Walking on history

Today is a bit of a departure from Life of a Care Farm, as I’m feeling in need of a step back from the present day.

We are surrounded by history on the farm. The roundabout at Bingham on the old A46 was the site of the Roman town of Margidunum. When they widened the A46 (or Fosse Way, as it was known to the Romans) many other settlements were found, including Stone and Iron Age sites.

Metal detectorists working on the farm have found many bits and pieces, ranging from spindle weights and bits of Roman brooch through to watch keys and a Royal Engineers cap badge from the Great War period. There are garter buckles, buttons and musket balls too.

As a one-time dealer in antiques (or Collectables or Junk depending on your quality threshold) I’ve seen many things that have been dug up by metal detectorists, including a gold Celtic coin, a mediaeval ring and 11 sovereigns that had obviously been lost as one lot in the 1890s. (I also once had a penny of King Cnut which I bought in a coin collection – the earlies English coin I ever had, and far older than all that second Georgian furniture so beloved by “proper” antique dealers – not that I bear any grudges…

I’ve also seen bits of agricultural equipment, loads of broken Roman brooches and several groups of military cap badges that were obviously lost from military stores during training.

I’ve even dug up some bits myself, including aluminium ring pulls, the ends of shotgun cartridges and a surprising number of horse shoes. The fields of old England must have been full of limping horses. To put it another way, my career as a metal detectorist lasted less than a year and uncovered nothing of interest.

The things I really like are the coins. They are easy(ish) to date and were very personal items, as they were carried in a pocket or purse. At the same time, they are rather sad, as the loss of a penny in the time of hammered coinage could mean the loss of around half a day’s wages.

The history of English coinage is an interesting one, though maybe not to everyone…

However, feel free to read on if you think you can cope with the enthusiasm of a history geek.

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Short Cross penny of Henry II – London Mint 1180-89 made by the moneyer Reinald

The English silver penny came about due to an ordinance of King Offa in around 785 AD. They were similar in size to the Anglo-Saxon sceat that had preceded them, and you could make 240 of them from one pound of silver. That will be bringing back memories for some people, who, like me, remember when there were 240 copper pennies to a £1 (and when you could still see the heads of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, George V and George VI on your small change. Others, who have only ever known 100 pennies to the £1, will be wondering what I am talking about.

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They weren’t big on portraits in the early days of coinage, but the production method didn’t really lend itself to quality work. This is  Edward I from a Canterbury Mint penny of 1272-1307. It could, however,  be any one of a number of Kings, or even Shrek

For people wanting half pennies and farthings (think “fourthing” to see where the word comes from) the penny could be cut into halves or quarters (as there weren’t enough smaller coins made) and the cross helped with the cutting.

They were made in many towns in England

Of course, crime has always been with us, and people soon learnt that they could take tiny clippings from coins and build up a collection of silver bits which they could melt down and sell. See here for more details.

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Long cross penny of Edward I – Lincoln Mint 1270

In time the “short cross” penny gave way to the “long cross” penny where the cross went from side to side in an effort to stop clipping. It didn’t work and Sir Isaac Newton, as Master of the Royal Mint, introduced a coinage with milled edges that stopped the activities of coin clippers. The legend “Decus et Tutamen” (An Ornament and a Safeguard) was first used on the edge of Newton’s new coins and is still used on some issues of our current pound coin.

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Elizabeth I penny . The coin is smaller than the old pennies and the portrait better. If you look to the right of the A at the top of the coin you will see a mint mark To me it looks like a Tower, which means it was made by the Tower of London Mint in 1569-71. IT’s just a coincidence that the mark is a tower, as the Tower mint used all sorts of mark. 

So there you are, a brief and patchy history of English coins, with lots missed out. The photographs are all coins which have been found on the farm. They are all much larger than actual size but it’s so long since I was involved with coins I forgot to measure them or include a scale. Sorry about that.

There’s a You Tube video here. I’ve had a go at hammering coins with this man and it isn’t easy even when you are hammering pewter, which is a lot softer than silver.

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