Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Shoe trees

2014-05-04 13.15.141. We were told authoritively that shoe trees indicated where drugs could be bought [Tooting, London, January 2017].

2. While on a London Natural History Society field meeting in east London on 29 June 2010 we came across a poplar (Populus) with about 30 pairs of shoes, mostly trainers, hung on it, in the corner of Allen Gardens, near the old Shoreditch station, London Borough of Hackney. The general consensus seemed to be that this indicated a place where drugs could be obtained [Tooting, London, March 2012].

3.  I was interested to see a lone tree in the miles of wheat fields around Helix … that had an old pair of shoes stuck in the branches.  The last few weeks before I left the area I noticed that with the coming of spring lots more shoes appeared in the tree.  I asked my grandson’s teacher if she knew anything about it, and although she hadn’t noticed the particular tree that I had, she said that there used to be a shoe tree outside the nearby little farming town of Weston … where people of all ages would toss shoes up in it, but she wasn’t sure if there was any particular reason for the tradition.  The tree outside of Weston had recently been cut down or burned down or something, but it sounds like the tradition is still alive there [Ontario, Oregon, U.S.A., May 2004].

Images: main, shoe tree in Allen Gardens, London Borough of Hackney, January 2014; inset, May 2014.

018Updates on the Allen Gardens tree

2 August 2015:  The Allen Gardens shoe tree is now hung with so many shoes that it appears to be attacked by a grotesque fungus.  Shoes are also attached to nearby metal railings.022                   

13 December 2015:  The shoes attached to the railings have been removed, but more shoes seem to have been added to the tree.

22 December 2016:  There are possibly less shoes attached to the tree, but in addition to trainers and the like there are a least one flipflop and one shoe without laces, both of which it must have been difficult to attach.  No shoes are attached to the railings, but two nearby trees each have a pair of shoes attached to them.

30 December 2018:  Again, there are possibly less shoes, mainly trainers attached to the tree, but one adjacent tree has shoes attached to it, and another adjacent tree has one pair of shoes.

20 December 2020:  Only one pair of shoes – black trainers – attached to tree.

15 May 2021:  No shoes visible.

18 January 2022:  In the course of a discussion about shoe trees on Britain’s Ancient & Sacred Trees Facebook it was reported: ‘The was a place (near Brick Lane [i.e. Allen Gardens] from memory) where this [shoes were hung on a tree] was done as a memorial for those [who had] passed [away] from HIV, or so I was led to believe’.

14 February 2022:  Two pairs of trainers on original tree, and one pair of shoes on a nearby tree.

6 July 2022:  Trees in full leaf, only one pair of shoes – trainers – visible.

18 December 2022: Visibility poor, but apparently only one pair of shoes on the original tree, and one pair on a nearby tree.

6 August 2023:  The original tree has been sawn down, and no shoes are visible on the adjacent trees.