John Bigg: The Dinton Hermit (1629-1696)

In Oxford's Ashmolean Museum you will find a pair of rather cumbersome looking shoes, the result of hundreds of separate pieces of leather being nailed on top of one another. They tell the story of one John Bigg, the 'Dinton Hermit', who was once the executioner of the King and took to living in a cave for his remaining forty years

We all know what it’s like to work really hard in your job only to see the fruits of your labour ruined by somebody else. Sometimes it’s enough to make you want to turn your back on life and head for the closest hole. Such was the case with John Bigg from Dinton, Buckinghamshire, a hardworking clerk to Simon Mayne, one of the judges responsible for sentencing King Charles I to death in 1649. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 undoing all of his previous endeavours, Bigg spiralled into a depression and took to living in a nearby cave.

This reclusive lifestyle was only made possible due to the kindness of strangers. Bigg, previously a man of tolerable wealth, relied on the charity of the local people who provided him with food, drink and leather scraps. It is said that round his girdle hung three bottles, two of which held beer and the other milk.

He nailed these scraps to his clothes, the original material having long ago perished within the hostile cave air. One of his shoes can still be seen in the British Collection at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It is a bulky and cumbersome looking thing, the result of hundreds of separate pieces being nailed on top of one another, a constantly morphing reminder of almost forty years spent in isolation.

See John Bigg's shoes in Gallery 27, First Floor of the Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont Street, Oxford OX1 2PH

Duncan Haskell is a writer living in Bristol. Having fallen through the cracks in the pavement, despite doing all he could as a child to avoid them, Duncan has been working his way back to the surface, writing down all he’s heard along the way.