Medieval London

Iron Horseshoe

Horseshoe Fig. 1.jpg

(Fig. 1) Iron horseshoe from Museum of London (ID 1810), from the mid-12th to late 13th century.

This iron horseshoe is from the high medieval period, likely made and used between the mid-twelfth century to the late thirteenth century. Shaped in the form of a ‘U’ with a wavy outside edge, and slightly pointed ends, it is 112 millimeters in length, 106 millimeters in width, and 101 grams in weight. All six nail-holes are  rectangular in shape,  and it has worn-down calkins. It is also fairly worn at the toe [Fig. 1].

Calkins, while generally not present on horseshoes today, were widely used in the medieval period. The calkins on this horseshoe, called upset calkins, are thickened protrusions on the heels of the shoe that help with traction. In the medieval period, calkins were useful on softer, dirt paths and allowed a horse who was either carrying a person or a heavy cart full of goods to gain a better foothold.[1]

The physical characteristics of the horseshoe indicate that out of the four classifications of medieval horseshoes, it is a type 2B, which generally have lobate (wavy) edges and rectangular nail holes, as well as calkins. Type 2B horseshoes were predominantly used from the middle of the twelfth to the middle of the thirteenth century.[2] Though horseshoes alone cannot indicate the exact size of the horse to which it belonged, as they could be tightly or loosely fitted depending on the norm of the time, it is reasonable to assume that this horseshoe fit the hoof closely because of how close the nail-holes are to the edge of the shoe, which produced the waviness on the edge.[3]

Horseshoes were a commonly purchased item in medieval London – so much so that their price was regulated by an ordinance issued by the aldermen in 1349.[7] The proliferation of horseshoes in London does not indicate, however, that many Londoners owned horses. In fact, most Londoners did not own horses because the city was easily navigated by foot, and the purchase and upkeep of the animal was expensive. Horses were most regularly used to pull carts around the city, and horse-drawn carts could also be hired for longer distance transport of people or goods.[8]

The reason for the purchase of so many horseshoes is that they needed to be replaced on a regular basis. Horseshoes were removed from the hoof for two possible reasons: one, the shoe was worn down and needed to be completely replaced, or two, the hoof had grown too long and needed to be cut down. In the latter instance, the shoe was simply removed from the hoof, and if the shoe was still in fine condition, it was placed back on with new nails after the hoof had been shortened.

In many instances, the horseshoe was removed and then placed back on the hoof multiple times. Shoes could be reused over and over again, which is a possible explanation for the considerable wear at the toe of this particular horseshoe. It is possible to conclude that this shoe was removed and hammered back into the hoof multiple times before it was every fully replaced and discarded. [12]

Once a horseshoe was truly worn down and unable to provide any more use, it was thrown in a pile of rubbish and perhaps taken away in a raker’s cart once more, and dumped outside of the city or into the river. Although it is no longer useful to a horse, it serves now to widen our knowledge and understanding of medieval life in London.

--Caroline Hughes


[1] Clark, ed., Medieval Horse, 81-82.

[2] Sayer and King, “Medieval Period,” 284.

[3] Clark, ed., Medieval Horse, 86.

[4] Clark, ed., Medieval Horse, 75-76.

[5] Weinsteiger, “Medieval Roots,” 4.

[6] Clark, ed., Medieval Horse, 13-15.

[7] Barron, London, 240.

[8] Clark, ed., Medieval Horse, 32.

[9] Barron, London, 262.

[10] Schofield, London Archaeology, 123.

[11] Clark, ed., Medieval Horse, 11-13.

[12] Clark, ed., Medieval Horse, 83.

Works Cited

Barron, Caroline M. London in the Later Middle Ages: Government and People 1200-1500. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2007.

“Bodleian Library MS. Douce 88, fol. 051r.” Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. Accessed October 15, 2020.,t+,rsrs+0,rsps+10,fa+,so+ox%3Asort%5Easc,scids+,pid+0c505445-2eea-4fc7-9881-b0da57179c35,vi+f9622eb1-5c3f-46e4-9027-67e4e2de7bf5

“Blacksmith at Work, BL Harley 6563 f.68v.” British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. Accessed October 15, 2020.

“British Library MS 42130 f. 173v.” British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. Accessed October 15, 2020.

Clark, John, ed. The Medieval Horse and Its Equipment: C.1150-C.1450. With contriburtions by Blanche M A Ellis, Geoff Egan, Nick Griffiths, DJames Rackham, Brian Spencer and Angela Wardle. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2004.

“Horseshoe.” Museum of London Collections Online. Accessed October 15, 2020.

Sayer, Duncan with Chris King. “Medieval Period.”  In The Handbook of British Archaeology. Ed. Roy Adkins, Lesley Adkins, Victoria Leitch,241–301. London: Constable, 2017.

Schofield, John. London, 1100-1600: the Archaeology of a Capital City. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing Ltd., 2011.

Weinsteiger, Brigitte. “The Medieval Roots of Colonial Iron Manufacturing Technology.” Medieval Technology and American History. Penn State University. Accessed October 15, 2020.

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