Shropshire History

Shropshire

Silver

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Silver has been used for many years for coinage, jewellery and other valuable items.  It is not found in Shropshire as native silver but does occur in small amounts in galena (lead ore).  Not all galena contains silver and those mines that did have it were obviously more profitable. Small amounts are found in the lead mines around Shelve but the greatest amount is from the lead mines on Llanymynech Hill.  It led to a royal mint being set up in Shrewsbury to produce silver pennies and other coins.

 

 

Carregwfa Mine

 

 

The old Carregwfa Mine lies on the border with Wales at Llanymynech Hill.  The neighbouring Llanymynech Ogof was mined for copper in the Bronze Age but this mine probably dates from the Roman times.

 

The ore is galena so it predominantly produced lead but the galena also contains about 2% silver. When the galena is smelted, the metallic lead it is collected in ingots called pigs.  To remove the silver from this, the pigs are then placed in a cupellation furnace at a temperature of 950o Centigrade.  The metal is held in a shallow open basin until it becomes molten.  A strong blast of air is then blown across the surface and the lead oxidises to form lead oxide, whereas the silver remains as molten metal. The lead oxide is skimmed off the surface and this leaves the molten silver that is then cooled and solidified into blocks. The lead was recovered by heating the oxide in another furnace to 250o Centigrade and blowing air through it. The lead melts and is run off to form ingots again.

 

By 1146, the mine was disused but there was a national shortage of silver so many of the old mines were prospected to see if they could be reworked.  Carregwfa was one of these and began to produce lead and silver again. By 1163, high volumes of silver from the mines of Northumberland and Durham had reduced the price of silver and meant that the mine could not be worked profitably.  In that year also, the Welsh rebel Owain Cyfeiliog captured the adjacent Carreghofa Castle and the area of the mine.  The mine ceased working and the land was not taken back from the Welsh until 1187. 

 

In 1192, King Richard I was captured on his way back from the Crusades and ransomed for 150,000 Marks (65,000 pounds of silver).  The Bishop of Salisbury, Hubert Walter, was given the job of raising the money and he decided that the mine should be reopened to provide silver towards the ransom.  In 1194, Carregwfa Castle was garrisoned with soldiers to protect the mine from the Welsh and to guard shipments of the silver to Shrewsbury Mint.  Records of money spent on the castle show that it cost over £28 in wages for the knights and armed men. 

 

The Sheriff of Shropshire (based in Shrewsbury) was ordered to undertake preparatory work at the mine and 20 mattocks were sent to the castle to be issued to the miners.  The miner in charge was Godfrey Rufus and there were two other miners called Roger and William.  They started work in July 1194 and surface operations were managed by the Archbishop’s clerk Joseph Aaron. To enable him to make a start, he was given £20 as working capital from the Sheriff. A breakdown of the mine’s finances is as follows :-

 

Thus in the period from June 1194 to August 1195 the total amount of silver produced only came to the value of £20 7s 8d. It was quickly realised that the old miners had left very little ore in the mine and it closed soon after.  More money was spent on the project than went into the coffers of the commissioners.


The mine was located just north of the present day quarry, which has removed part of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shrewsbury Mint

 

 

There was a mint in Shrewsbury during the 10th Century producing coins for the Saxon kings but this had closed by the time of the Norman invasion.  During the reign of Henry I, there were several mints throughout Britain but the quality of the coins produced began to deteriorate as the silver content was reduced.  At the Assize of Winchester on Christmas Day 1124, all the mint masters were punished by having their right hands cut off. Not surprisingly, this produces a temporary improvement in the quality of the coinage.

 

By 1158, Henry II was concerned that English coinage was not only poor in quality but there were many variants. Nobles had produced their own coins during the civil war of Stephen’s reign and these were still in circulation. He thus declared that coinage was a royal monopoly and introduced the distinctive “long cross” coinage. Following on from this, he changed the administrative structure of the English mints and in 1180 introduced the “short cross” coinage.

http://www.ukdfd.co.uk/pages/Long-Cross-Pennies/imagefolder/Henry%20III%20LC%205a3%20Penny%20London.jpg    

Long Cross Penny

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Short Cross Penny

 

Shrewsbury mint had reopened in 1158 due to Henry II’s monetary reform but closed again in 1162 after minting only the first issues of the long cross coins. In 1194, as Archbishop Hubert Walter was arranging to open the Carregwfa Mine, he also reopened the mint in Shrewsbury. This minted silver pennies and was run by the “moneyer” William. Joseph Aaron, as well as overseeing the mine, also had the job of overseeing operations at the Shrewsbury mint and had a similar working capital of £20 from the Sheriff to get things going. The output between 1194-99 was recorded as follows :-

 

1194  £83 3s 0d

1195  £83 3s 0d

1197  £83 3s 0d

1198  £83 3s 0d

 

This indicates that they only produced a set number of coins each year to the value of £83 3s 0d. Probably each mint in Britain was given a specific quota. Note that there is no output for 1196. It is recorded that the mint made a profit of 40s 2d in 1895. The mint continued working until the end of the century and produced over 500 Marks worth of pennies. When silver from the Carregwfa Mine dried up, the mint used silver bought from mines in Wales.