Anglo-Saxon silver coins


Two Anglo-Saxon silver pennies of Aethelred II (Ethelred the Unready), who reigned 978-1016, and which were minted at Huntingdon by the moneyer, Aelfric during the period 997 – 1003.

The obverse (head) side of the coin reads: AEDELRED REX ANGLO and shows a bare headed bust of the King. The reverse (tails) side reads: AEL/FRIC/MO/NVNT

Aethelred was known as the ‘unready’ because he was seen as a weak king ‘without counsel’, who was unable to withstand multiple Viking invasions.

The coins were discovered by a local metal detectorist and purchased through the National Treasure Scheme.

The Bank of St Neots

A regency banknote issued by the short-lived bank of St Neots in 1824. Donated by a family who owned a pawn shop in Enfield, London, where it is believed the note was given in payment for a property.

Provincial banks sprang up across Britain in the Georgian period to meet the demand for more cash and investment in businesses. The St Neots bank was established in 1807 by three local businessmen; George James Gorham, Francis Rix and John Inkersole, and they probably had their bank premises at 16 Market Square.

The bank note is signed at the bottom right by Francis Rix. Sadly the bank went bankrupt in about 1824 when it was said that poor investment of the banks funds led to its collapse.

John Bellingham at the Old Bailey

A print of John Bellingham, a merchant who spent part of his childhood in St Neots, and later in life murdered the British Prime Minister, Spencer Percival. The print depicts Bellingham standing in the dock of the Old Bailey in London whilst giving evidence at his trial. 

On the evening of 11th May 1812 British people were horrified to discover that their Prime Minister, Spencer Percival, had been shot dead in the Houses of Parliament in London, by a man with close links to St Neots.

John Bellingham is thought to have been born in London but spent a large part of his childhood in St Neots because his mother came from the town. The Scarbrow family were a wealthy and well-to-do family who lived at Old Hall Place, the substantial house on Cambridge Street, St Neots. Elizabeth Scarbrow married John Bellingham, a London artist and miniature portrait painter in the late 1760s, and their only child, a son named John after his father, was born about 1771. Sadly, John Bellingham, senior seems to have had some mental health problems and by 1780 he was unable to continue working or to support his family, and Elizabeth returned to St Neots with her son.

John Bellingham, junior, grew up and became an accountant and then a merchant. hoping to make his fortune through trading timber and iron with Russia. Unfortunately things didn’t go well for John Bellingham, and on only his second trip to Russia he fell out with his business partner, was accused of being in debt and later imprisoned in Russia for five years.

When he was finally released from prison in December 1809, John Bellingham returned to London determined to claim compensation from the British government for his losses in Russia. He estimated that his losses amounted to £100,000 and he began to petition the Foreign Office for compensation. When this proved unsuccessful he turned to the Prime Minister and asked to be allowed to petition Parliament about his claim. When this request was also refused, Bellingham returned to Liverpool to live with his wife and children, but was obviously unable to accept defeat.

We don’t know exactly how Bellingham hatched his plan to murder the Prime minister, but at his trial he was adamant that he had only wanted to obtain justice for his sufferings in Russia. He seemed unable to grasp that assassinating the British Prime Minister was out of proportion to his misfortune. Bellingham was tried before a jury at the Old Bailey in London on 15th May, 1812. He was found guilty and hanged at Newgate Prison on 18th May 1812.

His body was afterwards dissected at St Bartholomew’s hospital and his skull can still be seen at Queen Mary’s Pathology Museum, London.

Mammoth bone

Most mammoths become extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, and this tooth from a full-sized male was discovered in Sandy Heath Quarry in 2003. Mammoths had an incredible 5 to 6 sets of teeth during their life time! As the old sets wore down, the new sets would come through to replace them – just like in humans!

The St Neots parish chest

The St Neots parish chest, seen above sketched by local St Neots doctor Joseph Rix (1803 -1878) has been on display in the museum since we opened in 1998 after being restored and preserved is a long-term loan from the parish church. It is an object of curiosity and for over 450 years occupied a vital place in the parish church.

In 1583 Thomas Cromwell, the Vicar General, laid down that all parishes were to have a sure coffer — in other words, a secure chest, to provide a safe place in which to keep records of each christening, marriage and burial. These records were written up each Sunday after they the specific occasion with a churchwarden as a witness. Some accounts state that two or three keys were held by different people, the parson and churchwardens so that the chest could only be opened with at least two people present.

The earliest church records were written on sheets of paper, but in 1598 Canterbury directed that all records were to be kept in parchment books, which became known as the parish registers. Old records were to be transcribed into these books, and in future, the churchwarden had to make a copy of that year’s entries (within a month of Easter) and send it to the Diocesan Registry. These copies were known as the Bishop’s Transcripts.

Until the registration of births marriages and deaths became compulsory in the nineteenth century the parish registers were the main source of information about family history and until the mid-twentieth century, most were still kept in the parish church. Most records are now stored at County Record Offices.

The parish chest was also used for storing money, accounts, wills, relics, vestments, documents, and the church plate. They were strongly built, usually of oak and as well as the two, if not three separate locks they also had metal bands around them.

With so much of value likely to be stored in these chests, it is not surprising that they would become the target of thieves, and this is what happened into the St Neots chest. Although many parish chests were made of oak, often from a single trunk, the St Neots Chest is actually made of pine, and was imported from Scandinavia and has three locks.

According to several sources, the church was broken into in 1848 and the chest and all the records taken only to be found the next day in the brook with all it contents still inside.

This report leaves many questions unanswered. How did the thieves get into the church, how many of them were there and why did they abandon the chest in the Hen Brook?

The parish chest, after the records had been moved to the archives in Huntingdon, remained at the back of the church until 1998 when an audit of the church found the chest to be in bad repair and a more adequate home for the artefact was looked for. The museum was the ideal place to store the item and after restoration and preservation was moved to where it is now. You can visit the museum and see the chest on display in the village hall gallery.