a bustling town and its mint
Today, Hertford has the atmosphere of a quiet country town rather than that of a bustling and prosperous trading centre. However, in its Anglo-Saxon days that was completely different.
It all started when – according to Anglo-Saxon Chronicle – Edward the Elder (reigned 899 to 924) established a burh (a fortification) on the north side of the River Lea, “betwixt the Memer, and the Benwic, and the Lea” [i] in 912 (though there is some controversy about the year, it might have been 911 or 913 as well). The following year, his forces built another one on the southern side.
There is not much archaeological evidence for the northern burh, which probably had primarily a military function. We know much more about the southern one, which is where the civilian town was to develop. It was a square or rectangular settlement of approx. 4.5 hectares around what is today Salisbury Square. There was a market. The merchants’ properties were rectangular strips of land, with the narrow side facing the street, a layout which can still be recognised today.
The town quickly developed into an administrative centre. Probably it was also Edward the Elder, who created the County of Hertfordshire at the same time as building the burhs.
The town was governed as a royal town by one or more king’s reeves. A reeve with a house in town is recorded in the Domesday Book. The reeve was to collect the dues from the residents, who in return could trade under royal protection.
By the time of the early 11th century, the southern burh had run out of space. The ditch was filled in – the defences were by then no longer needed – and new properties were built. The Domesday Book was to record that there were 146 merchants in the town, more than in any other in the county. There were 36 houses, one of which was leased to the above-mentioned reeve, three mills and two churches.
That this was a bustling and prosperous town is further shown by the fact that Hertford had a mint. It started in the time of Edward’s successor, Æthelstan (924-39). He made minting a royal monopoly and set up mints in the more important towns of his realm. This allowed him easy access to currency while travelling through his kingdom. I can easily relate to that. When living in Germany before the introduction of the Euro, for a one-day-outing you might easily have needed three or even more different currencies.
When looking at the mint in Hertford, you will find that I deal with the moneyers rather than the coins. I have to admit that my knowledge of the various types of medieval coins is rather limited. So, what was the job description for a “moneyer”? On the one hand the term could refer to the craftsman, who actually made the coin. On the other hand, it could be someone who supervised the operation. These were usually of a higher social standing.
Coins found from Æthelstan’s reign with the mint-name, HIORTFD, give the moneyer’s name as Abonel. On earlier coins made in East Anglia, the form “Abenel“ can be found. However, from the reign of Athelstan onwards this name is only on coins from the mints in Hertford and Maldon. There is also evidence of a moneyer called Buga[ii], who was active in Hertford and Stamford during Athelstan’s reign. Before this, the name occurs on coins from other towns minted during the reigns of Alfred (king of Wessex 871–899) and Edward the Elder, which might refer to the same man. The fact that both names can be found on earlier coins from other mints, might indicate that experienced moneyers were transferred to the new mint in Hertford to get it started.
The origin of Abonel’s name is not quite clear, but it has been suggested that he originally came from the Continent. The name could be of Frankish or Flemish origin, possibly an Old French derivative of the Continental Germanic Abbo.[iii] The last coin with his name was minted at Hertford during the time of Edgar (King of Mercia 957, King of all England 959-75). This would mean that Abonel was active for a very long time, more than thirty years, of which he spent more than twenty in Hertford alone.
Towards the end of his time in office, the Hertford mint seems to have expanded as there is evidence of two additional moneyers. Coins bearing the names Wulfmær and Ma- have been attributed to this mint during the later period of Abonel’s working life. Wulfmær continues in Hertford into the reign of Edward the Martyr (reigned 975-979).
At the time of the Norman Conquest, a moneyer with the name Godman was active in Hertford. He held land in Grantchester in Cambridgeshire.
After the Conquest, the layout of the town underwent certain changes, though much remained the same. William I fortified an area on the southern side of the river crossing, in the southern Saxon burh, which was to become Hertford Castle. This provisional fortification was transformed into a motte and bailey castle by Peter de Valognes, to whom William had granted Hertford.[iv]
The Saxon market, situated between Fore Street and Maidenhead/Railway Street, continued after the Conquest. Hertford remained the county town, because of its castle and royal status. Under Norman rule, the reeve was replaced by a body of burgesses, who selected from their midst a bailiff and a steward.
Like many others, the Hertford mint initially survived the Norman Conquest. Many of the English moneyers continued to mint through the Conquest years and well into the reign of Henry I (1101-1135). This led Roffe to the conclusion that “To all appearances it would seem that they were untouched by the new regime”.[v]
The latest coin found so far is of a type minted during the years 1101 to 1103 in the reign of Henry I. The Hertford moneyers at this time were Algar and Theoderic, names which also appear at the London mint. They were sons of a London moneyer, Deorman. This family had been moneyers at the London mint since the reign of Æthelred II (978-1016).
This shows that especially during the later years of its operation moneyers were often working at both mints. Theoderic’s name appears on coins from Hertford from 1083 to 1095. He then seems to have changed to London, where his name is not recorded before that time.
While the mint in London became more and more important, the regional one seems to have been more of secondary operation. As time went on, it declined and operations in Hertford ceased in the early 12th century.
Algar and Theoderic definitely belonged to the second type of moneyer, the administrators with a higher social standing, rather than those making the coins. This might have been true of the others as well, it is just that much more records exist from the later period. Their father, Deorman, “held land in Islington, Essex, and Hertfordshire as a tenant-in-chief … apparently as remuneration for his important office of supervising the mints”.[vi]
Algar was also for a time a canon of St Paul’s. After him a standard measure, “Algar’s foot”, is named.[vii] The city administration was concerned with standardising measurements. By about 1104, the foot of Algar was carved into a pier-base in the nave of the (old) St Paul’s Cathedral (therefore it was also called the “foot of St.Paul”). This measurement was used until the 13th century, and even later, until it was replaced by the king’s standard, which was held at the guildhall.
Algar’s brother Theoderic held land in various counties. He had a son, another Deorman, who was a moneyer and merchant. Theoderic’s grandson, Theoderic Fitzdeorman, was justiciar to King Stephen. He was also a moneyer until 1158, when Henry II closed down all the established London mints and the moneyers lost their positions. The social position of moneyers is emphasised by the fact that he married a kinswoman of the earl of Pembroke. It is remarkable that this family held on to their Germanic names for quite some time after the Conquest, while by all accounts they were well-integrated in the new regime. This confirms Roffe’s theory that “moneying … remained an all-but-exclusively English occupation”.[viii]
The location of the mint has, so far, not been established. 92% of all the Hertford coins, which have been found, were discovered on the Continent. This gives a good indication of the town as an important trading hub with extensive links with the continent.
This thriving market town declined after the Conquest. It remained the county town to this day. However, as far as trade was concerned, it was overtaken by other towns in Hertfordshire. One of the reasons was probably that it wasn’t located on any of the main roads. Ermine Street (nowadays A10) runs through Ware to the east, the Great North Road (A1000/A1) is to west through Hatfield.
The history of Hertford:
Thompson, I., ‘Hertford’, Extensive Urban Survey – Hertfordshire (2005). Online at Archaeology Data Service, URL: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-436-1/dissemination/pdf/hertford.pdf [last accessed 12 July 2019]
Mints and Moneyers:
Allen, M., Mints and Money in Medieval England. Cambridge University Press, 2012, p .27
Blunt, C.E., ‘The Origins of the Mints of Hertford and Maldon’, British Numismatic Journal, vol. 41 (1972), pp. 21-26
Challis, C.E., A New History of the Royal Mint. Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 62&70
Kinsey, R.S., ‘Anglo-saxon law and practice relating to mints and moneyers’, British Numismatic Journal, vol. 29 (1958-59), pp. 12-50
Nightingale, P., ‘Some London Moneyers and Reflections on the Organization of English Mints in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries’, The Numismatic Chronicle, vol. 142 (1982), pp. 34-50
Nightingale, P., ‘Deorman (fl. 1119–1141)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online 23 Sept. 2004) [last accessed online 4 Nov. 2019]
Roffe, D., ‘Unequal Partners in Government? Domesday Moneyers’, Lecture held at the Japanese Society of Western Historians Conference, Hiroshima, 20 May 2018
[ii] Colman, F., ‘On the Moneyers’ Names Buga and Boia on Anglo-Saxon Coins’, Nomina, vol. 34 (2011), pp. 91-120
[iii] Smart, V., ‘Economic Migrants? Continental moneyers’ names on the tenth-century English coinage’, Nomina, vol. 32 (2009), pp. 113-156
[iv] ‘Hertford Castle: a motte and bailey castle south of the River Lea’, Historic England. URL: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1009827 [last accessed 4 Aug. 2019]
[v] Roffe, p. 2
[vi] Nightingale, ODNB
[vii] Keane, D., ‘From conquest to capital: St Paul’s c. 1100 – 1300’, in: St. Paul’s: The Cathedral Church of London, 604-2004, ed. Derek Keane, Arthur Burns & Andrew Saint. Yale University Press, 2004, p. 27
[viii] Roffe, p. 1