Gilman shoes

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The pair of child’s shoes pictured were part of a group of women’s and children’s footwear shown by C.S. Gilman as part of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Highly practical, the shoes have flat soles to aid balance and straps to support the foot and ankle. They are made from topstitched buff-coloured cloth, with a leather toecap and leather sole. Other examples of footwear shown by Gilman at the Great Exhibition included a girl’s velvet boot trimmed with swansdown and a pair of shoes made with black velvet and adorned with black silk bows.

During the Victorian era, the growth of the shoe industry meant that a greater variety of children’s shoes were available to wealthy parents. Children from poorer families were however, not so fortunate. Instead, many wore old and badly fitting shoes and many more went barefoot.

In 1880 education was made free, and compulsory for most children in the UK aged between five and ten. However as schools required children to wear shoes, many faced a difficult choice. If they went to school barefoot they would receive a punishment, if they stayed away their parents would be fined.