Socks in England: an aqueduct old story...

Sep 22, 2014

Roman socksNot long ago we have announced with drum rolls, albeit shy ones, that we were excited to soon be able to adorn your ankles with beautiful socks made especially for us.

Socks once ignored have now reached the new height of fashion, with trendsetters such as Jude Law and Ryan Gosling letting their ankle go from understated to boldly attired. However the sock is not just some sort of modern times extravaganza, socks date back to Roman times and there are proof of it across all Britain. A relief to know ours are MADE IN ENGLAND.

Here is a bit of history (Don’t fear it is just a light read for a Sunny Monday break), where we have recounted tales of the sock through the years. As well travelled as our Rabbit as you may find out: Tacitus (AD56-c.120) said the climate in Britain was "pretty foul, with frequent rain and fog but no extremes of cold". Not cold? You can tell he had never marched sinister-dexter like Auden's soldier along Hadrian's Wall in December nor mounted guard as the snow fell on a bleak river crossing in County Durham.

Durham

If he had had direct experience of the filthy weather of the north of Britannia, he would have written more about socks. We know Roman soldiers wore them with their hobnailed sandal-boots and that long ago a squaddie shivering in Northumberland received a welcome package from wife or mum in sunny Italy. "I have sent you ... pairs of socks from Sattua, two pairs of sandals and two pairs of underpants," said the message on a tablet found at Vindolanda on the Roman wall.

But thanks to a recent archaeological find which has excited men of a certain age from Whitley Bay to Whitstable it now seems that Roman chaps wore socks with unwarlike open-toe sandals, thus setting a fashion trend which continues to this day. The evidence has been found on a razor handle, one of thousands of objects retrieved by divers from the River Tees at Piercebridge, near Darlington, which is the possible site of a Roman fort.

Roman razor

The handle is shaped like a human leg and foot and is prettier than your average plastic throwaway. "It looks as if the leg is wearing a woollen herringbone knitted sock," said Philippa Walton, a finds liaison officer at Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities. There have been previous hints of classical hosiery. "There was a bronze statue discovered in Southwark two years ago and it appears to show a foot wearing a sock," added Ms Walton. "But it is not as clearly shown as the sock on the new find.

She declared that the razor handle provides "unequivocal evidence that the Romans wore socks with open-toed sandals". Not just ankle socks; these go up to the knees like those of British officer in some sultry colonial outpost.

But who made them? Were Pompeii's matrons knitting as Vesuvius blew? Where are the Roman equivalents of Sirdar patterns?

Tacitus tacet. ;-)

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