British Collection Highlights:

The Dinton Hermit's Shoe

This handmade shoe once belonged to John Bigg, the 'Dinton Hermit' (1629 - 1696). Bigg was born and lived in Dinton, Buckinghamshire, where he was clerk to Simon Mayne, magistrate and Member of Parliament for Aylesbury. Mayne was one of the judges at the trial of King Charles I in 1649, and it is said that Bigg may have been one of the hooded executioners of the king.

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Simon Mayne was tried and sentenced as a regicide and died in the Tower of London in 1661. John Bigg became a hermit at about the same time, living in an underground cave at Mayne's home, Dinton Hall, until his death. Some believe that Bigg lived as a hermit as he feared retribution for his involvement in the royal execution. Others suggest it was due to the remorse he felt over the king’s death.

The shoe is made up of many hundreds of patches of leather and appears overly large and bulky. The reason for the large size (35 x 23.5 x 11 cm) is that when one piece of leather wore out he would simply nail another piece over the top. An eighteenth-century illustration of Bigg shows that the rest of his clothes were also made up from patches of leather and he wore a strange horned cloak. It is said that he lived by begging silently for food but only ever asked for leather.

Click to enlarge

John Biggs Shoe (Click to enlarge)

Handmade leather shoe which belonged to John Bigg, the 'Dinton Hermit' (AN1836p141.392)

The shoe is recorded as being presented by Sir John Vanhattem, but the date of the gift is unknown at present. As the antiquary Thomas Herne wrote c.1712-3 about the shoe being in the Bodleian Library, the donor is probably Sir John Vanhattem (d. 1749) who came to England from Holland with the future William III, and who purchased Dinton Hall from the Mayne family in 1727, rather than his son, also Sir John (1725-1787). The companion to this shoe is still housed at Dinton Hall.

The shoe is on display in the 'Ark to Ashmolean' gallery on the Lower Ground floor.

Illustration of John Bigg

Eighteenth century illustration of John Bigg

Further Information

Caulfield, J., ' John Bigg, the Dinton Hermit', in Portraits, Memoirs and Characters of Remarkable Persons from the Revolution in 1688 to the end of the reign of George II, Volume 1 (London, H.R. Young) 1819, pp. 9-11. (Available online from the Internet Archive)

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Alison Roberts
January 2012