A mys­te­ri­ous cat­e­gory of the pair tree

His­to­rian DON­ALD STAN­LEY looks at the strange prac­tice of fes­toon­ing branches with shoes and boots

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NOSTALGIA -

The Chilterns had long been fa­mous for its beech trees when in the 1970s peo­ple com­menced to hang shoes on a hum­ble ash by the side of the A40 be­tween Sto­kenchurch and Stud­ley Green.

These ranged from tat­tered work­ing boots to smart women’s slip-ons, many dan­gling from the branches by neatly tied laces. When it died the shoes were moved to another.

In all, three ash trees, were fes­tooned in this man­ner but no­body came for­ward ei­ther to ad­mit to hang­ing them on the first two or ex­plain why they had done so.

The third was ‘dressed’ by the Stud­ley Green youth group but had to be cut down for safety as it was van­dalised.

How­ever, the prac­tice was re­sumed in time for another to be in­cluded amongst 500 se­lected for study in the four year Spe­cial Trees and Woods Project funded by a Na­tional Lot­tery grant of £265,000 which com­menced in 2006.

In its find­ings the Project listed as pos­si­ble rea­sons for hang­ing shoes on the trees: toll pay­ments by trav­ellers, fer­til­ity rites, prepa­ra­tions for the ar­rival of aliens, to be ‘faster on your feet’, or merely a lo­cal hoax.

Pa­gan wor­ship and a witch­craft spell to put a hex on un­for­tu­nate victims were also sug­gested to­gether with the hap­pier thought that each of a new­ly­wed cou­ple would tie one of their shoes to one of the other’s and throw them into the tree for good luck.

Other ‘shoe trees’ have been re­ported in Ox­ford­shire and at Long Ea­ton.

In other coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States and Canada, dec­o­rat­ing trees with shoes is a recog­nised cus­tom as­so­ci­ated with prac­tices rang­ing from mark­ing the end of the school year to pre­par­ing for the re­turn of the spirit of a dead per­son who will walk at that height above the ground.

The Great or Beaver Shoe Tree in Arkansas col­lapsed in the year 2000 un­der the weight of shoes hung on it. In parts of the US shoes on trees mark a gang’s ‘turf’ or a drug dealer’s pitch.

The rea­son for fes­toon­ing trees with shoes is not al­ways ex­plained, nei­ther is any par­tic­u­lar species of tree cho­sen.

For ex­am­ple, in some farm­ing re­gions of Oregon peo­ple of all ages will, for no ap­par­ent rea­son, throw old shoes into the branches of iso­lated trees in the wheat fields as spring ap­proaches.

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