Excavation stories: A knuckle guard from Kirkstall Abbey Guest House

Research is currently underway on West Yorkshire Archaeology’s excavations of Kirkstall Abbey Guest House, conducted between 1979-1986. The publication will examine the various structures of the Guest House complex, and through the medium of the artefacts, look at the range of activities carried out within the buildings and the types of visitors and residents who used the facilities. As part of this work, the assemblage of artefacts recovered is being reviewed and catalogues up-dated.

ABOVE: The standing remains of Kirkstall Abbey Guest House complex.

Just one of the 11,425+ objects is mentioned here, to give an idea of the information that can be gained. Small Find no. 3244 is thought to be a finger-joint cover or knuckle guard from plate armour gauntlets. During the 13th century armoured protection for hands was provided by mail mufflers (Edge and Paddock 1988, 81), but from c. 1330-40 hour-glass-shaped metal gauntlets were developed. These gauntlets comprised a plate protecting and shaped to the side and back of the hand, narrowing to the wrist and then opening out to form a short cuff (Griffiths 1990, 1084). The fingers of the wearer were covered with two narrow metal plates, placed either side of the knuckle and riveted to an internal cloth or leather glove. The knuckles or joints of the wearer’s fingers were protected by curved plates like no. 3244, which over-lapped the finger plates, allowing complete flexing of the hand. These knuckle or finger-joint covers were attached to the leather via the rivet holes on either side. 
ABOVE: Finger joint covers or knuckle guards.  Left: from Kirkstall Abbey Guest House (c) Archaeological Services WYAS.  Right: from Coppergate, York (c) York Archaeological Trust. 
The finger-joint cover or knuckle guard from Kirkstall is damaged and the rivets missing, but the lack of iron corrosion suggests that slender copper alloy rivets were originally used, indicating a date in the second half of the 14th century (Ottaway and Rogers 2002, 2970). Similar finger-joint covers or knuckle guards have been found at excavations at Coppergate in York (Ottaway and Rogers 2002, 2969-70) and at Winchester (Griffiths 1990, 1084). The Kirkstall example is narrower than the examples mentioned and may possibly have protected the pinkie joint.
Hour-glass-shaped metal gauntlets can be seen on brasses (e.g. Sir John Harsick, Southacre (Norfolk), d.1384; William de Aldeburgh, at Aldborough (Yorks.) d. c. 1360) and are depicted on the St William window at York Minister (Griffiths 1990, 1084 and fig.139; Ottaway and Rogers 2002, fig. 1534).

ABOVE: Detail from panel 1b of St.William window, York Minster, showing metal gauntlets being worn.

Kirkstall Abbey Guest House was not for ordinary wayfarers, but a residence for visitors of rank and wealth to the Abbey, as the gauntlet finger-joint cover nicely illustrates.
Edge, D. and Paddock, J. M, 1988 Arms and Armour of the Medieval Knight (London)
Griffiths, N. 1990 ‘Finger-Joint Cover from a plate armour gauntlet’ in Biddle, M. Object and Economy in Medieval Winchester (vol.2), 1084-5
Ottaway, P. and Rogers, N. 2002 Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Finds from Medieval York The Archaeology of York: The Small Finds 17/15
Author: Holly Duncan, Project Manager (Artefacts) at Albion Archaeology

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