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The Royal Mint, Aberystwyth


by the Rev. G. Eyre Evans


Transactions of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, Vol 2 No 1, (1915) p.71

THE county mints of Charles I., and especially those in smaller towns are, says Henry Symonds, f.s.a., " so veiled in obscurity that even the attribution of their coins is in some cases still a matter of debate." Under these circumstances it may be useful to call attention to certain written details of the work carried on at one of these towns, with the view of increasing our knowledge of the methods employed, and quickening our interest in the products of the undertaking.

It was on the 22nd October, 1636, that Charles was addressed in a petition by Thomas Bushell, who therein reminds his Majesty that, on the 12th May, 1625, the King—" finding Sir Hugh Middleton's endeavours bent for the public good "—had granted him, by letters patent, " for 31 years, all the mines royal in the county of Cardigan, with a proviso that all the silver should be coined at the Mint in London, which has been done to the value of £50,000." The recent death of Sir Hugh, be it noted, had opened the way for Bushell to come into Cardiganshire, and carry on the working of the silver mines discovered in the county by Sir Hugh. Bushell prays his King that the privileges granted to Sir Hugh may be "ratified" to him. Although the silver ore grows richer in value by a third part, yet in regard to inundation by water, and Sir Hugh's demise, the mines are likely to decay, and " the greatest treasure in the King's dominions to be buried in the earth."

On the 14th October, just eight days previous to his petitioning the King, Bushell had bought the lease of the mines from Dame Elizabeth, widow of Sir Hugh, " under an annual rent," as he says— " that by way of adit, petitioner may make it work worthy the Royal Name."

Charles was inclined to look favourably on Bushell, " since he endeavours to perfect the silver mines in Wales, without the aid of the King's purse." Other reasons were that there had been " brought to the mint, these 16 years, of pure silver 100 lbs. weekly, and were it not for the present inundations, they might as easily land the worth of 100 lbs. of ore a day, as they have done weekly."

Bushell knew full well how to get the ear of the evasive Charles. He urged " that the possibility of those great riches should not be buried in oblivion for want of the King's favour, as the great treasure of the West Indies was to his Majesty's predecessors, by omitting the time when it was offered them." Oh ! wily Bushell ! !

Charles referred the petition " to the Council to take orders for the satisfying of the petitioner." The Council, on the 6th November, ordered Attorney General Bankes to examine the grant made to Sir Hugh, and to certify to the Lord Treasurer and Lord Cottington " his opinion on it." The Attorney General on the 3rd December, reported that " he did not discern any inconvenience, if his Majesty be so pleased, in confirming the patent to petitioner."

On the 25th January, 1636—7, the Council, sitting in the ' Inner Star Chamber,' ordered that Bushell, having given satisfaction to the Lord Treasurer and to Lord Cottington that the works should go on, " be granted the prayer of his petition."

From this date, then, began Bushell's close connection with Cardiganshire.

No sooner was Bushell in safe possesion of the coveted mines, than he began his agitation for the setting up of a mint in Aberystwyth Castle.

In July, 1637, he again addressed his King. Understanding that his Majesty had granted a mint for Ireland, as well as that his predecessors had allowed mints at " Durham, Bristol, and Kidwelly Castle," Bushell advanced no less than seven reasons why a mint in Wales might prove of great consequence to the King, " both by way of honour and profit."

The mines worked by Sir Hugh were " drowned by water," but Bushell had discovered how to drain them by way of adit." The quantity of silver was again stated to be considerable, and " in all mines the deeper we go," it was alleged " that the richer the miner finds the ore to be."

The charge of sending the bullion up to the Mint on Tower Hill, with " the great charge of the mines in digging" were causes stated to have " undone " Sir Hugh,—" poverty of the people in that country disabling them from maintaining any work that did not make them a present return. " Thousands " had thus been kept from adventuring on those hopeful mountains, where doubtless a mass of treasure lies covered. A mint in Wales " would afford the requisite encouragement."

Bushell " anticipated the separation of £300 of silver weekly out of ore, therefore he prayed the allowance of a mint at the Castle of Aberystwyth." He proposed to establish it in the Castle " at my own Charge," paying the King his mintage, at the same rate as the Tower of London, and " presenting to the Privy Purse, every new year's tide, a wedge of silver containing £100 sterling, provided he be discharged of all accounts concerning the profit of the mint, except for answering as to the fineness and weight of the silver coined." Furthermore, he offered to give the King " a clear tenth of all silver wrought in Wales," and he also promised " not to coin bullion found elsewhere "; and that whenever his Majesty " thought the mines fit to be taken into his own hands he would lay them at his feet."

As might be expected the authorities of the London Mint had something to say on this proposal to set up a mint at Aberystwyth. " Whether such a proposal may be agreeable to your Majesty's service, we submit to your great wisdom. Besides payments to officers, there are many disbursements to labourers and others, necessarily incident to a mint, but if Bushell should pay yearly £100, for the property of this intended mint, and so take all upon himself at adventure, your Majesty will not be informed of the state of the mint, which we esteem to be a matter of great consequence."

They likewise urged that mints have " ever been erected in cities of great traffic," and " not only in the Tower of London, as a place of honour and security " and near his Majesty and the Council "before whom the trial of the pyx must be " ; and that " it should be considered whether a mint should be erected before it is ascertained that there will be a sufficient quantity of bullion to employ the same." Despite these suggestions and warnings, An Order of the King in Council was issued from Greenwich, on the 9th day of July, 1637. which empowered Bushell " to erect the suggested Mint at Aberystwyth, at his expense, the same to be regulated by Sir William Parkhurst, Warden of the Mint." Bushell was to make a yearly account of the profits belonging to his Majesty, whose Royal signature would be affixed to the necessary document, so soon as it was prepared by his Attorney General.

The "necessary document," the original deed, dated 30th July, 1637, by which Charles carried the plan into effect is preserved in the Public Record Office. By its terms Bushell was authorized to coin the half-crown, shilling, half-shilling, two-pence,[1] and penny from Welsh silver only ; a commission in October adding the groat, threepence, and half-penny.

Further and most valuable information is contained in a MS volume (No. 18760, of the Harley MSS in the British Museum). The book is in size a small folio, the paper being of good quality, and bearing the watermark of a fleure-de-lys within a circle, the binding is of a later date. The following heading appears on one of the earlier pages which are otherwise blank :—
" From the first erecting of his Maties royall mint at Aberistwith in the county of Cardigan, within the principality of Wales untill the 10th day of July, 1641, the booke being the privy marke."

This statement, as Mr. Symonds justly remarks, " may be held to justify the assumption that the open book was the only mint mark used during the first few years of the operations, and that the crown and the cross which are found on a few pieces of the same type denote that the latter were struck either in the Castle after July, 1641, or elsewhere while Bushell was in attendance on the King. There is, unfortunately, no evidence as to what mint mark, if any, succeeded the open book."

The main item in the volume consists of an account beginning on the 21st January, 1638, shewing on the one side the weight of silver ingots (standard 11 oz. 2 dwt. fine) delivered to the moneyers, and on the other side the weight of coined money and syzel (i.e. the metal which remained after cutting the blanks from the strips or sheets N.E.D.) returned by them to Bushell's representatives. It is to be regretted that this system of accounting affords no clue to the number of pieces that were struck of each denomination.

The chief moneyer was Henry Sutch, who received a salary of £100 per annum. Other members of the " Company " were :—

Edward Goodyeare, of Heythorpe, in the county of Oxford, Esq., comptroller, at £40 per annum.

Richard Hull, of London, gentleman, surveyor of the King's smelting-house, and clerk of the irons, at £40 per annum.

Samuel Remush. of London, gentleman, Assay-master at £40 per annum.

Humfrey Owen, of Aberystwyth, gentleman, King's clerk, at £20 per annum.

John Cherry Lickham, porter of the mint, at £10 per annum.

The account runs without a break from the previously mentioned date, January 1638, until September, 1642, the latest Return of coined money being made on the 20th of that month. At this point, says Henry Symonds, (who has carefully examined this MS) the transactions come to an end, and the results of the working during the first period are cast up and tabulated. Silver weighing 4,052 lbs. had been handed to the moneyers, producing £13,069 in currency at the rate of " 64s. 6d. per lb. coyne and coynage." The average weekly output is stated to have been £68 1s. 5d. "by tale."

It is of course obvious that something unusual must have happened during the month of September, 1642. " The reason," continues Henry Symonds, "for the unexplained cessation of work is not far to seek. It was on the 19th of this same month that the King issued his historic Declaration at Wellington, Salop, and the inference seems irresistible that the break in continuity must he attributed to Bushell's departure for Shrewsbury with some portion of his apparatus and bullion (cf Numismatic Chronicle, N.S. vi. 152).

The subsequent diversion to Oxford of the supply of silver ingots may well have been the cause of this shutting down of the Welsh mint until January, 1645—6, when another and less careful hand begins a new record for a period of three months, only, January to March, during which time about 73 lbs. of coined metal were received from the workmen. " Once again the moneyers are idle, and a few empty pages appear in the book, then we reach the last and still shorter account which begins and ends in February, 1648, presumably 1648—9. This expiring effort produced only ' 8 li ' of coin (i.e. £) and in the light of the wording and memorandum and form of receipt which follow, we may assume that danger was then near, if not actually at the gates of the Castle. Bushell's deputy writes on the 23rd February, 1648,—

" What irons for coyning were taken up by me, John Sydenham, by order from Thos. Bushel, Esq., from Mr. Wm. Cogan, and delivered to Thomas Harington.

A list of general tools is then set out, together with a separate list of dies in use. The latter comprises :—•

One half crown pile, and two tresles.
One shillingdo.do. do.
One sixpencedo.do. do.
One groatdo.do. do.
One threepennydo.do. do.
Two pennydo.do. do.
Two twopennydo.do. do.
One threepenny pile and one tresle.
One half crowndo.do. do.
One shilling pile
One half crown tresle.

The book says '30 stamps,' but my arithmetic makes them only 29 in number. It will be noticed that a stamp for the halfpenny does not appear.

Finally we have a receipt for the thirty stamps above mentioned and the tools and implements in the mint above also mentioned at the hand of John Sydenham deputy to Thomas Bushell Esqre., and to deliver into hands again upon demand. Witness my hand this 23 of February, 1648. Tho. Harington."

The pages devoted to the years 1640 and 1642 are distinguished by the addition of an excellent sentiment,—Laus Deo, ois et sibi gloria sola in aeternum—which may be said to do more credit to the writer's piety than to his scholarship.

Amongst the MSS of the House of Lords is one which throws further light upon events in the early months of the year 1646—7. It is a Petition dated 6 March of " Edmund Goodere [2] (farmer of the mines royal in the county of Cardigan) and of the miners, smelters, refiners, and other workmen, with hundreds depending on their labours. His Majesty by letters patent authorised a mint to be erected in the Castle of Aberystwith for the coinage of such silver only as should be raised out of the mines royal in the Principality of Wales, which Castle and the houses erected for the mint are so destroyed by the late war, that the work cannot be continued there without great charge and danger. Petitioners pray that the mint may be continued at a place called the smelting mills, near the refining house, until the castle shall be refitted, and that the officers of the Tower may be ordered to furnish the mint with stamps and workmen, as they are warranted in doing by the patent, and as they have formerly done." (L. J. ix. 68).

When in 1903, the area of Aberystwyth Castle was examined (Arch. Cam. VI. iii. 227) the traditional site of the Royal Mint was carefully explored. Under the existing ground level charcoal and ashes were found in abundance, as well as the bases of four ware crucibles which had evidently been used for melting the silver.

These crucibles are about the size of a modern penny in diameter, and just show the cupped inside. They can be seen in a glass case in the vestibule of the Aberystwyth Public Library. No coins or scraps of metal were found on the site, nor any dies or other instruments. A black and white drawing of the Mint Chamber by Mr. B. Vincent Wareing appears in "Aberystwyth : Its Court Leet" (1902 p. 96) : the original drawing was presented by the Author to the Public Library, and now hangs on its walls with other local views. The circular flight of stone stairs seen in the angle of the room led to an upper and now vanished chamber, which was probably used as a store place for bullion and dies, the area of the lower room being too limited for other than the actual workshop. Bushel], at his own cost and charges had such quantities of 'Irons ' graven in the Tower of London by his Majesty's chief graver, as were sufficient for his purpose. They were "to be defaced, when unserviceable, and to be returned to the Tower. Busbell to bear all expenses whatsoever."

In a paper by Mr. Herbert M. Morgan, read before the British Numismatic Society, in 1913, particular attention is given to the coins produced in Aberystwyth Castle. He points out that it was ordered by Charles that " the monies there made shall be stamped with feathers, on both sides, for a clear difference from all other of his Majesty's coins." This order, however, does not seem to have been quite strictly obeyed, as some of the existing coins carry the plumes on one side only, while the three ostrich feathers of the Prince of Wales form an appropriate mark indicating the Welsh origin of the silver, it must not be supposed that this mark alone is sufficient proof that any given coin was minted at Aberystwyth. Probably it always indicated that the coin has been struck in Welsh silver, but not necessarily at the Aberystwyth Castle mint. Silver coined at the Tower of London, and elsewhere, was also so stamped with the plumes, if the metal had been extracted from Welsh lea,d. The distinctive mark of the Aberystwyth moneyers was a conventional respresent-ation of an open book placed at the beginning of the inscription on both sides of the coin. When examined with a strong lens the book appears to have two thongs or ribbons on either cover, presumably for tying up the volume instead of using clasps.

The average weight of certain of the Coins, as given by Mr. Morgan, is :—

Shillings90.5 grains
Sixpences46 do.
Groats29.5 do.
Threepences21 do.
Pennies7 do.


Greuber (p. 113) says that Aberystwyth is the only provincial mint which struck halfpennies.

Specimens (8 coins in all, from a shilling to a penny) are preserved in the Museum of the University College of Wales, and within a few yards of the actual spot whereon they were minted at Aberystwyth. Other specimens, including half crowns,[3] half groats, and halfpence — can be seen in the coin room at the British Museum. On the shilling will be seen a large head, a small head, (on one specimen there is no inner circle round the head) on the obverse, whilst on the reverse are two distinct patterns, viz., Royal Arms, and the declaration legend 1642. This was the only dated coin seen by Mr. Morgan. One of the groats examined by him has the Royal bust in armour. The penny in the University Museum has on its reverse a larger plume than is found on any of the other coins. In fact that design fills the entire field except for the surrounding motto — Justitia thronum firmat. On that coin the three feathers spring out of a mural crown. Probably in other coins the same mural crown is intended, but is very indistinct and is rubbed smooth.

There is, says Mr. Morgan " a peculiarity of device on some of the threepences which I have examined, but not on the majority of them. I am indebted to my wife, who was with me during these researches, and who takes great interest in all my hobbies, for first noticing this peculiarity. It is that a spear, or sceptre is seen, apparently running through the mural crown behind the plume. I have not found this peculiar mark on any coin, except an occasional threepence. It is only fair to say that Mr. Lincoln declares this mark to be a flaw in one of the dies, but I would call attention to Greuber's "Handbook" (plate xxviii. fig. 654) which shows a copper farthing of Charles I., which has on obverse two sceptres in saltire through a royal crown. This gives some reason for my belief."

An early notice of the Aberystwyth Mint is that by the Rev. Walter Davies, M.A., Gwalter Mechain, in his " General view of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of South Wales," (1815, vol. L, p. 85). With one quotation from it, this paper must close.
"Thomas Bushell is represented as having once been the faithful servant of Sir Francis Bacon, the father of experimental philosophy. It is no mean compliment to the memory of Mr. Bushell that he is called a faithful servant to that 'greatest, brightest, and meanest of mankind,' as Pope calls him. On Sir Francis Godolphin's death, the whole management of the mines [in Cardiganshire] devolved on Mr. Bushell.....On the breaking out of the Great Rebellion, Aberystwyth probably not being considered a safe mint, the bullion was conveyed to be minted at Shrewsbury, and Mr. Bushell is said to have supplied the King with £40,000 towards the payment of his troops, with a very slender prospect, if any, of being ever reimbursed.

In addition to this he clothed the King's Army, and when the tide of rebellion raged still more furiously, to use the words of Fuller, he converted the mattocks of his miners into spears, and their shovels into shields, formed them into a regiment, and commanded them in person in defence of a cause grown too desperate for recovery — ' all these things did Bushell as a king give unto a king.' 2 Sam. xxiv. 23 [All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king.]"


Authorities.

Fuller's Worthies.
Meyrick's Cardiganshire.
The Aberystwyth Guide ; J.S., 1816, p. 31.
The Aberystwyth Guide ; T. J. Llewelyn Prichard, 1824, p. 28 [" It has been
stated that pieces coined here to the value of 10s. and 20s. were in the
possession of the late Col. Johnes, M.p., of Havod Ych-drud."] A Chronological Summary of the chief events in the history of the Castle of
Aberystwyth ; 1849, p. 8.
New Guide to Aberystwyth, Thomas Owen Morgan, Barrister, 1870, p. 48. Souvenir, 1911, p. 163, Article on ' The Castle of Aberystwyth,' E. A.
Lewis, D.Sc.
Aberystwyth Almanack ; 1914, pp. 3—11. A Glance inside the Mint of Aberystwith in the reign of Charles I. ; Henry Symonds, F.S.A. British Numismatic Journal, vol. viii. Notes on the Mint at Aberystwith in the reign of Charles I. ; Brigade
Surgeon Lieut.-Colonel H. M. Morgan, v.D. British Numismatic Journal, vol. x. A Guide to ... English Coins ; II. W. Henfrey, 1870, pp. 81—92.



[1] Probably the rarest of the coins. Specimens in mint condition are in cabinets at Garthmor, Neath, and Ty Tringad, Aberystwyth.

[2] Query, Edward Goodyeare, ut supra ?]

[3] On the 28th April, 1902, two specimens were sold by Sotheby at auction. One bad " open book, usual obverse type, and legend, but on reverse EXVKGAT &c. ; Declaration across field within two lines, above a large plume without band, and below the date, 1642, in large Numerals " ; price £S 5s. Od. The second had " open book on both sides, small equestrian figure with plume behind, and ground under horse ; reverse, garnished oval shield with plume above " ; price £5 2s. 6d.



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