John Bigg’s shoes
17th century
Gallery 27, Tradescant Rarities,
First Floor

 


Focus on the Object

These peculiar shoes once belonged to John Bigg who was Clerk to Judge Simon Mayne, and it is said he may have been one of the mysterious hooded executioners of Charles I. John Bigg became a hermit during the middle of the seventeenth century when he went to live in an underground cave at Dinton Hall in Buckinghamshire,
owned by Judge Simon Mayne. He lived there until his death 30-40 years later. There
is speculation as to why he lived his life as a hermit, but a popular explanation is that after the Restoration his life was in danger due to his involvement in the royal execution. Others suggest it was due to the remorse he felt over the King’s death.

The shoes are 13 inches long and 6 inches wide and are made up of many hundreds
of patches of leather. The reason why the shoes are so big and bulky is because when one piece of leather wore out he would nail another piece over the top. An eighteenth- century illustration of him shows the rest of his clothes were also made up from
patches of leather and he wore a strange horned cloak. It is said he lived by begging silently for food but only ever asked for leather.

For over 300 years the pair of shoes were separated as one was at Dinton Hall, and
the other in the Ashmolean’s collection, however in September 2003 both were
reunited to be displayed here, a pair once more.