A Medieval Harness Pendant from Warburton

The three pandemic lockdowns of 2020 to 2021 continue to provide an opportunity for local groups and individuals to work on clearing a backlog of reports and research. In the absence of dirt fieldwork its one way of keeping in touch with the past. One such project which has been sitting on the mantel piece by my computer since I took over as Chair of the South Trafford Archaeological Group (STAG) in 2017, is a small copper alloy object.

This object is part of the STAG archive relating to the group’s fieldwork in the rural township of Warburton, Trafford. STAG have been working in this area since the late 1980s and have test-pitted and fieldwalked extensively across the area. Much of this research was summaried in a monograph published in 2015, Warburton: Glimpses of Rural Life. The Archaeology and history of Cheshire Village. However, research does not stand still, and this particular object was amongst several items passed on to STAG in 2015 by one of the local farmers in the parish from the Moss Brow area.

The small copper-alloy object that has been resting unobtrusively by my computer is a harness pendant. It measures 19mm by 25mm and is 2mm thick. It weighs just 5gms and is in the form of a square-topped shield with a rounded base. The pendant has an incomplete round suspension loop projecting 8mm from the top of the pendant plate and set perpendicular to the shield, with a depth of 2mm to 5mm. The shield is heavily corroded, and the surface has a pale-green appearance. The decoration on the obverse side depicts two lions rampant in relief, both coloured in red enamel. Below these are another red enamelled relief design that has been almost completely worn away. It is likely that this design was a third lion rampant, in which case this harness pendant depicts the Arms of England, a common motif of the late medieval period in the 13th to 15th centuries. The reverse is blank.

The Portable Antiquities Scheme database (https://finds.org.uk) has 5,914 entries for harness pendants, nearly all of them (5,665) being later medieval in date, with a distribution focussed on Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and North Yorkshire. This eastern England focus probably reflects the main areas of metal detecting activity, since nearly all these examples have been found in this way, and the richer landscapes of this part of late medieval England. The designs of harness pendants are varied but common shapes include a heart or heater-shaped shield (so-called because Victorian antiquarians thought that they resembled a clothes’ flat iron), quatrefoil, rectangular flag, sub-circular, and star designs. Animals, often lions, feature prominently on the front of these objects.

There are a small number of examples known from North West England. Heater-shaped shields and quatrefoil designs are known from several locations in Cheshire, including Dutton and Rushton, and in Lancashire heater and square designs are known from Great Mitton near Clitheroe and Lancaster. A rare example of a square-shaped suspended pendant with a metal strap mount, complete with an animal motif, was found in Warburton at Moss Brow in 2000. The shape of this second example from Warburton is also amongst the rarer designs, although the lion motif occurs commonly on these objects.

Wigsey Lane, Warburton – a continuation of the medieval trackway from Carr Green to The Bent.

How the harness pendant got left behind in a field in Warburton is open to speculation. Such small objects acted as decoration, jingling and catching the light as the horse rider passed, acting as a both a warning of their approach and a clue as to his, or her, identity. Though cheap in themselves, they formed part of the display of wealth of the rider, helping to draw attention to them. It seems likely that this small copper-alloy object fell off a passing horse rider as they jingled their way across the township, perhaps heading to or from the ferry crossing on the river Mersey at Hollins or the road bridge into Lymm at Heatley. A medieval trackway, long since abandoned, ran along the escarpment edge on the northern side of the River Bollin, which forms the southern boundary of Warburton. It’s east-to-west route across the township, from the hamlet of Carr Green to the Lymm road at the farm known as The Bent, passed south of the hamlet of Moss Brow. Such a small item was probably not missed until the end of the day when the horse was being stabled, and its gear stowed. By then it was too late, and it only came to light again in the early 21st century.

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