If the boot fits, wear it

My passion is anything and everything to do with archaeology. So when I was given the opportunity to be an intern at Underground Overground Archaeology Ltd., I jumped at this chance of a lifetime! My name is Jessica Hofacher and I am a year 13 student at Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery Secondary School. Next year I will be pursuing my passions by studying archaeology at the University of Otago. This year I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Gateway (work experience) program and be taken on by this remarkable company!


An interesting perspective on archaeology. Image: Myer 2012.

Over the last 10 months I have been researching and compiling an information database for the types of shoes available in Christchurch in the 1800s. I did this by searching through old newspapers (available on Papers Past) for information on the styles of shoes available, the people selling them, the methods of manufacture used to make them and the amount of money they cost.


Lace-up lady’s ankle boots, with a military stacked heel and machine stitching along the vamp, tip and back quarter of the upper, c.1900-1920. Photo: J. Garland.

I was asked to research using this method so I could get an understanding of the advantages of this process and also how time-consuming it can be. It was very effective at producing an enormous amount of data, but it also means that it takes a very long time to process and sort through all the information! And I mean a veeeeery long time! To research what shoes were available in Christchurch in the 1850s to the end of the 1870s, who sold them and for how much and what methods of manufacture were used, I had to sort through hundreds of advertisements from the Lyttelton Times, Press, Timaru Herald, Star and the Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsular Advertiser, which took me eight months of Wednesdays!

This topic is very important to archaeologists in Christchurch because not much information is known about shoes in this context.

Footwear remains a neglected artefact despite its common occurrence on … historical sites… when considering artefacts in historical archaeology we think immediately of tea cups, medicine bottles and clay pipes. It is important however to consider artefacts other than those that appear in abundance such as ceramic and glass… one category which has received scant consideration by archaeologists is leather footwear… footwear is only occasionally referred to in site reports and typically only in a brief and non-analytical manner.” (Veres 2005:89)

My research is important to the team working here because when a shoe is found in a Christchurch site, they can look at my information database and deduce “Okay, this style of shoe was not available in Christchurch before this date so this shoe (and assemblage) must date to a point after this date” or “This style of shoe was sold in Christchurch for this amount of money in 1864 which shows the inhabitants of this site could have been fairly well off.”

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Image: Lyttelton Times 13/8/1853: 11.

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Lyttelton Times 13/08/1853: 11

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Image: Lyttelton Times 17/1/1852: 2.

An interesting trend I found in the data was how many shoe businesses were in Lyttelton in the 1850s. In the years 1852, 1853, 1854 and 1856, there were seven shoe businesses in Lyttelton! Three, possibly four were on London Street, two were on Canterbury Street and the other one was on Oxford Street. This means that within five years of European settlement, Lyttelton had seven potential places you could go to purchase shoes. This is a lot considering most shopping precincts these days (excluding malls) have only one -maybe two – shops that sell shoes.

It makes me ask the question, ‘how many people were living in Lyttelton and the surrounding area at that time, that it warranted having so many businesses to manufacture shoes?’ Lyttelton was the main port for import and export in Christchurch so in one way the abundance of businesses makes sense. But if you consider that nearly all of these businesses were manufacturing their own shoes, then the port doesn’t really play much of a role in supplying them with imported stock. These little insights into the urban layout of Canterbury regions are very special because it allows us to imagine what it was like to be a part of the community at that time. It also allows us to speculate on the type of people who owned these businesses and why, and the kinds of people who were buying from them (based on what types of shoes were being sold).

One such business was ‘West End House’ on London Street, Lyttelton, owned by Thomas and Robert Shalders. This is completely my speculation and personal opinion (based on what I’ve read so far) but I’m sure if more research was done much information such as this could be found out. Thomas and Robert Shalders were brothers who in 1853 opened a business where they could sell their wares, called West End House (Lyttelton Times 13/8/1853:11). This business may have been the beginning of their adult life as shoe manufacturers, which I’m sure they hoped would turn into a successful career, perhaps one that would support their wives and young families. They were not restricted to making and selling shoes for only one demographic, so patrons of all ages could satisfy their soles’ with strong and stolid shoes.

My time spent at UOA has been immensely enjoyable and very informative. I’ve found things out about what it’s like to have a career as an archaeologist that I could not have discovered any other way. The team here has given me insights and advice about studying at Otago, what courses will be useful for me and about how to get where I want to be in my future career. Not only have I found things out about what it’s like to be an archaeologist, I have been able to experience what it’s like working as one! My research project has given me an insight into information about Christchurch’s past that I never would have thought to look at on my own. Completing my research was like being transported back in time 164 years and personally speaking with the residents of Christchurch. It was the experience of a lifetime.

Jessica Hofacher


Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.

Myer.G-C, 2012. The Lascaux Review. [online] Available at: http://redtreetimes.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/9911-262-archaeology-rainbows-end-small.jpg [Accessed 7 November 2014].

Veres, M., 2005. Introduction to the analysis of archaeological footwear. Australasian Historical Archaeology 23: 89-96.

3 thoughts on “If the boot fits, wear it

  1. What a fascinating document- I imagine the process was a very interesting journey.
    From centuries past, to the modern 21st century, women, especially will always have a unique relationship with their ‘shoes’.
    Thank you for sharing Jessica, all the best for your Uni years.

  2. The Shalders at Lyttleton were father and son…… The father [Robert] died in May1854. He was from Norfolk and his occupation was often listed as cordwainer – so he a specialist in working fine leather, rather than a mere bootmaker. Robert Shalders was my great great great grandfather. His widow, Ruth, nee Boast, married William Hammett. As to the three Shalders daughters: Harriet [my great great grandmother] married James Gibson in Otago in 1855; Sarah Ann [known as Sally] married Alfred Porter [of Porters Pass fame] and Caroline married Henry Pridham Blanchard. Thomas Shalders married Jessamine Jane Smith. They had twelve children. He passed away on 10 Aug 1911 in Kakapuaka, Balclutha.

  3. There was also a Robert Shalders, the son of Robert Shalders and Ruth nee Boast. That son arrived in Lyttleton with his sister Harriet on the Samarang on 31 July 1851. Robert is recorded on the passenger list of the Samarang as aged 16 years. Harriet was aged 18. [Their brother, Thomas, had arrived at Lyttleton the previous year on the Midlothian]. Robert and Ruth Shalders and their other daughters arrived in 1853, shortly before the business commenced and the advertisement appeared. The son Robert went to Australia, probably looking for gold – and disappeared. The family advertised in newspapers circulating in Australia after Robert the father’s death, but they never learnt what had happened to Robert the son.

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