were at one time nailed up over doors as a protection
against witches. Aubrey says, “Most houses at the West-end of London
have a horse-shoe on the threshold.” In Monmouth Street there were
seventeen in 1813, and seven so late as 1855.
Straws laid across my path retard;
The horse-shoes nailed, each threshold's guard.
Gay: Fable xxiii. part 1.
It is lucky to pick up a horse-shoe.
This is from the notion that a horse-shoe was a protection against
witches. For the same reason our superstitious forefathers loved to
nail a horse-shoe on their house-door. Lord Nelson had one nailed to
the mast of the ship Victory.
There is a legend that the devil one day asked St. Dunstan, who was
noted for his skill in shoeing horses, to shoe his “single hoof.”
Dunstan, knowing who his customer was, tied him tightly to the wall and
proceeded with his job, but purposely put the devil to so much pain
that he roared for mercy. Dunstan at last consented to release his
captive on condition that he would never enter a place where he saw a
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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