Medieval and Postmedieval Turnshoes
from Kempten (Allgäu), Germany.
New aspects of shoemaker technique at about 1500
Rainer Atzbach M.A. e-mail
postprinted paper in:
Ivan Planka (ed.), Shoes in History 2000. The Collection of Lectures of the 3rd International Conference (Zlin 2001) pp. 184-196.
Lehrstuhl für Archäologie des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit
1. Introduction: The finds from the "Mühlberg-Ensemble" in Kempten
Since autumn 2000 the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has granted
a common research project of the Stadtarchäologie Kempten (Dr. Gerhard
Weber), the chair of medieval history, University of Constance (Prof. Helmut
Maurer) and the chair of medieval and postmedieval archaeology, University
of Bamberg (Prof. Ingolf Ericsson). This article is meant to be the first
record on the work in progress with special focus on the shoe finds.
In the centre of the former Reichsstadt Kempten (Allgäu) the so
called "Mühlberg-Ensemble" is located (fig.
1). This is a group of three citizen's houses (Mühlberg No. 8,
10 and 12). The house Mühlberg No. 12 was firstly mentioned in 1411
as "Seelhaus zum Steg" (i.e. holy house to the bridge, fig.
In 1996 the parish community of St. Mang church, which has been its
owner for 500 years, started to sanitate Mühlberg-Ensemble. In the
cellar the Stadtarchäologie Kempten made a conventional excavation
and at the same time the buildings were surveyed architecturally(1).
During reconstruction works the Stadtarchäologie screened ceiling
fillings by sifting, originally searching for lost coins and other small
objects, which had fallen through gaps in the floor covering (fig.
In nearly all rooms of Mühlberg-Ensemble houses the space between
the ceiling and the floor was filled, mostly with straw and chaff (probably
derived from the urban mill in its neighbourhood - "Mühlberg" means
mill's hill), bricks or rubble. These fillings were necessary as isolation
material and to weight the floors against vibrations. In between older
floor layers and a plenty of everydays objects from late medieval period
up to about 1920 were enclosed: one of the youngest object is a grenade
of World War I - which was luckily without explosives. Obviously, all these
things were put into the fillings during rebuilding activities. They belong
to the source group of finds concealed in buildings(2).
In the house Mühlberg No. 8 the oldest layer was discovered, according
to the enclosed written sources it dates from about 1470 to 1550. One speciality
of this assemblage is the excellent conservation even of late medieval
finds: All objects look as if they have been lying five years on the loft
- but in fact they have been there for 500 years. Seams are completely
intact, street mud is still sticking on shoes and textiles show the rest
of pigmentation (fig. 4).
2. The shoes concealed in the house Mühlberg No. 8
The oldest complex is of special interest for archaeological and historical
research. It contains charters, writing exercises, a love letter, playing-cards,
wooden waste from a turnery and also about 600 leather and fur objects,
which are the topic of the author's doctoral thesis(3).
The biggest part of the leather finds are shoes - which is common on
conventional excavations. The earliest types beyond these were one well
preserved fragment of a poulaine (a.k.a. crackowe) (top is cut off, fig.
5) and a nearly complete patten. Both are characteristic forms of the
14th to 15th century (4). The poulaine shows
clear cutting marks. Obviously the upper and a part of the sole had been
ripped off by a cobbler using professional tools. Such kind of cutting
is typical for the Kempten complex. There is a lot of cobbler's waste in
this assemblage, but also about 40 nearly intact objects without damage.
All injuries on the shoes are either caused by cobbler's work or by mice,
which have lived for 500 years between and in these shoes - mummies of
these last users of the shoes were found also.
Typologically the crucial point of the Mühlberg shoes and the
shoe fragments is in the period between 1500 and the first half of the
sixteenth century. Apart from the undeterminable forms, Kempten assemblage
contains eleven shoe types defined by their fastening method in different
quantities (fig 6). Beside
the mentioned poulaine and the infant ankle boots all shoes show frontal
fastenings. The good preservation of the uppers and the soles enables studies
in details of construction, e.g. method of lacing through five pairs of
holes and the placing of facings at the inside of the fastening (fig.
7). As far as the pattern is concerned, all the uppers consist of several
parts. In general the edge of the instep is either bound with a strip of
leather in butted seam with whip stitch or simply trimmed with whip stitch
The most frequent shoe type is the low cut ankle shoe with wide opened
instep and latchet fastening (type 140, fig.
8). Its upper is made of two parts and the edge of the instep is sewn
with a folded top edge binding, which is made of two strips. The comparison
with Renaissance style naturalistic paintings and engravings show ways
of wearing and function of most leather objects. Such as Monogrammist MZ's
engraving "Decapitation of St. Catherine" confirms that the opening of
this shoe form was covered by a tongue (fig.
9). Archaeological and museal records reveal that this type was fashionable
in the late 15th and early 16th century throughout the whole of Europe
According to Mühlberg material, the ankle boot with frontal latchet
fastening was the most common shoe type in Kempten (fig.
10). As known from other archaeological finds, especially Kloster Alpirsbach
in the Black Forest, it seems to be a typical form in Southern Germany
at about 1500 (7). The shown example displays
cobbler's work as well: the instep part of the upper has been cut off.
Apart from this, one repair was made: a re-used hill-stiffener was sewn
as a patch unusually from the outside on the quarter. The damage in the
material allows for detailed insights into construction of shoes (fig.
11). All parts of the upper and strap were sewn in a closed seam with
flesh-grain stitching and at each side side linings are fixed in lapped
seam with whip stitch. Their bottom edge is usually integrated in the main
seam between the upper and sole.
3. Technique of the Kempten adult shoes
As far as craft technique is concerned, the Mühlberg shoes are
very uniform (Fig. 12):
All adult shoes are made in turning technique, sewn inside out damp on
a last. The preferred material is bovine leather; goat or sheep leather
is only used for repairs. Usually the main seam includes four layers in
waist: sole with flesh-to-edge stitching, rand, upper and side lining with
grain-to-flesh-stitching. The main seam in the sole upperside is often
countersunk in a cut fissure. The rand is composed of two to five overlaying
parts. It is obviously used for three functions: firstly, it works as sealing
material between the upper and the sole. In contrast to these stiff parts,
the rand is made of thin and smoother leather strips closing the contact
zone against moisture. Secondly, it protects the main seam against damage.
As seen on Kempten shoes, each rand is as wide as the layers of the main
seam on the inside of the shoes. Consequently, diagonal forces which are
caused by walking would only effect the surface of the rand but not the
main seam layers. Thirdly and finally, cobblers fixed repair patches on
the rand. There are one to three layers of such patches possible per shoe.
They cover vamp and ankle sole region. The ankle-joint is left out generally
(cf. fig. 8 on the right side),
either because this region is not damaged by walking or because of comfort
Often there is no hole visible in the sole, but nevertheless a patch
was sewn on. If one patch is worn out, it is usually not replaced, but
reinforced with a second or third one. Perhaps such kind of sole doubling
with patches could be a forerunner to the developed heel, which does not
occur before the late 16th century (8).
The heel is regularly constructed with two reinforcement layers (fig.
13): Between the upper and the heel stiffener there is an additional
inner reinforcement, which is invisible and can only be perceived at the
upper edge of main seam in the inside of the shoes as an additional strip
of leather in the heel region. These five layers of leather are sewn together
with grain-to-flesh-stitching only in the main seam, i.e. the inner reinforcement
is without seam to quarters upper, whereas the heel stiffener is sewn on
it in a lapped seam with whip stitch. Moreover the heel stiffener is connected
to the side linings in butted seam with whip stitch. This system of reinforcements
keeps the heel region of shoes upright for easy instepping. In addition,
it protects the shape against deformation while walking.
Although the Kempten types follow the fashion of the early 16th century
- there were earlier and developed cow mouth shoes (=Tudor style shoes)
as well - the welted technique, which is usually connected with these types,
is lacking in them completely. Welted construction means that the upper
is sewn directly to an inner sole. This unit of upper and inner sole is
linked to the outer sole by means of a separate strip of leather, the welt.
Probably the welt developed from the rand of medieval turning shoes. In
Vevey, Switzerland welted Tudor style shoes represent the last chain of
a technological evolution at around 1500 - these finds are contemporary
with the Kempten ones (9). In contrast to
this, the Kempten shoes keep to the medieval turning shoe construction.
Such kind of coexistence between turning and welted shoes at the same time
is a rare fact on archaeological sites. Both techniques are found together
only beyond the staff shoes of "Don Juan" wreck (sunk 1565). Its excavator,
S. Davis, stated the opinion that turnshoes are smoother and were used
on board, e.g. for climbing in the masts, whereas the stiffer welted shoes
belonged to the staff's dress for going ashore (10).
This explanation could be possible for the light and thin ship shoes, but
it does not apply to the Kempten ones: their soles were made of stable
bovine leather and - as described above - were "doubled" with patches,
consequently these shoes are as inflexible as modern welted shoes.
According to shoemaker's statutes and historical encyclopaedias the
production of turnshoes was practiced until the 18th century in general,
special forms of dancing shoes have been made in turning technique until
today (11). A new aspect might be the evidence
of a Bavarian sumptuary law from the year 1626: this did not allow lower
class people to wear welted shoes explicitely (12).
The purpose of such sumptuary laws is firstly to keep hierarchial differentiation
in society. It was also meant to guard poorer people from spending their
money for luxury, since town government did not want them to become a problem
for social service, if they could not afford their standard of living anymore.
Consequently, the wearing of turning shoes could be a sign of lower social
status: turnshoes were evidently cheaper than more complexly made welted
shoes, because they were supposedly easier to produce or they were less
4. Technique of the Kempten infant shoes
The infant shoes show nearly all the features of the adult ones. All
types belong to the ankle boots because the infant foot must be protected
against twisting. Their upper is composed of several parts; they may posess
complex fastenings, e.g. with small hooks and loops made of bronze or iron (fig.
14). Usually there are lateral reinforcements sewn to heel stiffeners,
In a marked contrast to the adult shoes infant types are no sheer turnshoes:
All the seams of the upper are sewn on the inner side in a closed seam
with flesh-grain-stitching, but obviously the sole has been fixed seperately
from the outer side. Consequently the main seam is worked in grain-flesh-stitching
and its thread is visible at the top and the bottom of the sole edge. The
shown example displays a decorative rope-like, thick thread. Probably it
was not possible to turn small infant shoes made of stable bovine leather
through the narrow instep inside out. Although the construction is different
from "classical" turnshoes, the characteristic rand is used at the same
place, between the upper and the sole. Presumably it is used here also
as sealing against moisture. Typologically this technique could be seen
as pseudo-welted construction and has been found at other infant shoes
since the Middle Ages (13).
In Kempten the ankle area of infant shoes is reinforced by an additional
sole compartment on the principle. This heel-like lifting could support
the mentioned interpretation of sole doubling as forerunner of the developed
heel construction. All infant shoes are badly worn, evidently they had
been used by more than one child just until cobbling made no sense anymore.
5. Who wore the Kempten shoes?
There are only few records about the inhabitants of Mühlberg-Ensemble,
because the largest part of medieval and postmedieval sources was burnt
in the Thirty-Years-War: Until 1501 a community of pious women was housed
in No. 12, since that time the site has been in ecclesiastical ownership.
The house No. 8 has been used as a sexton's office or a preacher's accomodation.
In the 17th century the sexton has been allowed explicitely to "work furtherly
as a cobbler" (14).
The archaeological material itself reveals additional information in
regarding the range of shoe-sizes (fig.
15): In contrast to measuring series from Bergen, London, Constance
or Lübeck (15), in Kempten the share
of infant shoes (up to size 35) is remarkably big. Especially the share
of smallest sizes (19-25) is quite astonishing so as the fact that the
upper end of range lacks adult male sizes (bigger than size 40).
Consequently, the Kempten shoes were mainly worn by women and children.
This fact matchs well with the delivered written records concerning the
Mühlberg-Ensemble. The Kempten finds could be the remainders of those
pious women, who lived there like Beguines. For such convents it was quite
usual to earn their living by doing craftmen's work or taking care of children
Evidently, in 1501 the convent managed to convert into a regular Franciscanian
nunnery, perhaps because of additional donations made by rich Kempten families.
The women moved and changed into a new housing, but the right of cobbling
stayed back with their former house and was practiced by the sexton further
People like the inhabitants of Mühlberg-Ensemble at about 1500
have hardly been mentioned in written records. Nevertheless they were an
important and numerous group of medieval urban society in Central Europe.
The complete and interdisciplinary analysis of all Mühlberg-Ensemble
finds (leather, fur, textiles, wood, written sources etc. ) will reveal
new and more detailed insights into their daily life.
All photographs taken by Stadtarchäologie Kempten,
Birgit Kata and Roger Mairock
Rainer Atzbach M.A.
Lehrstuhl für Archäologie des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit
Dr. Stefan Kirchberger
1. For more detailed description of find
situation cf. Kata, Birgit et al., Ausgrabungen im "Mühlberg-Ensemble"
in Kempten (Allgäu), Archäologisches Jahr in Bayern 1996 (1997)
186-190; Kata, Birgit, Texte im Schutt und zwischen den Balken. Schriftquellen aus archäologischen Fundsituationen in Kempten (Allgäu), in: Brunner, Karl (ed.), Text als Realie. Int. Kongr. Krems a.d.D. 3.-6. Okt. 2000, Sitzungsbericht, Veröfftl. Inst. Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit (Wien 2002) pp. 193-227.
2. To the phenomenon of concealed finds
cf. Swann, June, Shoes Concealed in Buildings, Costume. The Journal of
the Costume Society 30,1996, 56-68.
3. Atzbach, Rainer, Die Leder- und Pelzfunde
aus dem Mühlberg-Ensemble in Kempten, Dissertation in Arbeit am Lehrstuhl
für Archäologie des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, Universität
Bamberg. Parts of this assemblage are published in Jahn, Wolfgang et al.
(eds.), Geld und Glaube. Leben in evangelischen Reichsstädten. Katalog
zur Ausstellung im Antonierhaus, Memmingen, Veröfftl. zur bayer. Gesch.
und Kultur 37/98 (Augsburg 1998) 273-276 and Jahn, Wolfgang et al. (eds.),
Bürgerfleiß und Fürstenglanz. Katalog zur Ausstellung in
der Kemptener Residenz, Veröfftl. zur bayer. Geschichte und Kultur
38/98 (Augsburg 1998) 101.
4. Grew, Francis; de Neergard, Margrethe,
Shoes and Pattens, Medieval Finds from Excavations in London 2 (London
1988) 29-43 and 91-101. An identic parallel find to Kempten patten is located
in Rüstkammer Dresden (inv. no. I 101): Bäumel, Jutta; Swann,
June, Die Schuhsammlung in der Dresdner Rüstkammer, Waffen- und Kostümkunde
38, 1996, 3-33, esp. 15, Abb. 1.
5. Terminology follows Goubitz, Olaf,The
drawing and registration of archeological footwear, Stud. Conservation
6. Selected locations: Alpirsbach: Fingerlin,
Ilse, Die Textilien aus dem Alpirsbacher Fund, in: Stangl, Anja; Lang,
Frank (eds.), Mönche und Scholaren, Funde aus 900 Jahren Kloster Alpirsbach
(Karlsruhe 1995) 55; Schloß Bruck, Tirol: Stadler, Harald, Das höfische
Alltagsleben auf Schloß Bruck im Spiegel der archäologischen
Funde, in: Abarte, Marco et al. (red), Circa 1500 (Geneve, Milano 2000)
53-55, esp. 54 and cat. 1-12-7. Constance: Schnack, Christiane, Mittelalterliche
Lederfunde aus Konstanz, Materialhefte zur Archäologie in Baden-Württemberg
26 (Stuttgart 1994) 26-28; Vevey: Volken, Serge and Marquita, Die Schuhe
der St. Martinskirche in Vevey (CH),Zeitschrift für schweizer. Archäologie
und Kunstgeschichte 1996, 1-15, esp. 7-9. Lübeck: Groenman-van Waateringe,
Willy u. Krauwer, Monique, Das Leder von Lübeck, Grabung Schüsselbuden
16/ Fischstr. 1-3,Lübecker Schriften zur Archäologie und Kulturgeschichte10,1987,75
-84, Typ 11.
7. Fingerlin, Ilse, Seltene Textilien
aus dem Kloster Alpirsbach im Nordschwarzwald, Waffen- und Kostümkunde
39, 1997, 99-122, esp. 54; The Kempten ones represent more elaborated version
of type "Schuh mit Ristfaltung" published by Volken/ Volken (1996, cf.
fn. 6) 1-3.
8. Gall, Günter, Die Entwicklung
des Absatzes in der Schuhmode, Waffen- und Kostümkunde 13,1971,13-25;
Gall, Günter, Schuh und Stiefel, in: Karstens, Andrea (red.), Deutsches
Ledermuseum, Deutsches Schuhmuseum, Museum 9 (Braunschweig 1981) 102-117,
9. Volken/ Volken, Vevey (1996).
10. Davis, Stephen, Piercing together
the past. Footwear and other Artefacts from the wreck of a 16th-century
Spanish Basque galleon, in: Redknap, Mark, Artefacts from Wrecks, Oxbow
Books 84 (Oxford 1997) 110-120, esp. 114.
11. Krünitz, Johann Georg, Ökonomisch-technologische
Enzyklopädie Bd. 148 (Berlin 1828) headwords "Schuhe" and "Schuster"
and friendly oral information by Stephan van der Heyde, orthopedic shoemaker
in Neustadt/ Saale.
12. Dress ordinance of duke Max I. of
Bavaria from 26th June 1626, cf. Baur, Veronika, Kleiderordnungen
in Bayern vom 14. bis zum 19. Jahrhundert, Miscellanae Bavarica Monacensia
62 (München 1975) 54.
13. Hlavá^cek, Petr, Der Kinderschuh
aus Leder von Schloß Tirol - ein Bauopfer?, in: Spindler, Konrad
(ed.), Das Geheimnis der Turris Parva (Innsbruck 1998) 11-14. Groenman-van
Waateringe, Willy, Laat-middeleeuws schoeisel, in: van Regteren Altena,
Hans H. (ed.), Stadskernonderzoek in Amsterdam (1954-1962)(Groningen 1966)
55-76, esp. 60.
14. Kata et al. (1997), cf. fn. 1.
15. Bergen: Larsen, Arne, Footwear from
the Gullskoen Area of Bryggen, The Bryggen Papers 4 (Bergen 1992) fig.
75; London: Grew/ de Neergard (1988) p. 39; Constance: Schnack, Christiane,
Mittelalterliche Lederfunde aus Konstanz (Grabung Fischmarkt), Materialhefte
zur Archäologie in Baden-Württemberg 26 (Stuttgart 1994) 37;
Lübeck: van den Berg, Tom; Groenmann-van Waateringe, Willy, Das Leder
aus dem Umfeld des Lübecker Hafens, Lübecker Schriften zur Archäologie
und Kulturgeschichte 18, 1992, 345-364, esp. 361 Abb. 6.2.
16. cf. Fößel, Amalie/ Hettinger,
Anette, Klosterfrauen, Beginen, Ketzerinnen. Religiöse Lebensformen
von Frauen im Mittelalter, Historisches Seminar N.F. 12 (Idstein 2000)