Following my column about horseshoes a couple of weeks ago, I had a message from reader John Larkin from Easington, County Durham, who wrote: ‘My late father-in-law was a blacksmith who learned his trade in the 1920s…He always said, and was told as an apprentice, that horseshoes should be hung in the ‘five to’ or ‘five past’ position so that you get a constant flow of good luck. In the upright position, the luck just stays at the bottom and remains the same luck. Upside down, and you’re not getting any, but the people who pass get it all.’
He added: ‘My wife Catherine said her dad, Billy Dickenson, used to make horseshoes for her especially to put on the gate.’
Most people I have spoken to since writing the piece have said that they recall horseshoes being hung like the letter ‘U’ rather than facing downwards or in the ‘C’ position.
During my research, I came across a fascinating chap called Edward Lovett (1852-1933) who was obsessed by collecting trinkets that held importance in the world of folklore. Although he worked by day as a bank cashier in London, he spent all of his spare time trawling the back streets, scouring bric-a-brac shops and markets, taking the time to question the locals about the comfort they gained from the magic they associated with everyday objects.
He hosted lectures and wrote many articles and books about his findings, much of his work coming from discussions with the people he met on his travels. He was clearly good at getting them to open up about their long-held superstitions and his writings are full of anecdotes amassed from his conversations. He also had a knack for getting his subjects to part with their treasured trinkets and some of his vast collection can be seen at the Science Museum in London, such as strings of blue beads that people carried to protect themselves against bronchitis. He also recorded that phials of mercury would be stashed in pockets to prevent rheumatism, and torn playing cards were kept on the person for good luck.
Animal teeth were also carried in little bags in the belief that they would cure toothache. It was hoped that the pain would be transferred from the person to the tooth. It wasn’t just animal teeth that were used for this purpose, though, as human teeth were sometimes removed from the recently deceased for the same reason while an incisor-shaped piece of flint was believed to ease the suffering of teething children.
During the First World War, Lovett made a study of the many and varied forms of charm carried by soldiers in the hope that they may be protected for death or injury. He discovered that troops from Ireland wore charms around their necks made out of green Connemara marble, such as hearts, boots and shamrocks. Black bog-oak would be used to fashion lucky cats and pigs. Some talismans were made by soldiers who narrowly escaped death. They collected the shrapnel that should have killed them, believing it carried the power to protect them. Lovett acquired a tin and copper shamrock amulet believed to have been worn by a soldier at Ypres in Belgium. Another horseshoe amulet was made from a fragment of a German shell by a Belgian soldier who had survived an attack.
He was an enterprising man, and in 1912 produced his own good luck horseshoe targeted at superstitious well-heeled car owners. Called the ‘Lovett Motor Mascot’ it was sold at fancy department store Gamages, now more famous for its hand-crafted watches.
The mascot offered ‘Good Luck To All Travellers’ and boldly claimed: ‘This mascot is by far the most powerful one that has ever been devised, consisting as it does of five of the most widely recognised types of amulet in existence, some of which have been in use for more than two thousand years.’
He was taking no chances on this one, the 16cm brass horseshoe design being jam packed with lucky symbols from around the world. It featured seven nail holes (seven was considered lucky), and held within it the crescent moon of Diana, a Byzantine crescent with a star in the centre and the wheel of a sun chariot. It was topped by a swastika, an ancient symbol of divinity in Asia long before it was hijacked by the Nazis.
What I’d really like to know, though, is did it work?
Contact me, and read more, at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug
This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 25th and the Gazette & Herald on 23rd June 2021