Victorian Boot Scrapers

A Victorian boot scraper in Exeter.

Have you ever seen these around your town or city and wondered what they're for? You might have hypothesised of what they might be. Sometimes people think they're holes to put your milk bottles in whilst some parents tell their children they're doors to fairy or gnome homes. Whatever it is that you have theorised, did you ever actually find out what they're for?

These contraptions can usually be found next to doorways in some towns and cities and are actually boot scrapers from the around Victorian era.

Pre-Eighteenth Century, walking was largely considered something that only poor people did. Back in those days, roads and paths were not tarmacked or paved and instead were lined with mud and horse poop, among other debris, and therefore travelling by carriage was much more preferable.

An example of a boot scraper found in Exeter.

However around the mid-Nineteenth Century, popular attitudes towards walking began to change. The Romantic Movement brought a greater appreciation for nature and civil improvements such as parks and pavements. Although people began to walk more and pavements were introduced, paths still remained somewhat dirty and muddy by today's standards. This brought about a need for boot scrapers so that you could clean your shoes before entering buildings. You could find these boot scrapers in lots of places including outside homes, schools, shops and many other buildings.

"Scrapers for the feet may be let into the wall of the cottage, on each side of the door, a cavity being left over the scraper for the foot, and one under it for the dirt. There are various forms of scrapers for building into walls, which may be had of every ironmonger; and all that the cottager has to do is to choose one analogous to the style of his house. There are detached scrapers in endless variety; the most complete are those which have brushes fixed on edge, on each side of the scraper…"

        - An encyclop√¶dia of cottage, farm, and villa architecture and furniture …John Claudius Loudon, London, 1839

So the next time that you see one of these around, I hope it brings you a little bit of joy knowing that it is in fact a Victorian boot scraper!

Further Reading:

"Boot Scrapers", Historic Gosport
"Boot Scrapers" Home Things Past
"The Rise and Fall of the Boot Scraper" The Independent
Laura Kise, "The History of Boot Scrapers" Practical Preservation Services (25 August 2020)
Heavitree Historical Society Newsletter, No. 65, June 2016, pp. 4-5.

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