‘Amcotts woman’ is a bog body found at Amcotts, Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire, during peat cutting, in 1747, when a labourer cut through her left shoe and toe.
News of the gruesome find reached Dr George Stovin, local gentleman and Antiquarian, who led a team of workmen to investigate. He records the condition of the body, which appears to have survived as essentially a ‘bag’ of skin and bones, the latter including a thigh bone (18 inches long). Samples including her right leather shoe, part of her foot and a preserved hand were sent to the Royal Society, the doctor noting with macabre insouciance: “We then found this hand I have sent, with the nails as fresh as any living persons.” Stovin also recorded the position of the body described above, which provides some clues as to her final moments:
“This Lady in all Probability was overwhelmed by some strong Eddy of Water; for she lay upon one side bended, with her Head and Feet almost together.”
Sketches and a watercolour of the items were made at the society by George Vertue, the then Secretary of the Society. The watercolour of the hand were recently re-discovered amongst papers at the Society of Antiquaries, during investigations by Dr Melanie Giles. Copies of the sketches and watercolour can also be seen above. Only the left shoe survives; the right shoe and her hand are now lost, buried when the rest of her body was buried in Amcotts church-yard. The shoe was made of tanned cowhide and of symmetrical one-piece construction. A description was made in the minute book of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society shortly after its discovery:
“She had sandals on, laced at the Top of the foot having a seem at the heel, sewd wth a thong of the same hide, 5 loops cut in the whole leather on each side, and 2 small ones at the Toe, so that it drew up at the Toe like a purse mouth.”
This style suggests a date in the Romano-British period, around the third or fourth century AD. Equivalent to a modern size 5, it still shows signs of use-wear on the heel. It is rather beautiful and well made, if perhaps slightly haunting; a memento mori that also invites us to think of the living woman who wore it on her last journey into the darkness.
The full account by George Stovin may be found below:
“In June 1747, in the neighbouring moors…in the moors belonging to Amcotts, was found by John Tate of Amcotts, who was digging turf, the entire body of a woman. He first cut of one of her feet with his spade, on which was a sandal; but frightened he left it. I, being informed of it, went with Thomas, my gardener, and others, and we took up the whole body; there was a sandal on the other foot; the skin was like a piece of tanned leather, and it stretched like a fine doe skin; the hair was fresh about the head and privy parts, which distinguished the sex; the teeth firm; the bones was black; the flesh consumed; and she lay upon her side in a bending posture, with her head and toes almost together, which looked as though she had been hurled down by the force of some strong current of water; and though a great part of this moor had been formerly graved off she lay seven foot deep from the present surface. I took the skin of one arm, from the elbow to the hand, and shaking the bones out, it would have made a ladies’ muff. The other hand not being cut with the spade, as we dug for it, I preserved it, and stuffed it, first taking out the bones, which my son, James Stovin, now has in his possession, at Doncaster. And what is very remarkable, the nails are firm and fast on the fingers. He also has one of the sandals, which was made of one whole piece of a raw hide, and only one short seam at the heel, sowed with a thong of the same leather. The sandals had ten loops cut in the whole leather on each side, and ten small loops at the toe, which caused to the toe of the sandal to draw up like the mouth of a purse. They were laced on, upon the top of the foot, with a thong of the same leather. This lady’s skin and the sandals were both tanned by the black water, for there being such great quantities of oak, firs, and other wood hurried in these moors, the water is by them tinctured and made exactly of the colour of the modern tan fatt water, and the firr having so much resenous matter in it, no doubt that helps to preserve these bodies for so many ages, for that they have laid some hundreds of years.
I have the assent of that learned body, the Royal Society, for in September 1747, I sent the hand and sandal above mentioned to that learned body…and when they returned it, I was honoured with their thanks by letter, and their opinion was that “they must have laid there many hundred years; for the sandals were worn in England about the conquest, yet they could not find they were of the make or shape of this above mentioned, but concluded it must be much ancienter than that period. I buried the remains of this lady in Amcots chapel yard….”
Ben Gearey, Mel Giles and Nicki Whitehouse