Table of Contents
- 1 Introduction
- 2 PAS object type to be used
- 3 Terms to use in the description
- 4 Photographing spurs
- 5 How to take dimensions
- 6 Late Iron Age or early Roman spurs
- 7 Late Roman spurs
- 8 Early-medieval spurs
- 9 Medieval spurs
- 10 Post-medieval spurs
- 11 Modern spurs
- 12 Rowel spur or pastry jigger?
A spur is fixed to the heel of a rider and used for directing the horse and encouraging it forwards. Because they are worn by the human, but only used for riding a horse, they sit awkwardly between dress accessories and horse equipment.
Buckles were used for fastening spurs, and at least some can be recognised as coming from spurs; see BUCKLE for details.
PAS object type to be used
Use SPUR for all spurs and fragments of spur. Although the mda thesaurus includes the narrow terms PRICK SPUR and ROWEL SPUR, it is often impossible to prove which you are dealing with, and using SPUR avoids splitting up similar objects between object types. Use SPUR for a detached rowel, and for a hook-attachment.
For a spur buckle, use BUCKLE, but if you have a buckle still in place on a spur use SPUR, even if there is only a fragment of spur surviving.
PAS object classifications to be used
If you can identify whether the spur is a prick spur or a rowel spur, add ‘prick’ or ‘rowel’ to the classification field.
Terms to use in the description
Blanche Ellis’s terminology for medieval spurs should be followed for spurs of all dates (see her articles in Saunders and Saunders (eds) 1991, Clark (ed) 1995, and below). Some names are well established, and the various parts common to all spurs are the sides (don’t use ‘arm’), the terminals, and the neck. There is no generally accepted name for the part of the spur behind the wearer’s heel, but the term heel or heel-plate (used by Shortt 1959) seems acceptable. Some medieval spurs have a crest in the same place as the Roman hook, but both ‘crest’ and ‘hook’ are not immediately understandable and it’s best to describe where the crest or the hook is, and what it looks like. A rowel spur has a rowel box, with an iron bar securing the separate rowel. A prick spur has a goad, often made from a different metal.
Figure-of-eight terminals dominate from the 14th to the 18th century. It can be difficult to describe the configuration of these terminals, and their junction with the sides.
Apart from the figure-of-eight terminals, other possible terminal shapes include those below.
There is no standard way to photograph spurs or spur fragments. Roman spurs are often shown from the reverse of the wearer (with the goad facing the observer) although this angle is usually omitted for medieval spurs. Images of medieval and post-medieval spurs, on the other hand, concentrate on the side view, which is often omitted for Roman spurs. It is best to take as many views as necessary to fully illustrate your object; generally both a view from above, from behind and from the side will be needed.
Complete spurs are often drawn at a slight angle, to show both terminals in one drawing (for example, the drawings in Clark (ed) 1995, 131-140). If you have parts of both sides surviving, or if you are lucky enought to have both terminals, consider taking photographs from a slight angle.
How to take dimensions
Because spurs are so rarely found complete, and because they have a curved, three-dimensional shape, it is difficult to take the dimensions in a consistent way. It is essential to state in the Description field how you measured the spur, and to make sure that at least one dimension is checkable in the photograph against the scale.
If you can, take an ‘overall length’ measurement, from a point midway between the terminals to the surviving tip of the goad, rowel or rowel box.
Late Iron Age or early Roman spurs
The earliest spurs found in Britain are prick spurs, and date to around the time of the Roman conquest. An example on the PAS database is SWYOR-D9A17D, which is dated to the mid first century AD and assigned to an Iron Age cultural milieu on art-historical grounds. Late Iron Age or early Roman spurs appear to be relatively flimsy, and to have loops to attach the leathers; they include the spur from Longstock published by Shortt (1959) and a spur from Hod Hill, now in the British Museum (1892,0901.495).
Late Roman spurs
Spurs are not common in the Roman world. After the first-century group noted above, a few second-century examples are noted by Shortt (1959) but it is not until the late third or fourth century that a distinctive group of late Roman spurs appears. This group can be recognised by the more sturdy proportions, moulded ornament (termed ‘chiselled’ by Shortt), and the hooked crest projecting above the goad. In some cases there is a further short decorative projection below the goad.
The terminals are usually flattened discs with holes for rivets; these are weaker than the sides, so are often incomplete. The hook may have attached the spur to a second strap, to prevent it slipping down the ankle. NCL-3F8A04 has a third flat circular riveted disc above the goad instead of the hook, showing that an attachment here was also needed.
Leahy 1996 is a useful short publication of three spurs from Lincolnshire, with lots of references; earlier surveys can be short on illustrations, and therefore hard to use.
Early Anglo-Saxon spurs
Spurs are extremely rare in early Anglo-Saxon graves. There was an iron spur in grave 18 at Linton Heath, Cambridgeshire (Neville 1854, 99-100), and another in the disturbed grave 18 at the 6th- and 7th-century cemetery of Castledyke South, Barton-on-Humber; single iron spurs are also known from 7th-century graves in south Germany (Drinkall and Foreman 1998, 251). Both the Linton Heath and the Castledyke spurs have long, straight, narrow sides; the Linton Heath spur has a long slender goad, and rectangular terminals with buckle-pins and plates; the Castledyke spur has a short conical goad, and the terminals are missing. Both are reminiscent of late Anglo-Saxon iron spurs, such as those from Thetford or from York (see below).
Copper-alloy spurs re-appear in the 9th century, and look very different to the Castledyke or Linton Heath iron spurs. These middle to late Anglo-Saxon spurs resemble Roman examples, with short curving sides and occasional projections above and below the goad; one of the famous early finds, from Pakenham, was mistaken by Shortt (1959) for a Roman spur. The terminals are normally split and riveted, and made in the shape of animal heads. Some have inlaid glass eyes; SF-29FBB8 has just the empty sockets. This spur type is mainly found in southern Norfolk and northern Suffolk.
Compare similar but simpler or less complete examples at ESS-1F1DA4, SF-E877A6, SF-29FBB8, SF4685, NMS-603725 and NMS-822DE5. Not all have the projections above and below the goad; some have just one projection, some have none.
Iron spurs of 9th-century date appear to be rather different to the copper-alloy examples, with long diverging sides and short conical goads. One from York (Ottaway 1992, 699 and 701, no. 3836) has a rectangular single-loop terminal made by curling out the end of the side; one from Dorestad (Ellis 2002, no. 3) has an oval terminal with three rivets to attach the leather. These terminals are fragile, and the rest of the spur is not particularly distinctive.
Late early-medieval spurs
Copper-alloy tubular sleeves, decorated in Urnes style and with iron cores, were first identified as spur necks by David Williams (Williams 2002; the two spurs discussed in this article are both pre-PAS finds). There are now several recorded on the PAS database, widely spread across the south-eastern half of the country. There are no complete examples of this spur type yet recorded.
The art is best seen on the larger examples. It consists of an Urnes-style animal head, with There are sinuous tendrils running back from the upturned tip of the nose to almost meet a lappet or ear behind the animal’s head.
Simpler examples retain the upturned nose and the tendrils, but have less detail and are often smaller.
Again, iron spurs are different. They do not have Scandinavian-style art, but are largely found in areas of Scandinavian influence.
There are eleven well-preserved iron spurs of 10th- to 12th-century date from Thetford (Rogerson and Dallas 1984, fig. 140-1). Most have long straight sides and short straight necks, often ending in conical goads; others have narrow trefoil goads. One of the trefoil goads is illustrated by Ellis (2002, no. 7).
Five of the Thetford spurs have rectangular single-loop terminals, often slightly off-centre; when the spur has a clear upper and lower face, this loop or slot is towards the upper edge. Ellis suggests that these were used with pins on their long upper edges, transforming them into buckles to fasten the spur leathers; one retains the pin. A similar arrangement is illustrated by Ellis in her very useful FRG Datasheet 30; it comes from an unprovenanced spur in the Royal Armouries (Ellis 2002, no. 6).
Similar iron spurs were found at Coppergate, York (Ottaway 1992, 698-704, nos. 3826, 3827, 3832). These again have the straight sides and short necks; some have conical goads and others have necks that flare to a tiny pointed goad. The terminals of the York spurs are again rectangular with a single loop or slot offset towards the top forming a buckle. Ottaway cites other parallels to this form from Northampton, Norwich and Cheddar.
Iron spurs can be difficult to date when corroded and incomplete. Some iron spurs with straight sides and long necks on the PAS database are suggested as late early-medieval, notably PUBLIC-1D0813 and SWYOR-0EA3F1, but there is little positive evidence to back up these dates.
Four spurs from York have distinctive bossed decoration. One is from Coppergate (Ottaway 1992, no. 3834) and three others are from unknown findspots in the city published by Waterman (1959). They have one to three bosses along each side, and again have the buckled rectangular terminals with offset loop. We do not yet appear to have recorded any of this bossed type on the PAS database.
The Coppergate bossed example has a long biconical or double-pyramid goad, characteristic of the mid 11th century onwards, and with this spur we can move into the medieval period.
The last prick spurs
Pyramidal goads appear on spurs in the mid 11th century (Ellis in Clark (ed) 1995, 127) and continue, with conical and ribbed variants, until prick spurs decline in popularity in England at the end of the 13th century (Ellis 2002, 4). Pyramidal goads appear to get larger over time and can develop into double-pyramids or octahedrons.
Complete spurs with pyramidal goads can be made all of iron (WILT-587DE2) or all of copper alloy (KENT-C9D76A, LEIC-595916), but detached goads are much more common, often with a copper-alloy sleeve and an iron core.
Up to the middle of the 12th century, spurs have straight sides. From then on they begin to curve under the wearer’s ankle (Ellis in Saunders and Saunders (eds) 1991, 55; and in Clark (ed) 1995, 127).
The first rowel spurs
Rowel spurs were introduced in the early 13th century (Ellis in Saunders and Saunders (eds) 1991, 58; Ellis in Clark (ed) 1995, 128). Rowel spurs and prick spurs co-existed for a century or so, but from the early 14th century rowel spurs were the only form used.
A rowel is a rotating wheel or disc with teeth, in place of the goad; a rowel with many small teeth is milder than one with a few larger teeth. Rowels are held in place with bars, usually of iron, which pass through the two pierced projections of a rowel box.
Spur sides had already begun to curve under the ankle by the time that rowels were introduced. By the middle of the 13th century, most spur sides were deeply curved, and this situation lasted for about a century.
Later medieval spurs
Most later medieval spurs have curving sides. From about 1450 AD they began to be less curved, so that by c. 1500 most were fairly straight with, at most, the terminals turned a little upwards (Ellis in Clark (ed) 1995, 127-9).
During the 15th century, some spurs developed long necks, in tandem with the trend towards lengthening hats, shoes, etc. These fashionable ‘long’ spurs are not common on the PAS database and it seems that the more practical ‘short’ spurs continued to be widely worn.
It is difficult to illustrate this part of the guide, as complete and uncrushed examples of later medieval spurs are uncommon as ploughsoil finds. The best sources of parallels are Ward Perkins 1940, Ellis in Saunders and Saunders (eds) 1991, Ellis in Clark (ed) 1995, and Ellis 2002.
Fragments of medieval spurs – terminals, rowels, hook-attachments
Spurs can often be dated from their terminals and from the way that the terminals were fixed to the strap or leather. From the late 11th to the early 13th century, leathers were riveted directly to the terminals. These are not common finds, and the best source for the possible range of shapes is Ward Perkins (1940, fig. 28a-b, fig. 29 and fig. 31) who called them ‘bolted’ terminals.There are also several illustrated in the more up-to-date Ellis 2002.
They usually have flat, more or less rectangular shapes with two rivet holes (e.g. LIN-DF5C26 and GLO-A391E3). ). , With other shapes, such as circular single-loop terminals (e.g. NLM-D00612) or figure-of-eight terminals (e.g. WILT-004887), it can be hard to tell if a partly surviving rivet was used to attach the leathers directly to the spur.
In the late 13th and early 14th century, the leather ended in a hook-attachment or a looped plate, which was linked into a single circular terminal on the outside of the foot. The leather ran under the instep and up through a rectangular terminal on the inside of the foot. It was finally fastened on top of the foot by a buckle held by a hook on the circular terminal. There is a good picture of this arrangement in Ellis 2002, fig. 19a-b.
Single circular and rectangular terminals are illustrated in Ward Perkins 1940, fig. 30 and by Ellis in Clark (ed) 1995, fig. 91 (the Ellis illustration can also be found in Egan and Pritchard 1991, fig. 69).
By the mid 14th century spurs tend to have two separate straps, one above and one below the foot, held to figure-of-eight terminals by hooks; again, the buckles can be hooked into the terminals or fixed to a separate strap (Ellis in Clark (ed) 1995, fig. 99). This figure-of-eight arrangement is long-lasting, with examples found into the 18th century.
Modern spurs have two slots in a rectangular or oval terminal, like a double-loop buckle with no pin. The leather is threaded through the slots and a buckle is fixed to the end of the strap. They are usually made from stainless steel.
A rowel is a rotating wheel or disc with teeth, in place of the goad; a rowel with many small points is milder than one with a few larger points. Rowels are held in place with bars, usually of iron, which pass through the two pierced projections of a rowel box.
Detached rowels vary a great deal in shape and size, and many types are long-lived, so without the rest of the spur they are difficult to date. Rowel spurs begin in the early 13th century and are ubiquitous from the early 14th century to at least the 17th century. There is a suspicion that larger rowels are more likely to be medieval, and small ‘star’ rowels more likely to be post-medieval. Lozenge-shaped points were popular during the late 14th and 15th centuries (Ellis in Mayes and Butler 1983, 258).
Rowels and detached rowel boxes can occasionally be confused with pastry jiggers (see below).
Hook-attachments, and other ways of fixing the leather to the spur terminal
Spur leathers directly attached to the terminals by rivets went out of fashion during the 13th century. They were replaced by separate copper-alloy or iron objects which linked the leathers to the terminals by means of hooks or loops.
Hook-attachments were in use from the late 13th century into the post-medieval period (Ellis in Clark (ed) 1995, 149). They can have rectangular or circular plates, and have a hook at top and bottom together forming an S shape in side view. We do not have many of these on the PAS database, but a high proportion of those that we have recorded (as object type SPUR) are decorated.
The decoration includes enamelling, annulet punchmarks, gilding and engraving. Some examples can be dated by their decoration, and these tend to be medieval.
A looped rectangular plate is an alternative to the hook-attachment. One can be seen holding the leather to a spur from London (Ellis in Clark (ed) 1995, no. 322; also in Egan and Pritchard 1991, no. 322). Similar mounts are recorded on the PAS database although, as some hold rings, they seem to have had a variety of functions. They all appear to be medieval, and should be recorded as STRAP FITTING.
Spurs were functional rather than fashionable objects in the 16th century. Necks were straight, and could be a variety of lengths; sides could be straight or curved. Ellis illustrates a detail from an Italian painting of c. 1515 showing a spur with a long neck and slightly curved sides (in Clark (ed) 1995, 146, fig. 105).
There is a useful discussion of 16th-century spurs by Ellis in Biddle (ed) 1990, 1038. The variety is well illustrated by two very different examples both found in mid 16th-century contexts at Acton Court (Rodwell and Bell 2004, 378-9, nos. 78 and 79); the design of one looks back to the 15th century, the other looks much more modern and almost 17th-century.
It is therefore difficult to date unstratified spurs confidently to the 16th century. This search will find all the spurs which have been recorded with dates between 1500 and 1600 AD: https://finds.org.uk/database/search/results/fromdate/1500/todate/1600/objectType/SPUR
Spurs enjoyed a rise in popularity during the early 17th century, starting well before the Civil War. There were many different types in use apparently at the same time, not just worn for riding but also just as fashion items.
Well dated archaeological examples include two from 17th-century contexts in Norwich, whose date of manufacture is considered by Ellis to be c. 1600-1650 (in Margeson 1993, 220, nos. 1799-1800). They have short curving necks which are also seen on two spurs from Devon on the PAS database, DEV-CC9F11 and DEV-73C0BD.
An exaggerated form of this neck turns into a right angle. Ellis (in Mayes and Butler 1983, 253) cites two portraits that show spurs like this, of John, Lord Belasyse by Gilbert Jackson (1636) and of Sir Edward Massey by Peter Lely (c. 1646-7), now in the National Gallery of Canada. LON-B75D94 is a good example of this type of spur.
Another type of early 17th-century spur has a wide heel and tapering straight sides (Ellis in Biddle (ed) 1990, 1038). A good example can be found on the PAS database at LON-085836. The terminals of LON-085836 are incomplete, but began with a transversely projecting bar, an element which is also found on many 17th-century spurs with heart-shaped or more elaborate openwork terminals, such as WMID-27A6E4 and LANCUM-D569A3.
Simpler spurs were also in fashion during the 17th and 18th centuries. There are an enormous number of spurs on the PAS database with short necks, straight sides and figure-of-eight terminals, and although the spurs themselves are very simple, they can be dated by their associated buckles to the 17th or 18th centuries. The buckle frames are of of identical form to those found on other straps, and the plates end either in hooks, or in loops which are riveted on to the spur.
17th- and 18th-century spurs can also have hook-attachments which have a hook at one end to pass through a loop of the terminal, and a button at the other end to pass through a slit in the spur leather. Other terminals (as on YORYM-BAC257 above, and SUR-AFBF53) have the button holding the leather riveted directly to the terminal. The other terminal of the spur would have had two hook-attachments.
18th- and 19th-century spurs
18th-century spurs are not easy to distinguish from the simpler 17th-century examples (see above), except by using associated buckles. Separate iron bars are found on many 18th-century buckles, including spur buckles.
Figure-of-eight terminals are used up to the end of the 18th century; 19th-century spurs have terminals with two rectangular slots forming a buckle frame, cast in one with the rest of the spur (Noel Hume 1978, 243).
Spurs are not often worn by modern riders outside the dressage arena, so accidental losses will be infrequent. Modern spurs are usually made from stainless steel. Details of the different designs available can be found on Wikipedia, but essentially modern spurs have two slots in a rectangular or oval terminal, like a double-loop buckle with no pin. The leather is threaded through the slots, and a buckle is fixed to the end of the strap.
Rowel spur or pastry jigger?
Occasionally pastry jiggers, or pastry cutting wheels, can look very like rowel spurs. There are a couple of tricks for telling them apart.
Firstly, rowel or wheel? Pastry cutting wheels have a wheel which produces a zig-zag or wavy edge, not a toothed wheel. Because of this, if you think you have a pastry jigger, always take a photograph of the edge of the wheel showing the zig-zag.
Secondly, neck of spur with rowel box, or jigger handle? Both spur necks and jigger handles can have moulded decoration, but moulded spur necks tend to be short (see the lack of decoration on, for example, SOM-7CCFD3, IOW-BEE88B, LON-BF9936 and SUSS-690821).
So if you have a long moulded shaft ending in a bifurcation, or a wheel with a zig-zag edge, you are probably looking at a 17th- to 19th-century pastry jigger rather than a rowel spur. Pastry jiggers (the name appears to refer to the ‘jigged’ or zig-zag edge produced) are recorded as CUTLERY and probably date from the late 17th to the end of the 19th century.