Crotal bells

Words by:
Colin Smale
Featured in:
January 2024

Colin Smale looks at the distinctive bells used by drovers in bygone days.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Santa of yesteryear would have hung crotal bells (PIC 1) around the necks of his reindeer – otherwise how would we hear them tinkling across the sky at night?

These bells, a reasonably common find in Lincolnshire, come in all shapes and sizes. They are sometimes called sleigh bells, jingle bells, hawk bells, rumbler bells, pellet bells… all terms used to describe bells like this. Bells to hang around the necks of cattle and sheep have probably been made for as long as we have been able to forge metal.

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A drover would choose to hang a single bell around one of his sheep or cattle. Why? Drovers marched herds the length and breadth of Britain but, like anyone, the drover had to sleep – usually under cover in a field with his flock. These fields were called ‘halfpenny fields’, referring to the charge made to stop over in the field with a herd.

During the night the bell(s) would tinkle gently as the flock slept or grazed but if danger loomed and spooked the herd, the drover would know instantly.

Fascinating find
Next we have one of those enigmatic finds that when first seen causes us to scratch our heads (PIC 2). It is well made with traces of gilding but what on earth can it be?

A look on the portable antiquities site at item SOM-FED5E3 reveals it to be a medieval cast copper alloy horse harness fitting dating from around AD 1200–1300, so this is at least 700 years old! This was found on the highest ground in Calceby.

In days of old
Just take a look at this really beautiful decorated bronze rowel spur (PIC 3).  They certainly knew how to make them then didn’t they!

Found near Stainfield, this beauty would have been made around the 15th century and was very likely to have been a knight’s spur.

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