Mercian markets at minor minsters?

Of all the issues arising from my first piece on the clues mid-Anglo-Saxon coins and their provenances give us to Surrey’s money-based economy in the seventh to ninth century, for me the most intriguing was the apparent contrast between the places which have yielded several “proto-pennies” (to reprise my adoption of the revisionist terminology advocated by Tony Abramson) but no broad-flan pennies of the period circa 760-825, and those for which the reverse is true (or, in the case of Dorking, almost true, since it is the provenance of a fragmentary pale gold Pada issue). This had me somewhat stumped at the time, since it was not predicted in any of the literature on the topic I had read.

Accepting there is some real significance in this difference in spite of very small numbers of coins we are concerned with – and it must be conceded that there remains a chance that the present chronological biases may be modified by future discoveries and/or reports of finds already made – I could only hazard a not-altogether-satisfactory guess that Chertsey’s early dominance of trade in the area of historic Surrey had been supplanted by its eighth-century Mercian rulers. I had an inkling, first from its title and then the Google Preview, that Rory Naismith’s Money and Power in Anglo-Saxon England: The Southern English Kingdoms, 757-865 would shed some light on the matter and, boy, did it exceed all of my expectations. Even it’s dust jacket design is a classier affair than most of its ilk (and you should know I’m a stickler for these things);

Now I will admit to waxing lyrical about many books on Surrey Medieval but that’s because I get excited about the many praiseworthy books I buy. Having devoured Naismith’s on the five-hour journeys to and from Cornwall and in various hospital wards and waiting areas, I can report that it is a cut above, the most intellectually ambitious and stimulating monograph I have come across since Alexandra Walsham’s The Reformation of the Landscape, another break from my norm that blew my socks off when I read it (well, most of it) while travelling back in 2011. What I love about both books (but particularly Naismith’s, because it doesn’t replicate the over-repetitive nature of some sections in Walsham’s tome) is their extraordinary breadth and commensurate depth, with footnote after glorious footnote citing works I have never heard of on an array of topics that I feel compelled to seek out. All in all, scholarship of the highest order yet eminently readable. It almost goes without saying that I recommend you seek them out – if you haven’t done so already…

Down to brass tacks silver coins

Enough with the endorsements (entirely voluntary, honest) – what does Naismith actually have to say that is of relevance to Surrey? I’d been particularly keen to acquire a full copy of Money and Power… for the insights I hoped it would provide into the political and economic policies exercised by the kings of Mercia and Wessex in the century-and-a-bit defined as his period of study, primarily because of the signs of a reorganisation of Surrey’s “productive places” in the latter half of the eighth century. As a gambit, here’s an encapsulation of the approach Naismith takes to answering the questions we are interested in here (Naismith 2012, 229 – I’ve truncated the sentence to make it applicable to all coins of relevance, not just the broad pennies of the later eighth century onwards);

“The leap from where coins have been found and in what numbers to identifying the forces responsible for their movement is not a straightforward one, and there were surely many different answers that applied to different people, times and places…”

Before I launch into the meat of this analysis (sorry, no vegetarian option available) and unpick the implications of the above quote, I want to highlight an instructive little lesson I learned in how coin-finds should be conceptualised. Perhaps a little naively, in my original analysis I’d assumed the validity of a simple coins = trade binary, which fails to take account of other possible functions of the coins at the time they were minted and used and thence reasons why they should have been accidentally or purposely deposited at the places where they have since been found. These reasons were explored by Philip Grierson as long ago as 1959 (Naismith 2012, 253-56) but, in my defence, his arguments are perhaps more applicable to early gold issues than the majority of silver proto-penny and penny finds; the three proto-pennies found together at Effingham look to comprise a notable Surrey exception. Likewise, some of the additional functions Naismith ascribes to coinage (e.g. alms) seem to be capable of ascription to the minority of coin finds, not the majority.

Like many before him, Naismith notes how the numismatic landscape of the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries has been transformed by the sheer volume of coins available for study thanks to reporting of metal-detected finds, a phenomenon that has run concurrent with (and to no little extent inspired) the fundamental shift-changes in the understanding of proto-urban trading settlements on the one hand and the agrarian productiveness of rural settlements on the other. Archbishop Wulfred of Canterbury (805-32) is cited as an example of the leading ecclesiastics – and by extension ecclesiastical institutions – who “consolidated their landholdings” and developed new, large estate centres in the decades either side of the year 800 (Naismith 2012, 258).

If Wulfred was a consolidator then Earconwald, in his capacity as abbot-cum-champion of Chertsey, was a pioneer, obtaining estates across “Surrey” (though because we cannot be sure of its full extent at the time there is no way of saying whether all were considered to lie within its area) to create a territorial portfolio on which the wealth – and for that matter the very survival – of the monastery was founded. (Compare with Farnham, an independent monasterium founded in the 680s with a landed endowment of 60 hides which had come into the possession of the Bishopric of Winchester by the start of the ninth century; see S 235 and S 1263.) As with my previous two contributions on this subject, the spatial aspect of coin-finds is of great importance and shall underpin the foregoing.

In offering possibilities for why (most) coins were lost/deposited where they were, Naismith (2012, 278) makes the striking but well-reasoned statement that the payment of rents “probably accounted for a significant proportion of rural coin circulation”, but goes on to explain that this could only have happened once a “network of markets at which agricultural surpluses and secondary products of peasant labour could be sold in return for cash” had developed or was in a fairly advanced stage of development. In other words, mercantile activity was the most likely channel by which coins entered circulation, after which they could be reused for a plethora of purposes. This is the crux of the matter in hand.

After outlining a definition of markets in relation to the above that accommodates their inevitable heterogeneity – it is worth adding that the idea of a network should not be taken to imply they were created contemporaneously and as equal – Naismith moves on to discussing “productive sites”. His analysis benefits from coming at the subject from a numismatic rather than an archaeological angle, notably in its recommendation that “a flexible interpretation of varied statuses and functions encompassing some degree of exchange is probably preferable” (2012, 280). At one stage my line of thinking was that the second-phase “productive sites” were not mercantile in function but places where fines, taxes and tolls were collected by (or on behalf of) Mercian or West Saxon overlords – Hutcheson’s neat turn of phrase that such levies represent “a command rather than a demand economy” (2006, 80) may account for this. On reflection, the notion is nonsensical for, as Naismith (2012, 292) concludes;

“the balance of the surviving written and material evidence suggests that the association of coins with markets and commercial use … [they] could have played an important integrative role in exchanges and society as a whole.”

If it is hard to find fault with Naismith’s considered interpretation of the function(s) of coin-rich “productive sites”, then it must be conceded that he does not provide an equivalent degree of insight when it comes to their topography, especially in regards to the contemporary ownership of the land units in which they were situated. My original post sets out the various reasons for believing Lambeth, Clandon and maybe even Effingham owe their “productive” character to erstwhile tenure by Chertsey. We know that from the middle decades of the eighth century the volume of foreign coinage found in eastern England declined sharply (and presumably the same applied to the numbers of merchants who carried them).

One possible explanation arising is that dwindling volumes of trade at its maritime and inland trading-sites (and it should be remembered that it must have been something of a hard sell to persuade merchants of the necessity to travel inland – presuming at least some of the foreign-minted coins attest to their presence rather than the redistribution of coins exchanged at Lundenwic or another emporium) spurred Chertsey into concentrating such activity in a smaller number of places. A central mart at or close to the monastery would be one option (might a review of finds from the Chertsey area reveal any trace of this?) but the quantity of material from the East Ewell-Howell Hill area post-dating the solitary “proto-penny” recorded from hereabouts may connote the continued existence of another mercantile site associated with the monastery on the dip-slope – see endnote for a list of artefacts.

Alternatively, Chertsey may not have been the master of its own economic destiny, insomuch as later eighth-century abbots, such as Ceolnoth mentioned in S 127, were unable to match the ambition and connections of Earconwald (and maybe Frithuwald if he became abbot prior to his death and apparent burial at Chertsey). Without having the same degree of influence over successive kings, the monastery may have been unable to sustain or moderate challenges to their extensive network of trading sites. Hypothesising abbatial weakness may also explain why Chertsey lost so many of its early estates and had to confect new muniments to reassert their claim over them.

Minster annexation in Sussex and Surrey

The challenge now is to contextualise those places – Guildford/Shalford, Dorking, Leatherhead – which first exhibit the “productive” trait in the later eighth and early ninth century in an equivalent way to their Chertsey-linked precursors, and thereafter to assess whether the decline of the former was a direct consequence of the emergence of the latter. The first thing to note is that none of the later “productive places” possesses so much as a spurious documentary association with Chertsey – or any other monastic house for that matter.

One possibility is that they represent the sites or properties of independent minor minsters (perhaps of secular clerical rather than monastic constitution) founded in the mid- to late-eighth centuries, for which no charters or other written records survive. There are several charters of this era from Sussex which record grants of land for the foundation of monasteria confirmed and in one case made by Offa of Mercia (S 46484950108; see also Kelly 1998, lxxx-lxxxi). This rich seam of documentary evidence and the fact each charter pertains to a named or identifiable minster cries out for someone to undertake a comparison with the numismatic datasets. However, my cursory stab at compiling and analysing the relevant EMC and PAS data reveals a disappointing lack of concordance with the subjects the charters.

By way of comparison, we learn from S 1435 of 825 that Offa had removed 25 hides of land at Deantone, probably equivalent to Bishopstone in Sussex, from the possession of a monastery at Beddingham and given them to an abbot of an unnamed monastic house who in turn bestowed them on the episcopal see of Selsey. Another Selsey charter text, S 45, includes a later confirmatory clause of Ceolwulf I of Mercia (821-23) made in uilla que dicitur Deanitone, indirectly confirming royal encroachment and retention of the above estate. Recent archaeological research at Bishopstone has calendared all Anglo-Saxon metal-detector finds from the parish.

Though exact find-spots are not given “to protect the identity of the individual site foci” (might this be read as implying there were distinct clusters of artefacts?), date-wise a remarkable number of strap-ends indicate heightened activity from the eighth and more concretely the ninth century. Of the three early medieval coins known from Bishopstone parish by 2010, one is a late seventh-century “proto-penny” of unspecified series, while the other two date from the second half of the eighth century (an Offan light issue penny and, more interestingly, a Carolingian dernier of 751 x 768). Taken together, these artefacts overwhelmingly point to greater levels of activity, no doubt some of it mercantile, from around the date of Offa’s interference onwards (Thomas 2010, 243).

Returning to Surrey, John Blair identifies Leatherhead as a minster and, arguably a little over-cautiously, Dorking and Shalford as “sub-minsters” (Blair 1991, 113). He took a very dim view of Guildford’s early ecclesiastical credentials but I have argued for it to stand a good chance of having been a minor minster (Briggs 2009, 10). Using the aforementioned Sussex charters as a starting point, Susan Kelly provides a useful discussion of relationships between bishops on the one hand and monasteries/minsters on the other hand in the middle Anglo-Saxon period with specific reference to the bishopric of Selsey. She perceives the charter evidence points to the South Saxon bishops having not shied away from acquiring “local” minsters to extend their lordship within its diocesan sphere of influence (Kelly 1998, lxvi-lxvii). No Surrey estate appears in any pre-Conquest text in the Selsey archive, which is not in the slightest bit surprising given the Sussex-centric distribution of its known early landholdings.

The lack of an equivalent run of eighth-century muniments pertaining to (archi)episcopal annexation of minsters in Surrey as is to be found in the Selsey and (ex situ?) Christ Church, Canterbury archives requires a touch more explanation. The latter archive does preserve one charter that indicates at some point prior to the 889 the archbishopric had been successful in obtaining competence over an estate at Croydon; an earlier charter from the same archive was promulgated “iuxta monasterium quod dicitur Crogedena” (S 1202 of 871 x 889 and S 164 of 809 respectively). To this can be added the case of the Winchester takeover of Farnham mentioned above. The muniments of London and Rochester, meanwhile, do not contain any testament to the acquisition of lands and influence in Surrey in the pre-Viking era. What can we make of this dearth of evidence? Did Surrey boast very few minsters at this time? The idea seems unlikely, however limited the corpus of combined evidence. So did they remain independent, or did they come under the control of some other power?

It can be no coincidence that both Christ Church, Canterbury and Winchester acquired the Surrey monastic foundation most proximate to them. That they did not obtain more must stem from Surrey’s geographically remoteness from the respective centres of ecclesiastical power. Arguably, the fate of the minsters in the middle is revealed by the case of Woking, subject of an endowment by Offa of twenty hides of land “where the minster is sited” (S 144). This proves it was in rude health at the time, but not wholly independent. Woking was one of a number of monastic houses dedicated to St Peter which had been acquired or founded by the Mercian king and were the subject of a papal privilege, one obtained as much for the long-term benefit of his family as for the ecclesiastical foundations it pertained to. Levison (1946, 30-32) provided an influential but by no means comprehensive contextual discussion, which has been chronologically extended and thematically deepened by Blair (2005, 122-24, 284). However, it is Kelly (1998, lxvii) who cuts to the heart of the matter and best sums up the situation when she writes;

“the dominant Mercian rulers [of the eighth and ninth centuries]…may have pursued a policy of assuming control over royal and aristocratic minsters in their subordinate kingdoms.”

It is with interest that we note Woking’s reemergence as an estate in royal demesne in 1066, as did its more-obscure sister house of Bermondsey. Leatherhead and Guildford first appear in the will of King Alfred (S 1507) and this may be explicable as a consequence of their annexation by the Mercian or West Saxon crown at some point in the late eighth or ninth century (I’m tempted to extend this to include Godalming as well on the strength its use as an example of a royal-owned minster site by Blair on page 325 of The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society and it being the provenance of a single early ninth-century penny, though the vagueness of the latter record and the absence of any other known contemporary material forces me to take this point no further – for now).

The story of the political control of Surrey as an eighth-century territorial entity is unclear and has not received adequate discussion. It is clear that in the early 700s Surrey was under the dominion of Ine of Wessex, whereas by the final decades of the century it was in Mercian control. When this switch occurred (and whether the story was more complicated than that, with more oscillations between the two) is not certain. The suggestion is made every now and again that the royal centre named Merantune at which the regicide of Cynewulf of Wessex took place in 786 was equivalent to Merton in Surrey, which would imply Offa did not reestablish Mercian supremacy in the territory until very late. However, given his well-documented involvement in affairs in both Kent and Sussex from early in his reign (albeit with the complications of periodic rebellions), this seems improbable. Instead, we might infer from Bede’s list of Southumbrian territories over which Æthelbald of Mercia (716-57) exercised supremacy circa 730 that Wessex had ceded control of Surrey several decades before. This might help explain the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle annal for 722 noting the flight of the West Saxon exile Ealdberht “into Surrey and the South Saxons” – by implication neither was controlled by Wessex at the time. On balance, a date in the first half of the eighth century for the Mercian retaking of Surrey, which S 144 reveals encompassed both Woking and the lost Freoricburna in the reign of Offa, seems the more likely.

We can conceive that minsters which did not succumb to Mercian takeover may have fallen into the hands of West Saxon royalty in the wake of the submission of the men of Surrey to Ecgberht in 825 and more specifically the council at Kingston in 838, at which control of “free minsters” was ceded by the Archbishop of Canterbury (see S 1438; Blair 2005, 124). Nevertheless, I would contend that the four preceding paragraphs go a long way towards couching the suggested reordering of the Surrey “productive place” network in the period circa 750-825 in terms of the political control exercised by the Mercian crown. What is more, there are hints that there is justification in correlating the provenances of multiple contemporary coin finds with minor minsters, perhaps belonging to a “second wave” of foundations post-dating the likes of Chertsey, Farnham and Woking, some of which may have remained independent while others were annexed to the royal demesne (though to be truthful the last point is largely immaterial to this discussion). But were these postulated markets and minsters coeval, or is their relative proximity to one another nothing more than coincidence?

Productive places as personal power-bases

If we look at the example of Godstone, an association between a “productive site” and a minster site could be proposed, only the former has Romano-British roots and the latter only appears fleetingly on record in the late-tenth century, possibly a sign of a short-lived late Anglo-Saxon foundation. Therefore, things may not be as simple as they seem. Godstone (in its earlier incarnation as Stratton/Walkingstead) lacks any evidence for royal ownership in the Anglo-Saxon period, whereas Guildford and Leatherhead reprise their appearance in royal ownership at the end of the ninth century in Domesday Book, where they are joined by Dorking as a royal property.

Only Shalford does not fit the pattern, the vill being split into a small (if populous) thegnly estate and a portion centred on a church that was the mother church of the great comital estate of Bramley. The gap of three centuries or more between the numismatics and Domesday is ample time for particular estates to have exited royal ownership; that more of the above had not (or at least, in the case of Leatherhead, had not done so altogether) suggests they retained some form of strategic importance to the crown throughout. For this reason, the idea of a correspondence between the numismatics and contemporary royal ownership/oversight of their provenances is something that I wish to pursue in greater detail.

Naismith makes some very useful observations on the Mercian overlordship of Kent, which are applicable to Surrey not only for the reasons touched upon a couple of paragraphs above but also because he treats the area of the historic county as part of his Kentish monetary region (depicted in Naismith 2012, 203 Map 8.1). I attach particular weight to his contention that “Kent seems to have functioned as a distinct regional unit in the greater Mercian kingdom” circa 765-825, with the “nexus” between the two taking the form of “a few members of the local aristocracy and clergy” (Naismith 2012, 19). This is posited to be applicable to other southern and eastern territories including Surrey – noteworthy for being the only one without certain precedent as a once-independent kingdom – and can be broadened out to account for the market-based trade (alongside any tax, toll and fine levying/rendering) under discussion here. Next to nothing is known about the leading secular and religious figures of Surrey in this period so, beyond accepting that the situation cannot have been all that dissimilar to those found in Kent and Sussex, next to nothing of real specificity can be ventured as to how and where they were involved in coin-based trading activity.

Naismith proceeds to draw something of a contrast with the heartlands of the Mercian kingdom, where he perceives a more settled political environment (at least in terms of the dynamic between the crown and its royal power-bases and the formerly independent kingdoms in what we now understand as the Midlands: Naismith 2012, 20). The idea of the Mercian kings being able to exercise a greater degree of authority in this region than in the ones to the south and east has echoes of a much earlier paper by Jeremy Haslam, although it is advisable that it be read in conjunction with Richard Hodges’ synopsis of it on page 143 of his 1989 book The Anglo-Saxon Achievement.

The key idea to take from Haslam’s study is the proposition of a sub-emporia second tier of settlements with “incipient regional market functions” (1987, 89). The settlements in question became major towns (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Northampton) and – Guildford aside – the “productive places” of the late eighth and early ninth centuries in Surrey did not emulate this level of development. Guildford is most likely a mid-tenth century burghal town; Dorking and Leatherhead did not emerge as towns until the thirteenth century (see Blair 1991, 56-58). Shalford, meanwhile, was the site of a market by 1224 (English & Turner 2004, 116) but never became urbanised, though we should not lose sight of the uncertainty surrounding the true provenance of the early pennies ascribed to Guildford in the EMC database. While the distinctions may not be as clear-cut as admitted by Haslam’s model, what is required is for his market-related conclusions to be applied to a a third tier of market or market-like sites, one which encompasses a majority of rural “productive places” (this includes late-developing urban settlements), including the aformentioned Surrey coin provenances.

To recapitulate, there does appear to be some hints of a connection between “productive places” and minsters in Surrey. However, the matter is not nearly so straightforward as might be thought if one was to import the conclusions drawn by the likes of Ulmschneider in respect of the equivalent evidence from Hampshire or the Isle of Wight. The ecclesiastical foundations in question are all obscure, with no material or written evidence for their existence in the period circa 750-850; they are putative, not proven. By contrast, though none of their sites have been pinpointed by archaeology, purely by the place-names it can be seen that very few mid-Anglo-Saxon coins or other artefacts suggestive of mercantile activity have been found in the approximate locations of the documentarily-attested monasteries at Woking, Farnham, Croydon and even Chertsey. Thus the idea that the markets or fairs which most credibly account for the clusters of coins that inspired this analysis were controlled by the monastery/church at or close to which they took place does not bear up well under scrutiny.

If the coin clusters are not the material trace of ecclesiastical markets or fairs, we might conceive instead of such activity being within the purview of local secular elites, operating in localities where they or their ancestors had founded modest minsters. That said, the distribution of the “productive places” at either end of the Mole and Wey Gaps does have an air of a planned (and imposed?) system; so too the proximity of Leatherhead to Effingham and Guildford/Shalford to Clandon. These may be red herrings stemming from the limited evidence of course. All the same, it suggests that even if Chertsey made the decision to abandon the conduct of trade and exchange at its network of dispersed “local” market sites in favour of one or a small handful of “central” sites, there were other actors who were capable of making innovations that saw new “productive places” established (albeit sometimes at locations which had served the same or a similar purpose long before). Perhaps Kelly, following the suggestion of Catherine Cubitt, is correct to posit that the takeover of such minor (?aristocratic) minsters may have been “in order to establish personal power-bases” in annexed kingdoms and territories outside of Mercia (Kelly 1998, lxvii footnote 38).

And what of Lambeth?

Those familiar with the contents of my first study of the Surrey coin data may have noticed Lambeth, the county’s foremost “productive place”, barely gets a mention in the above. This is not simply because its profundity of “proto-pennies” stands in sharp contrast to the absence of pre-820s broad penny-type issues known from there. It is also a consequence of there being no obvious candidate for a successor “productive place” on the Surrey bank of the Thames or inland from it (the single Offan penny and hoard of c873 from Wandsworth are interesting but ultimately insufficient evidence to this end). However, the explanation may be that there was a hiatus in trading activity (and consequent coin loss) at Lambeth as a result of a combination of Chertsey’s changed mercantile strategy and a revival of Lundenwic under Mercian control in the final decades of the eighth century.

I owe the last point to a four-phase model of the fortunes of the English emporia advanced by Richard Hodges in a short essay printed in a 2008 numismatic collection that has been on my to-read list for the past few weeks. I must confess that I am not as well versed in Hodges’ work as I ought to be, having never read his landmark work Dark Age Economics, though I have started flicking through his now slightly dated The Anglo-Saxon Achievement for the purposes of writing this piece. In his recent essay, Hodges argues for a third phase, in the period circa 780/90-820, during which royal control over the likes of Lundenwic “appears to have been reasserted” (Hodges 2008, 117; for a different interpretation of the evidence which infers a longer period of decline beginning in the late eighth century, see pages 292-93 of Blackmore’s 2002-published overview). This would fit with – and no doubt originally was informed by – the record of Offa’s victory over his West Saxon counterpart Cynewulf at Bensingtun (Benson) in 779.

Lambeth’s survival, let alone its ability to flourish, as an independent trading site would have been precarious throughout this period, both from a political and a practical point of view. The assorted changing circumstances of the middle decades of the eighth century could have been the impetus to curtail mercantile activity at Lambeth in favour of the more obvious outlet across the river at Lundenwic. (Similarly, we do not know for certain that the apparent revival in coin-based transactions in the second quarter of the ninth century was a revival under the auspices of Chertsey; royal or sub-royal elite annexation is just as likely.)

Hodges (2008, 117) qualifies his “third phase” postulation further by noting the school of thought that emphasises the rise of “second-tier centres” on the coast around this time. He then poses the following question;

“Were the indigenous English kings founding innovative indigenous versions of the Frankish portus at the sites of hitherto periodic fairs?”

The portus of Francia were “regional market towns” (Hodges 2008, 116) and the postulation may be connected to Haslam’s aforementioned proposition of a stratum of proto-urban trading centres in the landlocked Mercian heartlands. The essence of his conclusions are capable of explaining the purpose(s) of “productive sites”, especially those which exhibit signs of having commenced or continued functioning in the post-sceatta period. This reinforces the opinion that their controllers were kings, albeit much of the responsibility for their establishment and operation must have been devolved to royal regional agents, variously secular and religious as per Naismith. If the oft-repeated suggestion that Offa strove to emulate Charlemagne and the institutions of the Frankish empire is correct, then the equation of the “productive places” of the later eighth-century with sites of primary mercantile function seems even more credible.


When I began to write these paragraphs, my intention was to explain what I saw as a causal link between the cessation of coin losses at the “productive places” which can be connected with the major monastery at Chertsey and those which, so far as is known, are the provenances of non-sceatta issues and have a corresponding dearth of testimony for any direct connection with it. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that reading around the subject has caused me to view the matter in more nuanced and sophisticated terms.

The “productive places” within the postulated Chertsey network fell out of use (or at least suffered a severe diminution in their importance) because, proactively or otherwise, the monastery responded to the changed circumstances of the decline in international trade, not because they were succumbed to the competition from markets associated with smaller local minsters or were suppressed by those who exercised political control. Whatever the limitations of the extant text, S 127 (which, as Susan Kelly has proposed, can be taken to be a further piece of evidence for Offa’s Petrine fixation) demonstrates the Mercian king was looking to bolster the monastery and its interests, not undermine them.

The other side of the coin, so to speak, are the stimuli for the establishment of the new class of “productive places”. On the basis of current evidence, these numbered Dorking, Leatherhead and Shalford and/or Guildford, and are characterised by finds of silver pennies made in “English” mints (I appreciate it is too early to be describing them in such terms, hence the inverted commas). (I’m going to hold off commenting on the significance of the coin(s) of the ninth-century Aquitanian king Pippin I or II found in the Dorking hoard, the only broad penny-era continental issue(s) known from Surrey, because of the nature of the provenance.)

Rather than being a concerted royal intrusion intended to penalise Chertsey or an opportunistic attempt to funnel trade away from its outlying trading sites, the emergence of this second phase of sites was the result of different motives. This can be perceived through certain characteristics common to all or at least the majority. The places in question are naturally nodal, some in vicinities where markets or fairs may have been held previously but which did not host coin-based transactional activity during the period of the incredible spike in internationally-linked trade represented by the minting, exchange and accidentally or deliberately deposition of “proto-pennies”. They are all capable of correlation with large estates (Shalford with Bramley, Guildford with Stoke), which more often than not first appear in royal ownership in the late Anglo-Saxon period. Critically, each was the site of an important church, typical of undocumented “crypto-minsters” to borrow a term I recall John Blair using in one of his many minster-related articles.

When the various facets are combined, it recommends the interpretation that the named places became “productive” after the royal acquisition of briefly-independent minor minsters. This practice began in the latter half of the eighth century and continued for a large chunk of the ninth but, in view of the recovery of pre-800 pennies from each location, it can be inferred that the takeovers pre-dated the ninth century as well (of potential relevance here is Naismith’s comment regarding the emergence of Kent as a Mercian economic zone circa 765). If there are good grounds for suggesting a link between the assumption of Mercian royal control over certain minor minsters and the first signs of market and associated royal fiscal activities in the hinterlands of these ecclesiastical sites, did the earliest phases of this process go hand-in-hand, i.e. was the latter contemporary with the former? For all that has been advocated here on the strength of limited but nonetheless suggestive evidence, it must be conceded that this is a question too fine-grained for an answer to be given.


SUR-F612F2 – Pin head of globular form, 700×899.

SUR-766CB2 – Cuboid head of a copper alloy pin, 700×900.

SUR-F5E3B3 – Ansate brooch, 700×1000.

SUR-CFFF52 – Strap end, 800×900.

SUR-CFA320 – Strap end, 800×900.

SUR-CFE277  – Strap end, 800×950.



Blackmore, Lyn, ‘The Origins and Growth of Lundenwic, a Mart of many Nations’ in Central Places in the Migration and the Merovingian Periods, ed. by Birgitta Hårdh and Lars Larsson ([?] Stockholm: Almquiest & Wiksell International, 2002), 273-301

Blair, John, Early Medieval Surrey: Landholding, Church and Settlement before 1300 (Stroud and Guildford: Alan Sutton and SyAS, 1991)

Blair, John, The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

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