A Weighty Subject…

Throughout the Parish I have found a number of puzzling little objects. Made of lead and generally of spheroid or pyramidal in shape no one seems quite sure what they were used for.

Loom Weights? - Spinning Weights? Fish Nets Weights?
Loom Weights? - Spinning Weights? Fish Nets Weights?

A number of web sites report these items as being found all over Britain, however , the use of lead weights of this type is uncertain, and they are generally undateable. Some may have been used as spindle whorls, but other possibilities include net weights, loom weights, etc.  Though not easy to date, the period typically assigned for these finds is between the 13th and 15th centuries.

On a recent visit to Norwich Museum, I saw a display case with some drop spindles. These had weights attached to the bottom of them and indeed in some medieval illustrations I have come across they show the devices in operation. It took several spinners to supply one weaver, so the industrious housewife used every spare moment for spinning. The distaff kept the fibers (wool or flax) organized and clean until they were spun. It would make sense if medieval women took their drop spindles with them on other duties, and also explain why the weights are found scattered all over the fields and not in any particular domestic context.

Drop Spindle 1Drop Spindle 2

The fishnet weights are another equally plausible explanation for these objects, but I would have thought they would have been found in contexts very close, if not almost exclusively, to streams and ponds. Apart from one, a ll the items I have found have been found on fields at least a mile away from running water.


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  1. The top row two, on the left, certainly look like spindle whorls. Plain lead ones were often used in the Iron Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods as well. The illustrations that you use show one woman spinning whilst walking and the other carrying her distaff and spindle, ready to continue once she’s fed the chickens. Spindle whorls are often found in fields beyond settlements because women span as they moved about.

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