The Winchester Mint

Winchester mint

For three hundred and fifty years Winchester had its own mint striking coins under royal control. The first coins to carry the mint-signature of Winchester (ǷIN or ǷINC - The Anglo-Saxon wen, or Ƿ, being equivalent to the modern W) were issued at the very end of Alfred's reign probably around 895. The mint's final period of activity was in 1248-50 during the reign of Henry III.

The earliest reference to moneyers and mints is in the decree issued by Aethelstan around 928 at Grateley, Hampshire, which laid down the laws governing the operation of mints and the penalties to be imposed on moneyers who broke them.

'And if a moneyer found guilty [of issuing base or light coins] the hand shall be cut off with which he committed the crime, and then fastened up on the mint. But if he is accused and he wishes to clear himself, then he shall go to the hot iron [ordeal] and redeem the hand which he is accused of having committed the crime.'

The number of moneyers striking coinage at any one time varied but from the time of Aethelstan's decree there were to be six moneyers working in Winchester. The importance nationally of the mint fluctuated. In the years immediately before the Norman Conquest, Winchester mint ranked fourth in the country after London, York and Lincoln. During the reign of Henry I (1100-35) the number of named moneyers rose to sixteen, more than any other mint except London. The conflict between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, which culminated in the sack of the royal palace in Winchester in 1141, sealed its decline in importance.

Moneyers were relatively wealthy and were socially the most prominent of the local craftsmen. Their individual forges and workshops, or monete, which made up the mint, seem to have been concentrated in the area of the royal palace, though outside it, on the south side of the High Street. This situation continued until 1180 when, as part of the re-organisation of the coinage under Henry II, the mint was established in a single building on the site of the former royal palace.

The coins were struck using engraved dies. Die-cutting, was carefully controlled to avoid the unauthorised striking of coinage and it appears that Winchester was a regional centre for their production. Die-cutters tested their dies on lead before issuing them to moneyers. Two lead trial pieces are know from Winchester, for the moneyers Aestan and Aelfwine who both struck coins for Edward the Confessor. A penny struck from the Aelfwine die exists in the museum's collections.

Interestingly, the largest collection of Winchester mint coins can now be found in Russia, in the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. This reflects the vast number of coins that were paid as Danegeld - the annual tax to 'buy off' the Viking invaders - and which subsequently found their way to Russia because of the close contacts between Scandinavia and Russia at this time.