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Roman coin of Constantine the Great, with the mintmark PLN for London

Roman coin of Constantine the Great, with the mintmark PLN for London

The Royal Mint story

Minting began in Britain around the end of the second century BC. The earliest coins, crude imitations of Continental coins, were cast in moulds, but later coins, also imitations of Continental types, were struck by hand in much the same way as they were to be made for the next 1500 years.

The coinage of Iron Age Britain ceased with the Roman conquest and thereafter Roman coins, the universal currency in the Western Empire, circulated in Britain. For a time at the end of the third century Roman coins were actually struck at a mint in London. This London mint set up by the Romans is the earliest recorded mint in the capital, but it functioned for no more than 40 years. Although it reopened in the year 383, it must have closed again almost at once.

Anglo-Saxon minting

For some 200 years or so after the withdrawal of the Romans no coins appear to have been struck in Britain. Following the consolidation of the English Kingdoms a London mint was in operation again from soon after 650. At first its existence was somewhat precarious but from about the time of Alfred the Great (871-899) its history became continuous and increasingly important.

At that time London was merely one of many mints. There were by then about 30 mints and by the reign of Ethelred II (978-1016) the number had grown to more than 70. These were mostly in the southern half of the country and there can have been few market towns of any consequence where coins were not struck. By the Norman Conquest their number had begun to decline and from the early part of the 13th century minting was mainly confined to London and Canterbury. The precise location of the London mint at that time is doubtful but it is placed by one account in Old Change, conveniently close to the goldsmiths’ quarter in Cheapside.


Silver penny of Alfred the Great,  with the name London in the form  of a monogram

Silver penny of Alfred the Great,
with the name London in the form
of a monogram