A Coenwulf Penny by Wihtred from Bidford-on
It is not very often that a Mercian p e n n y , which seems to be no more than
a c h a n c e loss, turns up in this country, while hoards containing coins of
Coenwulf recorded d u r i n g the past two or more centuries can be counted on
the fingers of both h a n d s . 1
T h u s it is gratifying to report the discovery
of such a piece d u r i n g
along the route for the new inner
relief road at Bidford.
Excavations were just concluding in 1978 by archaeologists working for the Warwickshire Museum a n d the Department of the
Environment u n d e r the direction of Miss Susan Hirst,
w h e n the coin w a s
It lay at the top of B5 Roman q u a r r y a n d at the base
of the plough soil in an area between the large p a g a n Saxon cemetery 2 a n d
the fringes of a later Saxon settlement s i t e 3 ( N G R : S P 0 9 9 1 5 1 9 7 ) .
There w a s no indication of a deposit at the spot where the coin lay a n d
indeed S a x o n hoards from a n y w h e r e within the Middle A n g l i a n a n d Hwiccan
regions are at present u n k n o w n , partly due no doubt to the fact that d u r i n g
the ninth century D a n i s h raids did not penetrate into the region of the western
even single finds of coins are scarce in this
general a r e a , although discoveries of sceattas h a v e occasionally occurred. 5
. A n Offa p e n n y by D e i m u n d , now in the Leicester M u s e u m , w a s found at
This with a tribrach p e n n y
of Coenwulf by the moneyer Diola, housed in the Museum a n d Art Gallery at
probably a Shropshire find but of u n k n o w n p r o v e n a n c e , a n d a
Cuthred p e n n y of E a b a unearthed with a decorated pin of iron near Brixworth, Northamptonshire,
about 1877, now in the Northampton M u s e u m , seem
to be the only examples of this denomination, predating Burgred a n d Alfred
w h i c h are recorded as being permanently housed in local m u s e u m s . 6
a d d e d to these are two of C o e n w u l f ' s tribrach coins by I b b a , one discovered
at Breedon-on-the-Hill, Leicestershire, the other somewhere in Shropshire 7 as
finds also from the central a n d -western m i d l a n d s .
If, however, one extends
are coins of Offa
recovered from Castor
a p e n n y of Aethelheard, archbishop of C a n t e r b u r y
(798-805), found at Brixworth, all in Northamptonshire. 8
Others include two
of O f f a , from Stilton, Huntingdonshire, a n d Mentmore, B u c k i n g h a m s h i r e , 9 a n d
one of Ceolwulf I by Aelhun at Toddington in B e d f o r d s h i r e . 1 0
a penny of" Archbishop Jaenberht
(pre-792), 1 1 a
g a r d e n n e a r Deddington Castle, Oxfordshire, one of Offa by E a d h u n , 1 2 while
at E y n s h a m A b b e y , only a few miles north-west of O x f o r d , a p e n n y of Queen
by Eoba as well as an anonymous coin in the Kentish royal
series (c.821-23) were recovered in 1834 a n d 1854 respectively. 1 3 But the site
nearest to Bidford, where a coin of Ecgbeorht of Wessex by the moneyer Tidbearht w a s found in 1957, is Lower Slaughter, some twenty-five miles a w a y
A COENWULF PENNY BY WIHTRED
in Gloucestershire. 1 "
Quite recently a n Offa portrait p e n n y b y A l h m u n d h a s
turned up at T r u s l e y , D e r b y s h i r e , b e i n g , it is b e l i e v e d , the first recorded
early Mercian piece for that c o u n t y . 1 5
It is no part of this note to discuss or indeed anticipate f i n d i n g s from
trial excavations which h a v e taken place at Bidford-on-Avon d u r i n g four or
five seasons since 1971, for archaeological investigation is still in progress.
But in general terms it is p e r h a p s pertinent to remark that a coin w h i c h
in date falls mid-way between the k n o w n Anglo-Saxon community of the sixth
century a n d the royal manor established here b y the eleventh c e n t u r y 1 6 must
h a v e a certain significance.
Evidence from pottery a n d other finds of the
Romano-British p e r i o d 1 7 attests the early occupation of this site w h i c h lies
astride the Ricknield or Buckle Street, r u n n i n g south from Alcester to join
the Fosse W a y n e a r Lower S l a u g h t e r , at the point w h e r e this Roman road
crosses the River A v o n , formerly b y ford as the name implies, but in later
medieval times b y b r i d g e . 1 8
Exploitation of salt from Droitwich a n d elsewhere in the S a l w a r p e valley
goes b a c k to the later p h a s e s of the Iron A g e , for the Belgic peoples needed
it in their capitals; a n d the industry remained a n important one not only
d u r i n g the Roman period but all through the middle a g e s , manufacture in
fact continuing until the present c e n t u r y . 1 9 So a river crossing on a wellused route for pack-horses travelling south to the Cotswolds a n d
with trains proceeding north with wool a n d other commodities, may h a v e been
reason enough for the establishment here of some permanent trading post.
But unlike Stratford,
w h i c h w a s the alternative crossing of A v o n ,
remained a village or small town without borough status, although obtaining
a market g r a n t in 1220. 2 0 T h u s a p e n n y of the early ninth century is not
traders a n d travellers were
p a s s i n g t h r o u g h , even though this area of Mercia lies about 150 miles from
the mints then striking in Kent a n d East A n g l i a .
A full description is g i v e n here since the coin a p p e a r s to be a new variety
b y this moneyer although closely associated with four other coins mentioned
It is illustrated at the end of this article.
C O E N V V L F RE+.
Bust r i g h t , d i a d e m e d
inner linear circle; outer b e a d e d circle.
+ . : P I N . TR. E : . D.
b e a d e d circle.
Diameter 20mm, die ratio 3 0 ° .
Decayed a r o u n d almost half the edge where
the flan is thin; broken across bust a n d recently r e p a i r e d .
very fine condition.
Weight 1 . 2 2 g ( l 8 . 9 g r s ) .
Two things are noticeable in the inscription on the obverse: the absence
of the ethnic, the initial cross being synthesised with the final letter of
R E X , 2 1 a n d the retrograde N in addition to the retrograde a n d inverted F for
On the reverse the moneyer's name using N for H is set out boldly using
Roman capitals with slight serifs, single or groups of pellets a r r a n g e d arbitrarily in the s p a c i n g s of the letters.
W i h t r e d ' s signature in this form is
found on four other Coenwulf coins, each h a v i n g a different device within
the inner b e a d e d circle:
inverted A between pellets (two die d u p l i c a t e s ) ;
small tribrach pattee with pellets in a n g l e s ; star, the six limbs pattee;
saltire cross pattee with pellets in a n g l e s . 2 2
The number of coins recorded for
possible twenty-four, 2 3 out
this East A n g l i a n
of p r o b a b l y fewer
moneyer is now
than a thousand
A COENWULF PENNY BY WIHTRED
S a x o n pennies k n o w n to h a v e survived from the period c . 7 7 5 to 8 2 5 , " o r
approximately 2 . 5 per cent of the total.
W i h t r e d ' s c o i n a g e , assuming all
of it w a s issued b y one m a n , covers the later issues of O f f a , the few coins
put out b y E a d w a l d of East A n g l i a , the whole of C o e n w u l f ' s sovereignty over
Mercia a n d at least the first y e a r of Ceolwulf I.
This period of effective
minting lasted some thirty-five y e a r s , c.787-822, a n d suggests the moneyer
worked well into his sixties, in fact he may h a v e been older than this w h e n
he died or r e t i r e d . 2 5
with C a n t e r b u r y ,
whether sited at Thetford, Ipswich or elsewhere, seems unlikely to h a v e h a d
In fact there seems good
reason to suppose that the b u l k of this coinage w a s issued d u r i n g the last
ten, p e r h a p s the last five years of his rule.
For e x a m p l e , Wodel, another
East A n g l i a n , used the same reverse die on coins struck for Coenwulf a n d
Ceolwulf a n d the obverse die of the latter is found to couple with another
reverse type for Ceolwulf,
so the dating of these three pieces must surely
Since Wihtred also struck coins using similar reverse designs
as seen on no fewer than five of his surviving pieces with one further
closely allied reverse, we c a n be reasonably certain that a fair proportion
of his output must be of the same date. 2 6
It seems the substantive type B , h a v i n g Saxon M with contraction mark
for Mercia as central device on obverse, a n d on reverse a large voided trib r a c h moline, in issue between 798 a n d 805 at the C a n t e r b u r y a n d London
m i n t s , 2 7 w a s not produced by a n y of the East A n g l i a n moneyers;
Wihtred on one of his portrait issues did use a small single-armed tribrach
as central motif. 2 8 Even though this may be a faint echo of the early group
the g a p between his coinage for Offa a n d E a d w a l d a n d that for Coenwulf
would seem to be of several years duration; for to date no coins, comparable
to those of his compatriot L u l , which link the non-portrait group of the late
for C o e n w u l f 2 9 h a v e
I w i s h to t h a n k those without whose help this paper could not h a v e been
written: Miss Sue Hirst a n d Miss Helen M a c l a g a n , w h o brought the coin to
my notice; Miss Marion A r c h i b a l d , Mr M a r k B l a c k b u r n , Mr Christopher Blunt
a n d Dr Michael Metcalf; also Mr D a v i d Symons a n d Mrs Jane Moore.
D . M . Metcalf,
' O f f a ' s Pence Reconsidered',
finds of C o e n w u l f ' s coins ( a n d 9 of his
C u t h r e d ) b a s e d on lists in the possession of Mr Blunt.
M . D o l l e y , SCBI
in the British
2 (T-), 4 ( T 1 1 7 ) ,
11 ( T 1 2 3 ) ,
50 ( T 3 6 2 ) .
Numbers in parenthesis
are those in
J . D . A . T h o m p s o n , Inventory
of British Coin Hoards
A. D. 600-1500
Warwicks h i r e ' , Archaeologia,
73 ( 1 9 2 3 ) , 89-116, a n d 74 ( 1 9 2 4 ) , 271-88; Transactions
frontispiece a n d p l s . I I - V .
'Gazeteer of Anglo-Saxon
A COENWULF PENNY BY WIHTRED
(CBA Group 8 ) ,
16 ( 1 9 7 2 ) , 163; T . S l a y t e r , A History
Warwickshire ( 1 9 8 1 ) , p . 2 8 .
Sir F r a n k Stenton, Anglo-Saxon
second edition ( 1 9 5 0 ) ,
The one serious inroad recorded seems to h a v e been in the
a r o u n d the Wrekin d u r i n g 855-
S . E . R i g o l d a n d D . M . M e t c a l f 'A Check-list of English F i n d s of S c e a t t a s ' ,
distribution maps for eight
M a n y of these coins h a v e been recovered in the central a n d south midl a n d s but there are only six or seven specimens from the region of the
See also D . M . M e t c a l f ,
'Sceattas from the territory of
the H w i c c e ' , NC
( 1 9 7 6 ) , 64-74; a n d 'Monetary Affairs in Mercia in the
time of Aethelbald' in Mercian
edited b y A . D o r n i e r ( 1 9 7 7 ) , m a p
on p . 9 2 , covering all finds of sceattas in E n g l a n d .
A . J . H . G u n s t o n e , SCBI
and B . H . I .H.Stewart,
' T h e C o i n a g e of Southern
English p t . 3 ( 1 9 5 8 ) , lot 2658.
See also Metcalf, Cunohelin
( 1 9 6 3 ) , 43-
( 1 9 6 3 ) , 5 1 ; VCH
Lockett, E n g l i s h , p t . l
No. 3 8 6 ) ; BMC 34.
of the British
22 ( 1 8 6 6 ) , 245
to Blunt 3 9 ) ; Metcalf (BNJ
40 ( 1 9 7 1 ) , 171-72) proves this coin
N o . 3 8 9 , ex Carlyon-Britton.
p. 66, A n . 7 .
Blunt, BNJ 28 (1955-57), 467 a n d p i . X X V I I , 1.
Beornfreth ( C n . 2 3 ) in Stow-on-the-Wold Museum
as a possible local Cotswold f i n d .
A p e n n y of Coenwulf by
might also be mentioned
Information from Miss A r c h i b a l d
this record to be included here.
Morris ( 1 9 7 6 ) .
I . L a n d of the King (William) 238b
King E d w a r d held it.
N o s . 8 4 , 85 a n d 95.
1 (1902), p.255.
( C B A Group 8 ) , 22 ( 1 9 7 9 ) , 54-55.
edited b y
built in the early fifteenth century,
some 200 y a r d s below
but much repaired in 1449 a n d d u r i n g succeeding
III (1965), p . 5 0 ) .
For a brief survey of the salt industry at Droitwich, both archaeological
and historical, see West Midlands Archaeological
B ) f 22 ( 1 9 7 9 ) , 83-91 •
Charters mentioning salt w o r k i n g s go b a c k to the
A COENWULF PENNY BY WIHTRED
See also Metcalf,
h o w e v e r , notes that no sceattas h a v e so far been recorded from Droitwich itself; a n d 'Sceattas from the Territory of the Hwicce' NC
The use of + for x in the royal title occurs twelve times on a k n o w n
twenty-one obverses by this moneyer but the absence of the ethnic is
only found on two other pieces.
This form of conflation a p p e a r s to be
exceptional until the time of Ceolwulf I a n d Beornwulf ( e . g . J . J . N o r t h ,
1, p i . I V , 3 3 - E d g a r ) .
Blunt, Lyon a n d Stewart,
(note 8) p . 5 9 , N o s . 1 0 3 ,
duplicate of Lockett 2655) illustrated on p i . V I .
C . E . Blunt,
of O f f a ' ,
( 1 9 6 1 ) , p . 5 9 note 1 cites for this moneyer three coins of
O f f a ' s group II a n d four of O f f a ' s group I I I , while Blunt, Lyon a n d
Stewart, p p . 5 9 , 62, a n d 6 8 , list eleven coins of his for Coenwulf, two
for Ceolwulf I , a n d one for E a d w a l d of East A n g l i a .
To these can now
be a d d e d a further coin of O f f a ' s group II ( G l e n d i n i n g , 6 June 1979,
lot 361) a n d the Coenwulf coin discussed here; also, p e r h a p s , a further
coin of Coenwulf with reverse inscription WIGHER
B a s e d on calculated figures given in various papers by Blunt, Metcalf
a n d others, with allowance for a number more pieces recorded in recent
The possibility of, s a y , father a n d son, bearing the same
at the one mint cannot be entirely
( 1 9 6 3 ) , 40.
This is admirably demonstrated by Blunt, Lyon a n d Stewart,
113, C I . 3 1 , 32 ( W o d e l ) , a n d C n . 1 0 9 , 110, C I . 3 0 ( W i h t r e d ) .