George Hammond, Silbury Coins Ltd

The somewhat sleepy North Wiltshire town of Cricklade (Fig. 1) today sits about halfway between the towns of Cirencester and Swindon, bypassed by the busy lanes of the A419. Notable as the first downstream town on the river Thames, its relatively unassuming modern prospect stands in stark contrast to the importance of this settlement in the past.

Strategically placed where the the old Roman Ermine Street crosses the river, Cricklade is first recorded in the so-called Burghal Hidage of the early 10th century. Following his victories against the Danes in c. 878-879, King Alfred the Great instituted an intricate system of ‘Burghs’ across southern England; small forts or fortified garrison towns spaced every thirty miles or so to which rural communities could retreat in case of attack. These also provided a regional strong-point from which local English forces could flexibly co-ordinate counter measures. Although the Burghal Hidage dates to after the reign of Alfred, it lists pre-existing ‘Burghs’ created under his auspices. Many ‘Burghs’ were prominent regional centres, economic as well as military strongholds that were valuable to the infrastructure of both Alfred’s kingdom and the rulers that followed him. Today, the site’s Anglo-Saxon roots are visible only in the humps and bumps of the original burgh earthworks sited on the edge of town, as well as some preserved decorated stonework still visible in the town’s impressively-sized Medieval church (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1. Cricklade High Street, December 2019. Photo: B Cresswell.

Fig. 2. Cricklade Church, December 2019. The present building is mostly of 14th and 15th century origin. Photo: B Cresswel

In the 10th century, following reforms to the coinage and the unification of disparate Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into ‘England’ under King Æthelstan and his successors, coins began to be commonly minted at various sites across the ‘Burghal’ system-including places such as Wareham, Wilton, Malmesbury and Worcester. Cricklade is added to this list in the middle of the 10th century. The earliest coin known from the latter consists an issue of King Eadgar (959-975) belonging to his reform coinage of c. 959-973. This seemingly unique piece has been recorded on the PAS (Fig. 3), struck by the moneyer Sigewold and demonstrating the mint signature ‘CROCIC’ to denote its striking at Cricklade. It should be pointed out at this juncture that where the moneyer’s name appears on coins, this pertains to the manager or overseer of the operation – not the individual physically hammering out the coins at the very end of the process. Being a moneyer in the Anglo-Saxon and Norman period was almost akin to the way a finance speculator might operate nowadays on behalf of a client, effectively operating under a licensed agreement, paying the King a fee in order to maintain the privilege of owning dies and being rewarded with a cut of the tax levelled when people came to the mint in order to change their coins for the latest type. Rents and taxes generally had to be paid in the latest ‘type’ to be issued, hence why later Anglo-Saxon and earlier Medieval monarchs issued a number of different pieces throughout their reigns. This method of changing the coinage every few years with a different obverse and reverse design is referred to as ‘Renovatio Monetae,’ in numismatic parlance.

Production of coins at this site appears to take off in the late Saxon period, with the EMC (Early Medieval Corpus) recording a total of 53 coins struck at the mint between the reigns of Æthelred II (978-1016) and Harold II (1066). The tumultuous events of 1066 seem to have had little effect on the manufacture of coin at the town, as the Cricklade workers appear to have turned out a number of pieces representing most of the types struck for William I throughout his reign. Indeed, the moneyer who operated at the mint under Harold, Leofræd, continues to strike coins under William. It is under the latter’s rule that Cricklade demonstrates the greatest number of moneyers striking for its entire history of operation (three), with most of the Anglo-Saxon kings only retaining one or two there. After William I’s death in 1087, production at Cricklade tails off again. Only a very few coins are struck at the mint under the rule of his son William II ‘Rufus’ (1087-1100), all products of the moneyer Eadulf. The latter strikes pieces of types II and III, with the mint apparently closing somewhere between c. 1093 and 1096. Up until recently, with no later coins demonstrating a mint signature denoting Cricklade, it was thought that the mint never re-opened.

That was the case, until a recent discovery by a metal detectorist striding the fields of North Wiltshire (Fig. 4). Discovering an exceptionally preserved penny of Henry I (1100-1135) corresponding to British Museum Catalogue (BMC) type XIV, they contacted John Philpotts at Silbury Coins who was only too happy to identify and assist with the recording of this highly significant find. In due course, the coin was sold to Silbury Coins, who have provided details and high-quality images to enable a proper analysis and this subsequent article.

Although this type of coin is a scarce find in its own right, it is the fact that this coin definitively proves the mint at Cricklade re-opened at some point during Henry’s reign which enhances its significance. Named as the ‘pellets and quatrefoil’ type and struck in c. 1123, the coin can be described as thus. On the obverse (heads) is the facing bust of Henry, crowned and mantled with a sceptre held in his right hand and a star over his left shoulder. This design is accompanied by the inscription; HENRICVS REX (Henry, King). On the reverse (tails), we can discern a central quatrefoil (four-petalled flower) with internal pellets, contained within an inner border and surrounded by the following legend – which names the mint and moneyer; +TOChI:ON:CRIChEL. This reading (with thanks to Martin Allen in this regard) denotes the moneyer as Toki, an Anglo-Scandinavian name that is most commonly encountered in the 10th and 11th centuries. Given that Cricklade appears on the mint signatures of William I as ‘CRIC’ or ‘CRICL’, it seems indisputable from the rendering here as ‘CRIChEL’ that this coin was struck there. As of writing, the coin is unique – representing an entirely new mint and moneyer for Henry I.

Fig. 3. Silver penny of Eadgar, struck at Cricklade. Photo courtesy of Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum/PAS.

The increase in metal detecting activity and the increasingly large number of coins made available for academic research has meant that in recent years a lot of the ‘gaps’ in missing mints or lack of continuity amongst mints moneyers for various Anglo-Saxon and Norman monarchs have been filled in by detectorists responsibly reporting their finds. In 2019, for example, a detectorist in Cambridgeshire added a new mint to coins struck for the Empress Matilda when he discovered a penny struck by the moneyer Gillipatric at Pembroke Castle, previously thought to have only struck under Henry I.

Fig. 4. The Cricklade penny of Henry I. Images supplied by Silbury Coins Ltd.

The BMC type XIV pence are an important issue in that they probably represent the penultimate type struck before the first abandoning (although temporary) of the aforementioned Renovatio Monetae system that had dominated coinage since the late 10th century, in a gap lasting from c. 1125 until about the 1140s. This decision to seemingly issue only one type between the c. 1125 and 1135 seems to have been a consequence of the so-called Assize of the Moneyers, which took place at Winchester in 1124. At this particular event, moneyers suspected of wrongdoing were invited ostensibly to celebrate Christmas at court, though instead found themselves arrested on arrival and given a brief trial. Those found to have issued debased or underweight coin were first relieved of duty, and then of their right hands and testicles! Evidence from the Pipe Rolls tells us that at least some who were threatened with this punishment were able to have their sentences commuted through the paying of large fines. Though Henry I was by standards of the time a harsh and brutal monarch who demonstrated a personal predilection for mutilation as punishment, this episode shows how seriously the English Crown took matters monetary. Some numismatists have argued that this historical event is directly visible in the last issue (type XV) of Henry I, with many moneyers who strike in type XIV ceasing to operate and the number of mints heavily reduced.

While this significant new coin evidences that the mint at Cricklade re-opened in the later reign of Henry I after an apparent twenty-year hiatus, it appears not to have operated for particularly long. It is in some respects surprising that no securely attributable Cricklade coins issued in the name of Stephen and Matilda have emerged thus far, given the importance attached to Wiltshire during this period and the conflict which took place in the county. Archaeological evidence suggests that during this period of regional instability the town defences were enlarged and expanded, a palisade being erected atop the pre-existing walls of the old Saxon ‘burgh’.

It is the author’s hope this short article has proved interesting and perhaps enthused some readers about this fascinating period in England’s numismatic history. As a final point, always make sure to record your Anglo-Saxon and Early Medieval coin finds (EMC/PAS) and contact Silbury Coins should you wish to sell them.

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