The story of Viking invasion and ancient pennies found near St Neots

King Ethelred coin found at Southoe. 

King Ethelred coin found at Southoe. - Credit: ST NEOTS MUSEUM

In 2019, the St Neots Museum purchased two Anglo-Saxon silver pennies found at Southoe and dating from the reign of Ethelred the Unready (AD 978 – 1016).

The St Neots Museum hopes to fully reopen in May, the shop opened on April 12.

The St Neots Museum hopes to fully reopen in May, the shop opened on April 12. - Credit: ARCHANT

These two delicate silver coins are a link with the Anglo-Saxon people who lived in this area 1,000 years ago. They will be on display in the museum when we reopen on Tuesday, May 18 this year as further lockdown easing is announced. 

Ethelred came to the English throne in AD 978 when he was 10 years old,after the violent murder of his older half-brother, Edward, probably arranged by his mother and her faction to put her son (Ethelred) on the throne.

Within two years of his accession, a new period of violent raids by the Vikings, who came over from Denmark, began. In AD 981 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes ’for the first time seven ships came and ravaged Southampton’, most of the citizens were killed or taken prisoner.

In the years that followed, Essex, Cheshire, Cornwall and Suffolk, as far inland as Ipswich, were violently attacked. Ethelred became known as ‘the Unready’ or poorly advised, because he and his government were unable to repulse the Vikings and paid huge sums as ‘tribute’, more than 7,000 kilos of silver in weight in AD 994 alone.

Our two coins date from the period AD 997 – 1003 and were minted at Huntingdon by the moneyer, Aelfric, whose name is shown on the reverse side of the coin. The museum has purchased them under the Treasure Act which ensures important metal detector finds are recorded and offered for sale to local institutions.

It was in the AD 970s, as the reign of Ethelred was beginning, that a monastery had been founded at Ernulph’s Bury (now Eynesbury) by two wealthy local Saxons, Leofric and his wife Leoflaed. To add prestige to the new monastery the bones of the Cornish Saint, Neot, were brought to the monastery and set in a shrine which pilgrims could visit, by the time the Domesday book was compiled in 1086 that part of Ernulph’s Bury had become known as ‘St Neots'.