This is the webpage of a group whose aim is to improve the kit and clothes of a UK seventeenth century Civil War reenactment group, using the most up to date references and research. Feel free to comment on any of the subjects raised here and return often as I want to keep the discussion lively and ongoing.

Please look at the extra tabs on the right hand side. The newbie section is the place for basic kit if you're just beginning to reenact the 1640s. Haberdashery has lots of detail about colours, buttons, tapes etc.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Startups (and/or Cockers?)

Some 1640s reenactors, mainly pikemen choose a different style of footwear than the standard lace up shoe that I talked about in an earlier post. Possibly because the fashion for cutting down modern desert boots produces a shoe that can look the part but has a compromised fit and integrity, the startup boot, or high shoe as it was probably know in our period is now recommended as an alternative.

However there are pitfalls involved with this type of shoe. Firstly these boots are only ever illustrated on agricultural labourers and country bumpkins. There is no record of issue of this type of shoe to the army of either side and the feeling is that it would have been regarded more as a mark of a lower class yokel than the badge of a soldier. There is no doubt that the majority of civil war footsoldiers would have worn shoes, although the bulk of the rural population would have been wearing high shoes so they may have been seen on 17th century battlefields but would definitely be an unusual item of footwear.

Pictures show shepherds, farmers and labourers wearing calf high boots that are round toed with no evidence of a raised heel. There also indications that laces or buttons could be used to secure the boots, though in both of these images I see no evidence of fastening, these shepherds seem to be wearing pull ons! First picture frontispiece of Mercurius Rusticus, the bound edition from 1647, shepherds from Heraclitus Dream by William Marshall 1642.
There are several schools of thought about the fastening of high shoes.

Tod Booth (Foxblade Trading) has a strong viewpoint:

“ From contemporary paintings and sketches it is clear that a mid calf boot was also worn by people in the employment of the wealthy. A painting hanging in Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire shows a number of grooms leading horses. The painting shows the footwear in detail and as well as latchet shoes shows many of the grooms wearing mid calf length boots. In addition there are many prints that clearly show a boot being worn by a number of tradesmen. So it is reasonable to conclude that the men of the 17th century wore a mid length calf boot.
The materials for any type of foot wear were extremely limited and bovine hide being the most easily available is the obvious choice. From the primary evidence I have looked at I can support the idea that mid calf length boots were worn by men in our period. It is speculation that they wore them in the army but I find it reasonable to think that some soldiers had them.
What is wrong is the design. The start ups we have are a laced up boot. None of the pictorial evidence I have looked at shows any form of lacing, all the boots look like leather wellies. It is logical that a person either working in the fields or having to travel along the rutted muddy roads of the 17th century would want a boot that keeps your feet dry."

All repros available are laced with several holes. The modern method of tying the shoes is one area to look at, in our period it was unusual to tie multiple holes together with a single lace like we do now. If there was more than one set of holes they would generally use multiple laces.

 There is no argument against the fact that these boots provide protection against knocks, scrapes, and the worst the weather can throw at you, but you must choose your boots with care as there is a fine line to be drawn and some repros can look like modern boots. Modern boots are made of several layers of overlapping thin leather whilst period shoes and boots used fewer, thicker pieces. A good startup reproduction would have 2 or 3 pieces only comprising the upper.

Here are imagesof a couple of nice repros of startups with laces. The worn pair are from Sarah Juniper, and also show what a pair of starups may have looked like after a season's campaign. These have been used for reenacting for 20 years! The second shoe is by Chris Thomas and is pierced for double lacing.

Another possible route, or alternative to what we may be seeing in the pictures is what came to be known as the cocker or stirrup hose, that was definitely worn in later periods (and is still used now) over a pair of shoes and covering the lower leg to mimic the action of a knee length boot. There is a pair in Huntingdon Museum that belonged to Oliver Cromwell. These are rather splendid with some fine carving on the leather, though I'm still looking for an image. This picture from a woodcut entitled The Armes of the Tobachonists 1630 seems to show a guy wearing buttoned up cockers over his shoes. The photo on the right shows a repro pair of cockers by Tom Aldwinckle