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Rare medieval weight discovered

PUBLISHED: 05:20 20 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:18 24 February 2010

WHEN Gary Jaggard unearthed a weighty metal ball as he dug the footings for a new garage he almost tossed it back into the hole he was digging.

However, unusual inscriptions just visible amid the caked earth stuck to the unusual object caught his eye.

WHEN Gary Jaggard unearthed a weighty metal ball as he dug the footings for a new garage he almost tossed it back into the hole he was digging.

However, unusual inscriptions just visible amid the caked earth stuck to the unusual object caught his eye.

Instead of carrying on with his work he took it indoors and it cleaned up so he could have a better look at what he had discovered.

But even then the future of the rare medieval weight was uncertain. Mr Jaggard's wife Debbie was not happy with it cluttering up her home and put it outside again.

It was only during a family barbecue that the ball's future was safeguarded and its importance discovered.

Mr Jaggard said his cousin John Russell, who works for St Edmundsbury Borough Council, noticed the ball and realised it may be of historical importance and offered to take it to the authority's museum staff so they could examine it.

They identified it as a rare, complete example of a weight from a medieval balance and suggested Mr Jaggard should have it valued by experts in London. They then offered to buy it if funding could be found.

The council's Museums Service has now been awarded a grant by the Victoria and Albert Museum for half the cost of the steelyard weight and has matched the funding itself.

Mr Jaggard - who is not disclosing how much was paid for the weight - was yesterday at the newly-refurbished Moyse's Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds with his wife and children, Daniel, Matthew and Sophie, to hand over the lead filled hollow-cast bronze ball.

Chris Mycock, museum assistant, said the weight would form a valuable addition to the museum's fine medieval collection of local weights and measures.

Weighing in at 945g (2lb 1.35oz) the weight is slightly too heavy, he said. "We think it should have been a 2lb weight and wondered if they were being generous – something that strikes you as being rather unusual, especially for the medieval period.

"On the other hand, it could have been heavier to compensate for the weight of the balance pan and the chain."

Mr Jaggard said he was delighted the museum had been able to buy the weight and it would now be displayed in its main collection.

But he said the ball came within a whisker of becoming part of the footings for his garage.

"I'm pleased I didn't throw it back and it's great the weight is going on display so other people will have the chance to see it – especially as it is so unusual and there is a great deal of local history which goes with it."

The bronze outer casing of the weight is decorated with the arms of Clare.

Weights of this type normally bear the arms of Richard, Earl of Cornwall and Poitou, who served as Master of the Mint and may also have had a monopoly on the production of weights.

When Richard died in 1272, his son Edmund inherited the office. He married Margaret de Clare the same year and probably displayed the Clare arms in her honour.

Edmund himself died in 1300 and as it is unlikely the Clare arms would have continued to be used on weights after his death, the date of the weight found in the Mr Jaggard's garden in Fordham is probably between 1272 and 1300.

Experts say it cannot be later than 1350, as steelyards were outlawed that year.


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