The year 1660 was a momentous one in these islands. In May of that year, King Charles II returned from exile to take the throne again. Samuel Pepys writes of the event and general celebrations in his Diary. However, on Sunday the 22nd of January of the same year he recorded an equally momentous event in the history of shoe fashions. The arrival of the buckle.
“This day I began to put on buckles to my shoes, which I have bought yesterday of Mr. Wotton.” Whether he had bought the shoes or the buckles the previous day is not made clear. What is clear though is the significance of the event.
We can see this event reflected in one of the finds from the Mill pond at Mill Street in Dublin. The remnants of a long, narrow shoe with a square domed toe and a low wooden heel. Most of the vamp is missing but the the side seams are intact and so are the latchets which are so important for this particular story.
The right side latchet is short and instead of a single hole for a lace it has an eye for a buckle chape. The left side latchet has a series of edge / flesh stitch holes where the buckle tie strap was attached.
Even more interesting is what lies beneath the dome of the square toe. Generally, the toe area is supported with internal toe puffs of thin leather which help to maintain the shape. In this case, the toe puff is reinforced with a layer of thinly shaved wood which is reminiscent of scabbard construction. The wooden layer is sandwiched between the upper and the toe puff.
There is a wonderful painting by Hieronymus Janssens, A Ball at The Hague 1660 which depicts King Charles II wearing just such a pair of long, square toed shoes tied with laces. Several other gentlemen in the painting also wear this style of shoe although the women’s shoes depicted have shorter toes.
And an example of this most fashionable style of shoe ended up in the mud of the Mill Street pond.