In June 1908, Charles Dawson brought three iron objects to a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries in London. Two of the three were described by Dawson as “prick spurs” from Hastings Castle whilst the third was simply categorised as “an iron object from Lewes Castle”. Dawson never supplied any additional information as to the exact circumstances under which these pieces were recovered, though we may presume that the Hastings Castle artefacts were derived from one of the many investigations conducted there by Dawson and Lewis prior to 1900. The object from Lewes Castle is less easy to provenance, though given the date of the London exhibition it is possible that it had been found in the back garden of Castle Lodge, the Lewes town house that Dawson and his family had moved into during the spring of 1907.
The key point of interest surrounding the Lewes Castle object is its identification and interpretation. When Dawson exhibited the piece at the meeting of the Society of Antiquaries, it is clear that only the accompanying objects from Hastings Castle had by then been securely been identified as spurs, being “of the same form as those worn by Norman knights as figured in the Bayeux Tapestry”. When the object from Lewes was displayed by Hastings Museum in 1909, it too appears to have been identified as “a prick spur”.
The Lewes Castle ‘prick spur’ is made of wrought iron and possesses a rather lethal looking sharpened point where it contacted the horse. Robert Downes, as part of his investigation into the iron work of Charles Dawson, forwarded the piece to Rupert Bruce-Mitford, then keeper of the Department of Romano British and Medieval Antiquities at the British Museum, in September 1954. Bruce-Mitford wrote back that “the object is certainly not a prick spur and is nothing we can recognise”. Looking at the piece again, Downes observed that, if it were in fact a spur “it would have gored rather badly any poor horse to which it was applied”
The ‘Lewes Castle Prick Spur’ does not conform to any known example of Medieval spur identified yet in Britain. This observation does not however, automatically imply that the piece is fraudulent, merely unique. It could just as easily be a genuine, albeit unusual, piece of Medieval equestrian kit as it could a hoax designed to fool the archaeological establishment. The real problem with regard to the interpretation of the ‘spur’, as with a number of Dawson’s artefacts, is provenance: where and how exactly did Dawson come to acquire the piece? If we could securely answer this we would be nearer to understanding its meaning.
It is possible that the artefact was found at Castle Lodge during renovations and excavations conducted informally by Dawson in the late spring and summer of 1907. Such a discovery then would have provided him with ample time to present the piece before the Society of Antiquaries (London) in 1908, but possibly not enough time to adequately conduct research. By the time an exhibition is organised in Hastings the following year (1909), Dawson has investigated the artefact more closely and is able to confidently assert that it is a form of Medieval prick spur.
Given that we know nothing concerning the context of Dawson’s discovery however, it is just as possible that the piece is a modern forgery, created by Dawson. Alternatively the iron find could have been purchased by Dawson from a local collector of antiquities (who supplied a dubious provenance) or passed to him by a friend or local workman. Given the total absence of data concerning the artefact, anything is possible.