A Very Rare c.1800 Crocodile Leather Gout Boot

Origin: English
Period: George III/Regency
Provenance: Unknown
Date: c.1790-1820
Length: 20.5 inches
Height: 10.5 inches
Width: 5.75 inches (all at maximum)

The large crocodile leather gout boot with sewn edge and lace eyes and having a pine sole survives from the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

The condition of the boot is thoroughly charming with the leather showing signs of obvious wear commensurate with use and age. There are some larger scuffs where the leather is coming away though the overall condition We have given the boot a light oiling with an appropriate oil to soften and preserve it. The boot is currently stuffed with 1950s newspaper to help keep its shape. There is also some old swaddling inside the boot.

The history of gout goes back over 4,000 years. Gout is a very old, and distinguished, disease known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The name of the disease, gout, from the Latin Gutta (drop) was first christened with a variety of additional names depending on where in the body the attack took place. Around 400 B.C. (B.C.E.) Hippocrates (466-377 B.C.), thought its cause was connected to the four humours (humors) which, if in balance in the body delivered health, and if out of balance delivered illness.

Although scientific change was in the air, it was said that the early nineteenth century, was the springtime, or heydey of gout; “tophi like crocuses were bursting everywhere, and the ‘honour of gout’ was as much a status symbol as a nuclear bomb shelter is now” said Bywaters in 1962. The diet of the upper classes was large amounts of protein and port wine and the latter cost three shillings a bottle. In 1825, 40,277 tuns were imported, which was estimated to be the equivalent of forty thousand cases of gout. “The Prince was such a powerful toper that six bottles after dinner scarce made a perceptible change in his countanance”.

Since gout was undoubtedly an occupational hazard of the well to do classes in Georgian England, the sufferers were naturally anxious to mitigate the agony of their periodical attacks by as much comfort as possible. In an earlier period Pepys confided in his diary: ‘To see Sir W.Penn whom I find very ill with the goute sitting in his greate chair, made on purpose for persons sick of that disease, for their ease’. Walpole, in his letters, often mentions his ‘gouty Bootikins’, boasting of their efficacy, which he would demonstrate by stamping his gouty foot on the marble hearth to impress his friends who were similarly afflicted.

William Pitt the younger was also a fan and “had himself carried up to the house of commons, dressed in black to emphasise his pallor, and with his vast gout boot swathed in rolls of flannel”. Gout stools were far more common than boots though were still only made by special commission and would have been used in the homes of wealthier people suffering from gout.

This boot would have been expensive, but all the more so, seeing it is fashioned from crocodile leather. As such it is a very rare and interesting piece of Georgian medical opulence.

Must fetch my gouty Bootikins!!... for what I drank last night would have floored a rhinoceros!