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Underneath and atop Oxford Castle, and a query about Dover

Last year after Leeds I embarked on a short tour of the country with two visiting academics, which netted me a number of medieval tourism photos. I’ve been meaning to stick some of these on the blog since then, alas, but now I have a question around which to hang the first one, so it finally emerges. Any journey must have a beginning, you see, and to that end we started by examining the most obvious medieval thing in Oxford I’d never looked at, the castle.

St George's Tower, Oxford Castle

St George’s Tower, Oxford Castle, not my photo but a better one from Wikimedia Commons

Now, this time last year I was not as well informed about the castle as I subsequently became, even after the tour of it. It transpires that you can only go round Oxford Castle as part of a guided tour, guided by someone in period costume. Oxford Castle became a prison in its later life, was condemned as unfit for human incarceration in the 1970s, if I remember rightly, and was finally actually closed in the 1990s, so there’s a fair amount of period to choose from and no problem finding people who remember being in it, indeed, sharing a cell smaller than most houses’s bathrooms for most of the day. Even in the medieval parts of the building, by no means all of it, the penal motif is a big part of the display, which can lead to embarrassment for many…

The author of this post arraigned in the stocks for a photo opportunity

I don’t know what this long-haired rascal was accused of but you can tell he was up to no good. Photo by the Naked Philologist

But what I didn’t then know and shortly after found out was that St George’s Tower at Oxford Castle is now thought to be one of a very small number of buildings, the others including also the rough-cut-but-lovely “Saxon Tower” of St Michael at the Northgate, on Oxford’s Cornmarket of which, sadly, I have no photos, which qualify as pre-Conquest Romanesque. In scholarship old enough, you see, Romanesque architecture is one of those things that the Normans brought with them at the Conquest, but since another of those things was supposed to have been stone castles, Oxford Castle kind of scores double. This is an art-historical judgement, I should say, not an archæological one, based on the style of the arches in the current ground floor of the tower (of which, vexingly, I took no pictures), but if it’s right, then this here crypt, which is after all underneath those arches, in the locution if not the manner of Flanagan and Allen, is yer actual Anglo-Saxon building, although the capitals seem to have been moved in from demolished Norman work in an eighteenth-century rebuild.1

Vaulting in the crypt chapel underneath St George's Tower, Oxford Castle

Vaulting in the crypt chapel underneath St George’s Tower

Norman capitals in the vaulting of the crypt chapel underneath St George's Tower, Oxford Castle

Norman capitals in the crypt vaulting

Now, I can more or less cope with the idea that there was some pre-Conquest building of stone castles, myself, but even if this should cause you to bristle it needn’t cause you to bristle much. Firstly, the idea of pre-Conquest Romanesque has been more or less set ever since enough work was done on Edward the Confessor’s Westminster Abbey to make it clear it was built in that style.2 Secondly, Oxford Castle is still very late, probably the 1050s, so again Edward the Confessor’s reign, and of course we know that Edward was raised in Normandy and installed a number of Normans at court, so if it’s important to you to believe that ideas can’t cross running water except in the heads of foreigners and you must have all these things designed or built by Normans, that could certainly still be true. It’s still a sort of æsthetic Norman Conquest. However, it does raise a question or two about Oxford Castle. Once, you see, it was assumed that the stone tower was later than the castle mound, which is believed once to have worn a sixty-foot wooden tower. The sensible sequence was first a motte with wooden tower, then an upgrade to the castle necessitates a stone tower on a bigger footing so down on the ground it must go, and the motte remains in service only as watch-post if at all. After all, with a perfectly serviceable tower there with what would have been a good view of the locality before someone put in all these darn spires, why would you build a motte? But that now seems to be what happened.

The Norman motte of Oxford Castle, seen from the top of St George's Tower

The Norman motte, now bashful beneath its tree cover, seen from the top of St George’s Tower

The city of Oxford seen from St George's Tower, Oxford Castle

View of Oxford from the tower

I don’t have an answer to that, but I do have another question. Years ago, when they were refurbishing Dover Castle prior to doing it up all Henry II, not long after I’d discovered the world of blogs, I’m sure that I read some stories, probably on News for Medievalists, about an exploratory dig there that located a stone precursor to the Norman castle, which at the time was considered to be an even earlier Norman one on the grounds that everyone knew that the Anglo-Saxons didn’t have stone castles etc. Now, in this story I sort of remember, someone was saying that probably it had been a Saxon castle after all, and I thought, ‘Yes, that would explain why one of the things William of Poitiers says that Harold, the later king, had to swear to Duke William when in Norman captivity was to surrender Dover Castle on demand; maybe it wasn’t just its location that made it special.’ (Certainly, from Normandy that location seems like less of an advantage). I’d told a few students this argument for there being a Saxon castle at Dover before I thought to try put a citation to it and I came up with nothing, hardly any sign that there’s been a dig there, let alone one that located an earlier building. And of course News for Medievalists retires its posts after a couple of years so I couldn’t recover the original spur to thought.

Dover Castle as it now appears, from Wikimedia Commons

Dover Castle as it now appears, from Wikimedia Commons

Local enquiry has at least revealed to me that I may not have been imagining the whole thing, as there was apparently a sectional trench dug between the castle and the church of St Mary in Castro, which was even then believed to have been within an older Anglo-Saxon fortified precinct, in 1962 to 1963. This dig, led by the revered Professor Martin Biddle, has never been published, but his generosity with personal comments to those trying to write about it has leaked information out into the grey literature somewhat.3 Nonetheless, I can’t immediately find any signs of a stone building located; the closest I can get is a ditch that might have fronted such a Saxon fortification on the site of the Norman motte (which is in turn not quite the site of the Plantagenet castle). Did I make this up or dream it?4 Does anyone else remember reading or hearing such a detail and if so, where they did? Or should I abandon it, until such time as I may possibly run into Professor Biddle again? All thoughts and information welcome… Anyway, this isn’t the point, the point is, Oxford Castle’s really interesting, it’s probably even worth the contact embarrassment of the tour to see it. But if someone felt able to answer the other question that would be grand too!5

St Mary in Castro, Dover

St Mary in Castro on its suspiciously-fortification-like mound, sporting a reused Roman lighthouse as its smaller tower (true fact). Photo from Wikimedia Commons


1. I haven’t found actual publication of this new judgement, but it occurs widely on websites like that of the Ashmolean Museum that one would hope are well informed. I also find it in a consultation published by the Heritage and Specialist Services Team of Oxford City Council, “Historic Urban Character Area 12:
castle and periphery – Oxford Castle”, part of the Oxford Historic Urban Character Assessment, all of whose reports are online here. I take that to be some kind of official statement, at least!

2. Here I’m guided by Eric Fernie, The Architecture of the Anglo-Saxons (London 1983), especially fig. 91.

3. There is an extremely summary report in David M. Wilson and D. Gillian Hurst, “Medieval Britain in 1962 and 1963″ in Medieval Archaeology Vol. 8 (London 1964), pp. 231-299 at pp. 254-255, which in fact discusses the apparent motte under St Mary in Castro and says, “There is now no question of these earthworks having formed the motte or defensive core of a castle erected by Harold in 1064-66, though the area may have been included within defences of this date….” (p. 254), so I obviously got this idea wrong somewhere; the piece goes on to suggest that what we’re looking at here was the Saxon burh, though if so, it must have been one of those so small that the line between burh and fortress would be very hard to place. Consultation with Professor Biddle is however extremely apparent in Alice Thorne, “An Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment, Walkover Survey and Watching Brief of land at Dover Castle New Admissions Building, Dover, Kent”, Archaeology South East Project no. 3127 Report 2007251, online here, which includes not just details from Professor Biddle’s personal commentary but also some sketches provided by him of the site phasing, all of which may constitute as much publication as there is of the site for now, and this is where I get the suggestion of a ditch outside a Saxon rampart (pp. 14-16).

4. I’m very conscious of the possibility that I may have transported an interpretation from my reading and work on Sant Andreu de Tona, one of my favourite Catalan example sites, where a stone precursor to the Romanesque church was discovered in a 1940s dig, which has been assumed must also have been Romanesque because we ‘know’ that pre-Romanesque rural churches here were built in wood. The same possibility of outliers arises here; see Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London: Queen Mary University of London 2010), pp. 97-127 at pp. 104-108 and references there.

5. I also have to thank Professor John Blair for a number of conversations that have provided information used here or search terms with which I’ve found such information.

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22 responses to “Underneath and atop Oxford Castle, and a query about Dover

  1. I went to a seminar at the Institute of Archaeology at UCL back in May at which Michael Shapland gave a talk entitled ‘Anglo-Saxon towers of lordship and the origins of the English castle’ which covered this subject and included a number of thought-provoking suggestions about the and dating and functions of such structures. I’m not sure if his dissertation is going to be published (hopefully it will be) but he may be worth getting in contact with to substantiate any dimly-remembered references about Dover, Oxford and Anglo-Saxon castles in general.

  2. David Hillman

    Were all Anglo-Saxon burhs fortified? I had been pondering the early history of Launceston Castle in Cornwall. The dominating hill of Dunheved is a place you could not imagine anyone of local importance not building a fortification.
    Anglo-Saxon aristocrats held land in North Cornwall from Alfred’s time and Launceston was an Anglo-Saxon mint and centre of law enforcement. (Later, after Robert of Mortain moved the market from Llanstefan (original Launceston) to his castle at Dunheved a walled town developed, and both the town, and the priory at St Stephens had burgal status).
    Much of the actual organising of the building of Launceston Castle was done by the visionary Ailsige of Trlamar and his brother Beorhtric Wallensis, son of Theodulf. Ailsige’s son Jordan was said to be related to Reginald de Dunstanville, brother of Robert the patron of Geoffrey de Monmouth. and Jordan’s son Peter, prior of Holy Trinity, wrote much about the building activities of his family in his visionary writings.
    Geoffry de Monmouth, though he took care to have a foot in every camp, was likely to be aquainted with the affinity of Reynold. In his irresponsible history, Geoffrey tells of the conception of Arthur, mentioning both Tintagel castle and Castle Terrible (Launceston Castele) and of how Arthur and Merlin disguised themselves as men whose names show them as ersatz figures, and presumed antecessores, of his contemporaries. A castellan Jordan indeed. Geoffrey was right about Tintagel, was he cogniscant of local stories about Launceston too?
    Another little clue: I had been looking at the family tree I got from my great grandmother – her family had lived in Launceston, perched precariously between yeoman and gentry for at least nine hundred years. The earliest form of thir name appears to have been Trefossburh, and since such tre- names appear to come from pre-Norman times, I wondered what Fossburh they might originate from.
    I know that there is no published archaeology on fortifications at Launceston before early Norman times, but it just seems strange if there were none.

    • It is something that I genuinely have had to tell myself when dealing with my Catalan landscapes that not every hill can have had a castle on it, there are just too many for it be economical. Burial grounds, though… Seriously, I know nothing about Launceston, but when you say it was an Anglo-Saxon mint, I have to say back, the Early Medieval Corpus only knows coins thence from William I and onwards, so I wonder. Evidently William the Conqueror saw in it a viable place of command, but are you sure anyone had previously? (Also, in what sense was Geoffrey ‘right’ about Tintagel? In that there was high-status occupation there of the right period?)

  3. David Hillman

    Yes I take your point, but it was a very strategic mound, and Launceston did have a mint (this for example from English Heritage: This area of Launceston is the original Saxon foundation prior to the growth of Mediaeval Launceston. A monastery is first recorded there in 930, and from 976-1130 Launceston had the right to mint coins. ) and I have seen prints of some of the coins. Geoffrey de Monmouth was no historian – there was no (Cornish) king Arthur – and his stories were told to give some glamour to those in Cornwall that were of the affinity of his patrons, but their setting might have been where people knew important men had lived in the past.

    • Well, I agree in as much as there was presumably little point Geoffrey naming a nowhere place. That just makes the period of renown pre-Galfridian though, which, since we’ve seen that there was Anglo-Norman activity there, doesn’t help enough. The coins you mention would seem not to have been published; Wikipedia says there is only one known coin, from the reign of Æthelred II, and that piece seems to be in the Ashmolean Museum, but if so, this is either a reattribution of a London or Lincoln coin or else it’s arrived in the Ashmolean since their Sylloge was published in the 1980s. Since one of Wikipedia’s sources for the mint is a 1925 history of the church of St Stephen’s, thus suggesting the 1980s should be late enough, I’m not sure what we really know about this coin. Do you have any more information about the coins you’ve seen or the grant of minting rights that English Heritage mention (which would be dated to the reign of Edmund the Martyr, I might point out, and thus rather less explicable than this being one of the numerous hillforts Æthelred reactivated during the Viking onslaught)? For a start, could you say where they mention it?

  4. Allan McKinley

    This is rather a southern Anglo-centric post, which I think reflects the underlying debate – last time I looked Jon had spotted there was life beyond the Trent. Across the rest (the civilised bits?) of the British Isles building in stone was quite normal, even if it was often drystone (but I suspect they could use mortar if desired), so stone towers were a possibility there. St Rule’s Tower in St Andrews and the Abernethy Tower for example may be pre-1050 (although this is one of those ongoing arguments I tend to dip into very occasionally).

    I can offer another Anglo-Saxon possibility of a potential stone construction though. Pembridge in Herefordshire has a classical chuch-manor set up, but unusually for a Herefordshire site of some importance (caput of one of the principle local landholders, Alfred (who was apparently a Breton, never mind the name) in 1086 and seemingly Harold Godwinsson’s local principal holding TRE) it has no motte or later castle. I did some work for the village amenities trust, who had lottery funding, and part of this was making a case for getting English Heritage permission to dig the manor site (part of a manor-church complex judging by topographical analysis). We managed this on the grounds that the site was likely to be an Anglo-Saxon fortified site, being important, very close to Wales and having no castle (Alfred was active in England pre-1066 so was perhaps more likely to be happy with non-Norman fortifications, especially as a Breton…). The limited dig allowed found an early Norman level (dated by a coin of Henry I) with an earlier apparently paved level below. The archaeologists assumed that this was an earlier Norman level, as it was obviously stone, and I was roughly OK with this as I was envisioning a Goltha-type wood and packed earth floor building, although I was concerned about the apparent chronological concentration (as to be fair were those doing the work). Health and safety regs meant the trench could not be any deeper so the matter of dating of this layer was dependent on a model of stone building being Norman. A stone building being in Pembridge before 1066 would be a neater explanation, although a tower would be a bit much to hope…

    • Touché with the northern gap, but in my defence I said (a) Anglo-Saxon, (b) Romanesque or (c) stone castles and St Rule’s Tower, lovely and surely a model for Pratchett’s Tower of Art though it be, is none of them three. The Pembridge example is very interesting, though, because although it doesn’t get us out of the Norman-influence period it would rather implicate Harold as a transmission vector for Norman-style fortification, which would of course also work for Dover… Did it ever come to publication, or is the grey literature by chance online? N. B. that on the other hand, the publication of John Blair’s Ford lectures will include a case for the redating of Goltho’s fortifications entirely to the Norman period based on a reinterpretation of the stratification detailed in the site report.

      • Allan McKinley

        I’ve been waiting for anything coming out of the Pembridge project for years – there’s a now outdated paper of mine lost in the ether there… Just checked again, and nothing I can find – either on Pembridge sites or Border Archaeology – about a report. It’s the Court House Farm excavation if anyone else fancies looking.

        Harold as a castle builder would be interesting as an idea. It does fit in with my pet theory (based on marking far too many ‘before and after’ Norman Conquest essays based on older sources) that most of the ‘effects’ of the conquest would have happened anyway as the Anglo-Saxon-Danish-Frankish-Celtic aristocracy of England subsumed into the Frankish/Roman cultural mainstream.

        You’re right on the differing nature of the surviving Scottish stonework, but whether all Scottish (or other northern and western) stonework also failed to meet your criteria is a different question – ecclesiastical stonework tends to survive a lot better than other types. That people were happily building in stone (and clearly competently – St Rules tower has outlasted three cathedrals at St Andrews…) is worth noting, even if outside masons were needed to build contemporary state-of-the-art buildings like Dunfirmaline Abbey: and in that case I would be interested to know which bits have the indications (marks?) of the foreign masons. Point is that not that they did build these things (a conscious choice) but that the capacity to build these things existed. As a glance at Brixworth or Deerhurst (or a ton of crosses around the country) will show, the capacity to use stone was certainly present amongst the prototype soft southerners as well; a tendency to use wood was again a choice, and I can’t see a realistic argument that it was anything else (cost permitting). Your original post nicely highlights the issue – and the fact we may be making assumptions about what was possible as opposed to what was chosen.

        • Another parallel that this post and even our few maybe-positive cases demonstrate with the Catalan pre-Romanesque is that these are sites that almost always get re-used; we probably shouldn’t be surprised precursors are poorly evidenced! Anyway, I agree with you that use of stone or wood is a choice, though I think that the choice of wood (here following John Blair’s Ford lectures very much) involves an expectation that such buildings wouldn’t be needed for very long. Thus with first the Norman motte-and-bailey castles, for which the mid-term intent was obviously replacement with stone, and surely thus with the fortresses used by Edward the Elder in his conquest of the Midlands, only needed for particular campaigns, but a choice to build stone fortresses implies a peace-time role also, and the foreseeable future, and isn’t quite the same decision.

          A poke at the AHDS shows two reports from Pembridge ought to exist in the grey literature, but it seems you’d have to go to Hereford to read them…

          • Allan McKinley

            Should have guessed you’d be able to find things using this modern technology we have nowadays – thanks for the links. I’ve actually seen the building assessment, but not the excavation report. I’ve now set the library at Birmingham the interesting challenge of getting hold of it (much as I like Hereford, and I plan to visit in the summer, I don’t think my beloved is going to want me to take a couple of hours out of our trip to read a report…).
            Although I shall have to wait till it is published to be certain, I am not convinced by wood being short-term. There is (apparently) a standing pre-conquest wooden church in Essex, and several almost contemporary Scandinavian examples (unless the peculiar cult of metal fans have got to them), so the material lasts (and indeed, in the long term is a lot easier to repair than stone – when stones start to crumble, there tends to be problems, whilst you can replace bits of wood). I would see the choice as aesthetic, a statement of identity and, probably most important, dependent on cost and what is to hand. A motte and bailey can be built by a bunch of soldiers and conscripted locals using locally available (unless in Iceland…) trees and earth, whilst a stone castle requires masons, a supply of plentiful stone and some expertise. So if you want a castle, a motte is much easier in most situations. If you want a status symbol, something in stone is possibly better (but remember wood takes paint and carving much better).

            • No problem with the links: actual publication would still be preferable, though, wouldn’t it? As to durability of wood, yes, OK, it can last (and it certainly doesn’t need to be architecturally inferior) but it certainly needs more upkeep than stone, even if as you say that upkeep is easier piece-by-piece. John Blair’s stuff involved some anthropological work on villages that essentially shift because it’s easier to build a new house than to keep fixing the old one, which is therefore left to disintegrate once its occupants have the new one up, and the whole village thus winds up staggering slowly around in a circle. That’s the difference I mean: if you’re actually building for permanence that’s a different set of priorities to consider in your choice of building material than more transient structures where wood is not just a good choice but obviously the sensible one.

  5. David Hillman

    Well Launceston was certainly some kind of burh, though perhaps controlled by the canons of the monastery of St Stephens.
    Cornwall archaeology http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-1062-1/dissemination/pdf/cornwall2-89339_1.pdf states this:
    “The settlement adjacent to St Stephen’s church was a town in pre-Norman times. The
    Domesday Book states that ‘the Count of Mortain took away a market from this manor,
    which lay there before 1066 …’ and a 12th charter repeats the above, and
    states that the Canons retained for themselves and the burgesses of (old) Launceston all
    the liberties of the borough except the market… It has also been
    suggested that the pre-Conquest town had a defensible enclosure. The importance of the
    town is shown by the fact that there was a mint there as early as AD 976, which issued
    coins until c. 1160 (Sheppard 1980)”
    (By old Launceston they mean Llanstephantun, that is St Stephens, in the charge of the canons and burgesses, while new Launceston is Dunheved, meaning perhaps something like the very high hill, the castle controlled by the earl and his castellans, together with the later walled town which grew around it, and whose residents also had rights as burgesses.)
    Wikipedia gives me these references for a coin of Aethelred 11
    British Numismatic Journal; ser. I, vol. 3, p. 107, pl. 264
    Metcalf, David Michael (1998) An Atlas of Anglo-Saxon and Norman Coin Finds, c. 973-1086. Oxford: Ashmolean Muse
    Lawrence House museum in London has only a coin of William1. I can’t remember where I saw prints of earlier coins – perhaps not in a modern book and so rather untrustworthy in its attributions.
    Launceston is built on several steep hills, as my leg muscles can still testify, St Stephens Hill and Windmill Hill being as high as the castle mound and giving vast (and beautiful) views in every direction, including to Dartmoor in Devon, and Bodmin moor in Cornwall.

    • Well, there’s no point having the kind of library access I currently enjoy unless one puts it to use, so I’ve just spent a chunk of the afternoon in the Sackler Library trying to resolve this, and I think I more or less have. The summary version of the results would be: the coin of Æthelred II from Launceston seems to be a genuine First Hand type and correctly attributed; there is or was also a coin of Harold Harefoot attributed there on a less sound basis, now apparently not credited; neither of these coins are in public collections; and lastly, the coins are the only basis for the dating of the mint and the dates given by Sheppard are without foundation. Long version follows…

      I started with Metcalf, as above, as being the most recent word on the subject, and he mentions only the Æthelred coin, gives no provenance or findspot for it but observes that it was First Hand type and weighed 1.61 g, which is heavy for the type (p. 247).

      So then I went to Sheppard 1980, as cited in the report linked and quoted above, and this is J. W. Sheppard, The Historic Towns of Cornwall: an archaeological survey (Truro 1980), which covers St Stephens by Launceston at pp. 79-80, and says as follows at para 28.1.1:

      “In A. D. 930 a monastery of secular canons was established at this place, then known as Launceston, i. e. Lan-stefan-ton. The canons were lords of the town of Launceston surrounding their collegiate church, and here they were entrusted with a Royal Mint from 976 till 1160 A. D.”

      Unfortunately Sheppard’s sources are just a jumble of abbreviations at the end of the whole article, but I checked all but one, which is not available in Oxford, and (to cut a long story short) none of them give any basis for either the foundation of the house nor the dates of the mint. The one I couldn’t check was M. E. Witherick, The Medieval Boroughs of Cornwall – an alternative view of their origins, Southampton Research Series in Geography 4 (Southampton 1967), which sounds interesting especially since the author seems to have gone on to work on South-East Asia and write school geography textbooks. If anyone reading happens to have a copy or access to one and feels like checking…

      By this time I had also checked the BNJ cite you give above, however, which is in full P. W. P. Carlyon-Britton, “Cornish Numismatics” in British Numismatic Journal Vol. 3 (London 1906), pp. 107-116, repr. in Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall Vol. 17 (Truro 1907), pp. 52-62, and there in photogravure are the coins of Æthelred and Harold I, as well as full information on them (for varying values of full). The Æthelred one is by a moneyer (Brun) whom we know from the right time at Exeter and Lydford and the mint signature, LANSTF, seems impossible to confuse with another mint. Carlyon-Britton knew of this piece because it had come up for sale at Sotheby’s in 1895 as part of the Montagu Collection, advertised then as having come from the Warne Collection (I know nothing of either of these), and it was bought by the French dealers Rollin and Feuardent and at that point left the record. The Harold coin is trickier, the mint signature is LAHE, and though Carlyon-Britton maintained that the H was actually a ligature and should be expanded to LANZTE, it was obviously messy so reading it involves guessing. The moneyer, excitingly, was called Gawain (GAPINE). I do wonder if this isn’t into the realms of something people would like to exist, and whether a forger was really aiming for Harold II. Anyway, Carlyon-Britton published a photo of the coin, so he obviously knew where it was, but he gives no provenance or location so I guess it was in the collection of someone who didn’t want its location publicised. All later literature seems to discount it. Still, the Æthelred one makes your point!

      That leaves us with the dates, though. I didn’t get this through Sheppard’s references, but one of his references is to one of his own works, with a chap called King, “A Checklist of Cornish Antiquities” in Cornish Archaeology Vol. 12 (Truro 1973), pp. 64-66, part of an ongoing series, and the references they gave there for St Stephens include O. L. Hencken, Archaeology of Cornwall and Scilly (London 1932), and though that doesn’t give dates for Launceston’s mint (mentioned pp. 264 & 308) and is obviously following Carlyon-Britton, it does refer the reader to G. Henderson, The Cornish Church Guide (Truro 1925), p. 198, which I was able to check in its reprinted version as The Cornish Church Guide and Parochial History of Cornwall (Truro 1964), and there at p. 180 we get what is obviously the source of the misunderstanding:

      “[The canons] exercised the privilege of a mint so early as the time of King Ethelred II., 976, and so late as that of Henry II., 1160.”

      This is obviously where Sheppard’s dates ultimately came from, and thus those in the report linked above and ultimately Wikipedia’s, because the error about Æthelred’s regnal dates has been carried through, but these are only meant to be outside figures, clearly, based on the kings from whom coins are known, and there’s no document behind them.

      What I still haven’t found, however, is whence Sheppard got his 930 date for the minster’s foundation. I can tell you that the recently published VCH Cornwall II, which is the bit that does the religious history of Cornwall, doesn’t share it in any of its numerous pages on Launceston, though, so I’m not inclined to give the 930 date any more credit than I have to; I suspect Sheppard read it off a plaque in the church!

      • David Hillman

        Thank you Jonathan, for all the work you have done on this. I appreciate this on a personal level since Launceston is the town I lived in until I was 18, and where my ancestors have lived for time immemorial. It is interesting how mistakes can be passed down in good faith from authority to authority .A Gawain eh? I think you can not tell ethnicity by names, and patronage mattered more anyway. It is interesting how the family of Peter of Cornwall shift through the generations from Anglo-Saxon to Christian or French names – but one of the early generations with an Anglo-Saxon name is called Wallensis so he was also some kind of Cornishman. Some of those people mentioned in early manumissions in Bodmin have both a Cornish and an Anglo-Saxon name.

        • That last is interesting, as I see people with alternative Arabic and Christian names on the Spanish frontier, often in relatively high positions. It seems to bespeak a fairly common kind of code-switching, but I’m always interested in what social contexts it comes up and this would seem to be a pretty lowly one.

          • David Hillman

            Yes, the 9th century Bodmin manumissions do show most of the unfree had Celtic names, while the majority of the more eminent, not all, had Anglo-saxon names. See http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/tangwystyl/bodmin/ . However I do remember reading (and damn it I must start writing things down) that a few of the important people had both AS and Celtic names,
            Though now I can only find this stated on sites like this http://www.gadian.org/Cornwall.htm so I hope this is also not apocryphal. Memo to self – check primary sources before commenting again.

  6. Julia Barrow

    Earl Ralph is probably the common denominator – Oxford and Hereford were parts of his earldom. Plus his followers, of course.

    • Oh yes! That also works. Though it’s slightly less exciting than Harold coming back from his enforced stay at Rouen all busy with this new idea he’d seen there…

    • Allan McKinley

      Hi Julia,
      Not sure if we need to go with that as the only solution though – Harold is equally a common denominator, and Ralph and his followers are not evidenced in the Arrow Valley or other parts of northern Herefordshire (admittedly, that may be because hardly anyone is…). We might as well say that Edward himself was the link, as he too was familiar with stone buildings, and had interests in Oxford and Dover, and probably at Pembridge (and I am waiting on that report before I would be certain that the site is relevant), where the evidence seems to best fit a royal estate fragmenting in the mid-eleventh century (with earlier losses – Staunton-on-Arrow was hived off in the tenth century), before being perhaps gifted to St. Guthlac’s in Hereford, and then certainly used as a base by the family of Godwin who can be seen to be locally active (Swein tried to kidnap or elope with – the Chronicle seems to bear both interpretations – the Abbess of Leominster, and Harold’s brother-in-law Edwin held land at neighbouring Eardisland) but may only have moved in during their campaigns against Grufydd ap Llewyllin.
      It is probably safest to indicate that there was likely an increased awareness of the potential of stone (either as a defence or a status symbol) due to a Normanised court culture. After all, it is unlikely that Earl Ralph, if he did build in stone, was not going to influence non-Normans to do the same if they liked what they saw.

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