A new site in Minting and Gautby has started to be investigated this month. The site has been under pasture for over 150 years but was probably open fields before that. Within half an hour I had unearthed a lead palm guard.
Lead is a very common metal detecting find and normally we find small pieces of lead which have been discarded. As it has such a low melting point, is soft and does not corrode lead must have been a commonly used material. Most pieces of lead that are found are dropped pieces from making something else and often have the impression of the ground upon which they fell. Other pieces have clearly been used as washers and the like. For particularly precious or useful pots they would squash lead either side of a hole to make a ‘pot-mend’. We tend to find just the mend with some pottery still embedded in it. Some pieces however are an object in themselves. I found a lovely ampulla in Gautby which was a small lead bottle full of holy water. The farmer would sprinkle the water on the crops to summon the blessing of God. In Gautby the bottle was either then deliberately thrown onto the field for good luck or accidently dropped.
It is thought that palm guards were used chiefly by those working with leather and were designed to protect the palm of the hand as needles and bradawls were forced through thick leather. They date from around the 17th century onwards.
It is probable that the guards were made by pouring molten lead into an upturned shell. Most that are found are in the shape of oyster shells but the symmetry of this one and its size indicates this might have been made in an empty crab shell. These shells gave the perfect shape to fit into the palm of the hand and it is true that all of the ones I have found (three in Minting and Gautby) have had a pleasing tactile shape to them and they do rest in the palm of the hand very comfortably.
They would probably have been wrapped in a cloth or placed in some sort of pouch and then strapped to the hand.
Leather was a ubiquitous material used for making everything from clothes and horse bridles and saddles to bottles and books. Whilst there is little archaeological evidence, it is believed that most small villages would have a tannery in mediaeval England where leather was processed and leather working was carried out on a small scale in the home.
Although this item is later than mediaeval it shows that somebody three hundred years ago or more was working leather in Minting and lost their palm guard. It was found underneath an old Oak tree and perhaps they were working sat under the tree on a sunny afternoon mending a split bottle or belt and accidently left it there. Maybe they noticed and looked for it in the grass or maybe they didn’t realise their loss until they got home or indeed until next time they wanted to work leather. However it came to be there let’s hope they had a spare!