Category Archives: Leather Work

Boots and Spurs

No this is not the second hit by Brennan Huff and Dale Doback (warning explicit lyrics) from Prestige Worldwide, but a little update on some of the crafts we have been up to in preparation for the first proper weekends at the village in Murton.

We have been to the Village once already, but as the weather was incredibly poor, we had an awful lot of building maintenance to do, and the site was closed to the public we decided to just get on with that, and abandoned the reenacting, so the wooly pants have yet to be worn in anger this year. We have another trip to Murton coming up next weekend, which again will involve more maintenance, but this time properly in kit, and that should be the last for a few weekends which will be more craft and fun based, as the weather will be warm enough for us to take the kids along again… whether or not it remains dry is another matter!

We have been getting all the clothes out, seeing what fits the little ones, and what doesn’t, and what we might need new.I decided to finally get some more leather from a fantastic store called LeProvo in Newcastle, and make some more pairs of shoes and boots.

Whilst the kids feet were growing fast, I was reluctant to make shoes as they would want redoing every six months, but Now Hakon is 5, then he has slowed down a little growth wise, and also we will also at least get a second use out of them when Ragenleif gets a bit bigger. Therefore, he finally has his own pair of viking boots, and very cute too!

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I must admit, I have been thinking about these since we went to Ireland early in the year and saw this:

DSC_0155Archaeologically small sizes seem to be the most common finds, which I have often heard people say is because of ‘smaller feet back then’. However, we really have no evidence for this, indeed average heights are not much smaller than today. Average heights for the period in Scandinavia and the UK tend to average around the 5ft7-5ft8 mark for men and 5ft2 for women, compared to 5ft9 and 5ft3 today… so actually there isn’t much in it, indeed Viking warriors graves often average out as pretty tall (around 5ft11-6ft). However, when you think logically about shoes it is pretty obvious. When my (UK size 9) shoes are worn through beyond saving for me to use, there is actually a lot of good leather still left in them that can be cut down to a smaller size, until ultimately we get to small adult/kids sizes, when they are probably about done anyway. This would leave us with a small size skew archaeologically.

I have also completed a new pair of toggle boots for Aelgifu/Katla and am making myself a pair of ‘tall’ boot based on the finds from Hedeby and Deventer, which I finally got access to the leather publication of. You can see an image of a reconstruction of the boots here:

They are the tallest boots I know dated to the 9th-10th century, coming almost to my mid calf, though not quite. They are also the inspiration for the ‘viking sea boots’ which is a bit of a ‘reenactorism’. The latter often come to the knee, and never have the odd little ‘winkle picker’ toe point. Still these are very unusual, and I do not know of any evidence for them in any UK sites or in sites in modern Scandinavia, where lower ankle height boots are the norm until later in the 12th-13th century. Indeed even in Hedeby and Deventer the low shoe and ankle boots seems to be king. Here is my final attempt:

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Secondly, and inexplicably linked to shoes and boots, are spurs (indeed the boots from Cumwhitton were only preserved as mineralized remains on two pairs of spurs). I have finally got around to finishing off my spurs; based on the Cumwhitton finds, I forged at York Last year, and here they are:

IMG_20150414_002901It has been surprising looking deeper into Spurs in the 9th-10th century, and finding out just how many there are. Particularly in Viking graves in the North West of England, but also Scotland, and Ireland like these ones in the National Museum of Ireland.

20150221_14052220150221_140518Clearly they were an important item of dress and equipment, and I believe that they should be considered an item off dress of a man of a high rank, much the same way we would look on a sword, or high quality belt fittings, knives, pendants, and other items. The objects people wore were always functional, but it would be foolhardy to think they didn’t also convey something about the person; who they were, what they did, how much wealth they had. A pair of spurs may well mark a high-ranking viking, or even Saxon, out the same way they would a cowboy or a lawman in the old west.

I have also been busy finishing making a door and shutters for the Viking house, which hopefully I can get installed this weekend. Either way, I’ll be sure to get some pictures and update you all on the progress!

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National Museum of Ireland

This last weekend the group went on a ‘civvies’ trip out to Dublin to visit the museums in the City which we have been planning and saving for, for several months. Dublin is noted for its Viking past and collection of amazing objects in the museums, and we hoped to view these, and to learn about the Early Medieval and Medieval origins of the town.

Safe to say, we had a fantastic time; the weather was freezing, but the Guinness was good! We also took the opportunity to book a tour with Fin Dwyer who created and hosts the Irish History Podcast. Fins tour was very enjoyable, and was a great opportunity to walk round Dublin to try to get a sense of what was there 1000 years ago, when you strip away all the roads and modern buildings. Anyone who hasn’t checked out his podcast I highly recommend it, and if you are visiting Dublin yourself, I’d recommend his tour over any of the tourist focused ones, as he is actually an Archaeologist and Historian and his knowledge is more than just a prepared script.

The real star of the show for me, after the beer, was the Viking collections in the National Museum of Irelands Archaeology Museum. We took so many photographs, and actually made a couple of trips round. It’s a shame to hide these images away, particularly as so much of the material is unpublished, and largely unknown, so what I thought I would do is share some of our pictures in regular posts, with what I can remember of the details.

For starters is this little oddity. I confess, I have always ‘known’ leather bottles existed in the early medieval period, but never knew of any actual examples extant. Yet here this little one was. Sadly there were no more specific dating details so I don’t know for sure if this was from 600 AD or 1100 AD, or somewhere in between, but from the decoration, it wouldn’t look out-of-place in a 8th-12th century context, though much of the motifs are very long-lived. I also can’t remember where it was from.

It is very like a costrel in form (or should we perhaps say costrels are like these!), and approximately 30cm across and 15-20 cm deep. It appears to be in three parts; the ‘top’ face here is fairly flat, though now dished in, and the back is bowl-shaped, and these two stitched together as visible here.

DSC_0096There is also a separate formed mouth piece, which seems to be stitched on similar to the Hedeby Quivers. Presumably there was a waxed wooden plug/cork in the top, and there is also a suspension cord. The leather it is constructed out of seemed pretty thick, perhaps 3-4mm. It was pretty clear that the domed ‘back’ part had been formed first, before decoration and assembly.

DSC_0098Decoration… yeah… and boy was it! It was arranged in bands running around the vessel with a central motif in the middle of each face, and a mix of motifs. The ever-present Greek key, and triple stranded knotwork motif, and some elaborate triskelesque (yeah I made up a word) swirls. The central circular motif on each face, was made out of triquetra arranged with one point in the centre, and the other two points touching the edge of the circle, and the spaces in between filled with triangle, cross hatched in opposing 90 degree directions. You can breathe a sigh of relief if you got this far, I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but hopefully those notes will help clarify some details for any of you thinking of making replica; it’s certainly going on my ‘to do’ list this year!

Adam

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