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In Anglo-Saxon times Ilchester was a walled Borough, the second largest in the county of Somerset. The entry in the Domesday Book lists Ilchester as having 107 burgesses, Bath 178 and Taunton 68. (A burgess was originally a freeman of a borough, but the term generally became applied to an elected or unelected official. 'Local Councillor' might be the equivalent modern term.) Ilchester was large enough to have had a mint established.
Currency during the time of the mint was a silver penny, this was cut in half to form a half penny and in quarters to form the farthing.
The site of the Mint is not known, though documents from the reign of Henry III indicate at that time it was in Chepstrete, now Church Street, somewhere near the site of The Ilchester Arms. It would have moved around throughout its existence, as the post of Moneyer, who would have been a man of importance, probably a burgess, was passed down.
The story of Ilchester Mint probably began in the reign of Aethelstan (924 – 39) grandson of Alfred when Ilchester formed part of the kingdom of Wessex. Aethelstan decreed that a single currency should be current throughout the kingdom. Striking coins was only to take place within a town. The number of moneyers was listed with larger towns having several...... “else at other burgs one.”
The Mint signature of Ilchester has not been found on any coin before the reign of Edgar (959 – 75) but it was as often absent as present at this time. In the Medieval period there were many variations on the name that eventually became Ilchester, such as Gifelcestre to Yuelcestre with their abbreviations on coins stretching from G., GIF, to Ivilce. Coins have been wrongly assigned in the past and this may have happened to earlier coins.
The Moneyer's name was on the coins they minted guaranteeing their genuineness and enabling the King to check irregularities and punish the moneyer responsible.
There is evidence that important Anglo-Saxon mints provided the moneyer for lesser mints such as Wulfelm of Ilchester in the reign of Aethelred II 'The Unready'. Wulfelm is also named on coins minted in nearby Cadbury.
The existence of a Mint was an advantage allowing the national currency to circulate rapidly, the king being able to obtain money where ever he was in his kingdom. It facilitated trade and when the trade of a town declined it usually lost the privilege of coining. The issuing of coins would have borne direct relationship to the trade requirements of a district and the size of the population.
Coins minted in Ilchester have been found widely spread. Many made up the Dane-geld paid to the Danes and have also been found in hoards looted to Scandinavian countries.
Comparing finds of Ilchester coins with those of other mints confirms it was among the top two dozen largest towns in England in Saxon times.
In the famous 'Brussels Hoard', discovered in 1908 hidden in an old tavern in Brussels, approximately 220 coins were minted in Ilchester, mostly from the reign of Henry lll. They comprise three varieties of dies of two moneyers, two varieties from two moneyers and one of another moneyer.
Ilchester minted coins have been found from the reigns of:- Edgar, Aethelred II, Knut, Harold I, Harthacnut, Edward The Confessor, William The Conqueror, Henry II, and Henry III. This doesn't mean coins were not produced in other reigns, only that none have yet been found. Ilchester coins have been found in Stockholm, Brussels, Tamworth, Beaworth and Tealby. Examples are held in Ilchester Museum, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, the British Museum, Yorkshire Museum, Stockholm Museum, Uppsala University, and many private collections.
Known names of some of Ilchester's moneyers =include:-
Adam, Aelgwine, Aelfelm, Aelfwine, Brithtric, Caelfel, Dunberd, Edric, Godwine, Hunewine, Leofwine, Oswig, Randulf, Ricard, Stephen, Winas and Wulfelm.
On October 10th 1248, Henry III issued a warrant to Ilchester instructing the men and Burgesses to elect trustworthy officers for the Mint. That the king chose Ilchester instead of Taunton or any other Somerset town to help in the great re-coinage of 1248 shows that it was still an important trading centre. Then in early 1250 the king recalled all assays held by mints throughout the kingdom, and Ilchester ceased to be a Mint town. The silver penny issued in February 1250 was the last coined in Ilchester.