By the 13th century St. Werburgh's was closely associated with the cult of St. Chester was well placed to take advantage of local traffic along the Dee and, more importantly, long-distance seaborne trade. From the 10th century onwards it developed connexions with Ireland and with Scandinavian settlements all round the Irish Sea. The importance which the Norse of Dublin, for example, attached to the link is apparent in their attempts to set up fortified quaysides, harbours, and navigation points along the north Welsh coast to ease the journey between the two ports.
Huts excavated in Lower Bridge Street have been interpreted as of the bow-sided type especially associated with Scandinavian sites in England, and what was perhaps the name of a gate in the city walls in that quarter, Clippe Gate, may have derived from the Old Norse personal name Klippr.
Bridget and St. Olave, were also appropriate for a Hiberno-Norse community. Olave's cannot have come into being before the mid 11th century, since the dedicatee, the Norwegian king Olaf Haraldsson, was killed only in ; St. Bridget's, however, could well be earlier.
The dedication was especially likely to have been favoured by immigrants from Ireland and was used also at West Kirby, in the Scandinavian settlement on Wirral. Moreover, since the medieval parish of St. Bridget's at Chester was in two portions, separated by parts of other parishes, it was perhaps once larger and had been eroded by later foundations. The church was probably the first to serve the Hiberno-Norse in Chester and dated from the period of their settlement in the city.
The settlement may well have extended across the river into Handbridge, which in was assessed for tax in carucates rather than the hides normal in Cheshire.
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Carucates occurred elsewhere in the county in association with Scandinavian place-names, and appear to be evidence of Scandinavian settlement. Archaeological finds have confirmed a HibernoNorse presence in Chester. In particular, a brooch with Borre-Jellinge ornament found at Princess Street is identical with a brooch found in Dublin, and must have derived from the same mould. Chester has yielded several ring-headed pins of a Hiberno-Norse type very like examples found in Man, and fragments of jewellery from a hoard deposited at Castle Esplanade c.
The Hiberno-Norse community was much involved in coining. As early as the reign of Edward the Elder one of the moneyers in north-western Mercia bore the name Irfara, a Norse nickname meaning 'the Ireland journeyer', and there continued to be a strong Scandinavian and Gaelic element among the names of Chester moneyers, much more pronounced than at other west Mercian mints, throughout the 10th century and beyond.
The mint at Chester seems to have risen to prominence quite suddenly, c. At her death in it was well established, with perhaps 16 moneyers. That represented the zenith of Chester's activity. In the reigns of Edmund I and Eadred there were c. Despite the fluctuations the mint remained of at least regional importance until the early s: a Chester moneyer was chosen to strike a coin for the Welsh king Hywel Dda d. In Edgar's reign before the reform of the coinage Chester sent dies and moneyers to other mints to help with production.
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Thereafter, however, the mint lost its importance. It took only a modest part in the reform of the coinage in , and in the late 10th century output declined steeply and die-cutting ceased entirely. Although there was a recovery in its activities in the early 11th century, it never again rivalled the great centres of London, York, and Winchester.
The mint's extraordinary productivity in the earlier 10th century is rather puzzling. Proximity to the mines of north Wales, believed to have yielded silver along with the lead which was their chief product, has been adduced as a reason for its unusually high output, but there is no evidence that Wales ever produced silver in the quantity necessary for the vast numbers of coins minted in Chester.
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The extensive coinage may also have been stimulated by a favourable balance of trade. Presumably Chester was a centre for the export of valuable commodities needed in Ireland, the bullion received in return being made into coin on the spot for circulation in England.
That trade would naturally have been focused on Dublin, which by the mid 10th century had become the principal port of the Irish Sea and one of the richest of all Viking towns. The Dublin Norsemen's continuing need for slaves, fn. Trade between Chester and Dublin was not all one way. The large number of 10th-century coin hoards from Ireland and western Britain, in which Chesterminted coins were very prominent, points to a considerable outflow of silver from Chester.
Facts and Figures
Almost nothing is known of the goods imported into Chester from Dublin. Later evidence suggests that they were mainly furs, hides, fish, and agricultural produce. The only commodity known to have been imported before was marten furs, the subject of a royal right of pre-emption and therefore probably a high-value item. Almost certainly they came via Dublin, where they are known to have been a prized export. Chester, then, was probably a very busy emporium in the earlier 10th century. Yet excavated finds from the city have been few, especially from the area south of the legionary fortress where the early medieval harbour was located.
The discovery at Coppergate in York of a lead customs tag produced at the Chester mint in Eadwig's reign, and apparently attached to merchandise under the supervision of royal officials, suggests a crossPennine trade in Irish goods imported at Chester. The rise and fall of such different trade routes may help to explain fluctuations in the production of coin at Chester in the 10th century.
The decline of the Chester mint has long been attributed to a Viking raid on Cheshire in In particular, it is clear that Chester did not play an important part in Edgar's reform of the coinage c. The number of moneyers declined dramatically from c. Die production for the Reform issue was centred upon London and Winchester, but most major mints quickly re-emerged as die-cutting centres, Chester alone among the great northern mints continuing to receive its dies from Winchester until the s.
Assessment of the decline is also affected by redatings of the Chester coin hoards. Those from Castle Esplanade and Eastgate Street were probably deposited c. The shift away from the north-western mints towards those of eastern England in the late 10th century may have owed as much to changes in trading patterns in response to the opening up of the German silver mines in the s as to the disruption of traffic across the Irish Sea. Chester's economic fluctuations in the 10th century were accompanied by changes in the local administration, most notably by the rise of strong local ealdormen whose interest in the city eventually eclipsed that of the king.
Such figures could be expected to take considerable profits not only from customs and tolls levied in the city but also from the mint. It is not easy to ascribe territories to 10th-century ealdormen, but it seems that already in the s one of the districts ruled by such an official was north-west Mercia, the principal settlement in which was Chester. That was a further reason for the insignificant role assigned to its mint in the centralizing measures of Although the account of the rowing from Edgar's palace on the Dee to the church of St.
John and back appears only in post-Conquest sources, there was clearly a naval element in the ceremony. Taking place soon after Edgar's belated coronation at Bath in , it was undoubtedly a special occasion, although whether it was viewed by all the participants as a long-term submission to imperial authority is debatable. Although an important harbour and naval base, it was relatively remote from the heartlands of English royal power, and hence a suitable setting for encounters with other ruling princes. Edgar's death in ended royal attempts at centralization, bringing a slackening of royal control over the coinage and a resumption of regional die-cutting.
Chester nevertheless remained one of the few northern mints which continued to be supplied with dies from the South. The city's relatively depressed state was indicated by the low output of its mint in the s and early s. From the s there were signs of a revival, and Chester may once again have become a die-cutting centre, albeit on a modest scale. Though it never regained its earlier pre-eminence, the mint was becoming more productive by , fn.
The mint cut its own dies, but they were not distributed elsewhere except for one pair cut perhaps c. Chester coins were also imitated at a mint somewhere in the Irish Sea area during Cnut's reign, evidence that they commanded widespread acceptance. The changes may be connected with the appointment for western Mercia of a new ealdorman, Leofwine, whose sphere of influence probably included Chester. After Eglaf's death in Leofwine's descendants succeeded to the whole Mercian earldom.
Werburgh's and St. By then the king had relinquished all his Cheshire lands to the earls of Mercia, leaving them in a position not so very unlike that of their postConquest successors at Chester. One indication of the impact of such developments upon Chester itself was the fact that in Harold II's reign January-October its mint was one of the few supplied with locally produced dies, fn. It thus appears that from the later 10th century the fortunes of the city and its mint depended greatly upon the presence of a sympathetic and effective local magnate.
From the s the family of Leofwine probably performed that role. Their arrival in western Mercia coincided with a revival in minting activity, and their continued interest ensured the city's survival as a major provincial centre. By Chester was a prosperous town with a population of perhaps 2,, The city had its own laws and customs, administered by its hundredal court, over which presided 12 judges or doomsmen iudices civitatis drawn from the men of king, earl, and bishop, and liable to fines payable to the king and earl for failure to attend.