It’s Halloween so it’s time to delve into the Database to see what spooky finds dwell within. This year we thought we’d focus on ‘spooky stashes’. These are items that have been deliberately hidden away, often to ward off evil forces. This practice was prevalent in the 16th and 17th centuries, with items typically being incorporated into the structure of houses – usually in a floor or wall. Here are 5 examples of concealed caches from the PAS database (click on the links to see the full database record):
This odd collection of items was found hidden in the floor socket of a partition wall of a house in Shropshire. The shape of the clay pipe bowl dates the assemblage to the 17th century.
This sun dial, dated to 1652, was found buried in the rammed earth floor of a thatched house in Suffolk.
This shoe and assorted items, including pebbles and clay pipe stems, was found concealed in the cob-wall above a doorway in a house in Topsham, Devon. The practice of concealing shoes within the structure of a house was widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries when it was believed they could ward off evil spirits and bad luck.
In the case of this shoe, found within the wall of a 17th century Lancashire house, the concealment probably relates to a Lancashire folk tradition where a child’s shoe was hidden to prevent the child being swapped for a fairy child.
Perhaps the strangest item on the database, this velvet ‘visard’ mask was found concealed within the wall of a 16th century stone building in Northamptonshire. It is thought that the original use was either to shield a gentlewoman’s face from the sun at a time when a tan was highly unfashionable in high society, or to ward off would-be attackers should a lady be out and about alone. The mask’s concealment in a wall is more unusual – whilst the practice of hiding things was quite commonplace, this is the only known example of a mask being used in this way. In hiding it away, the original owner has ensured its preservation as these masks rarely survive otherwise.