Lichfield’s Medieval Mint
Last Sunday, finding ourselves at a loose end, we decided to revisit the Heritage Centre in Lichfield. The Centre currently has an exhibition devoted to The Hallarton Treasure – a large hoard of British Iron Age coins discovered in 2000. The display is very good, but suffers (rather unfairly) from being displayed on the Staffordshire Hoard’s patch. When the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found is dug up just down the road, it’s hard to interest a dazzled public with pig bones and coins from a Leicestershire village.
But that’s not to say it’s not worth seeing. I discovered a very interesting piece of information from the display, which was that medieval Lichfield once had its own mint – surely an indication of the city’s importance as a centre of pilgrimage and of commerce. According to the Victoria County History, the mint was granted by King Stephen to Bishop Durdent (d. 1159) and confirmed by Duke Henry (later Henry II) in 1154 and by Richard I in 1189. The only existing coins (two, possibly, though I can’t quite remember) were struck during the reign of Richard I (1189-1199). The mint was closed down in 1198.
The British Museum does have a Lichfield coin in its collection (pictured above): a short cross penny, which was a type of coinage introduced by Henry II in 1180 as an improvement on its poorly-struck forebears. (Most coins of this period were pennies - ‘penny’ being an Anglicised version of the Roman word denarius, which means a small, silver coin.) On the short cross coinage, the reverse of the coin always has an initial cross preceeding the name of the moneyer (i.e., the person who made it), followed by the word ON (meaning ‘at’) and then the name of the mint town, e.g., IOAN ON LIHEFL (Ioan at Lichfield).
It seems that Ioan (also known as Iohan) could also have worked at Canterbury, though it’s not certain whether it’s the same person or several different people. This, at any rate, is one coin I’d love to find in my back garden, but I wonder why it seems so crudely made compared to Roman coins of an even earlier period?