesiastical contexts, the outline if often attributed as having once had an apotropaic function. This interpretation, has, for most part, displaced the ‘traditional’ notion that they were ‘tourism’ marks left by pilgrims at scared sites. In fact few can be considered to be truly ‘medieval’ as many of the shoe outlines can be dated to the 16th & 17th centuries on stylistic grounds placing them within the Early Modern Period (c. AD1550 -1800) in Europe.

Fireplace lintel, Ox Row Public House, Salisbury. Photo: (c) W Perkins 2020.
  • daisy wheel, hexafoil, flower of life, etc….

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