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George III (1760-1820) halfpenny, 1806.

This copper coin offers an example of the so called Soho Mint coinage, issued by Matthew Boulton's mint in Birmingham. On the obverse is a robed laureate bust of King George III. From 1799 to 1807, the change in the reverse design transformed Britannia into a symbol of Britain's ever increasing maritime power, holding an olive branch and a trident, with a shield resting beside. A small ship lies in the left background.

On the obverse, the Latin inscription reads: GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA REX. This translates as: 'George III by the grace of God King'. The reverse quotes 'BRITANNIA', that is 'Britain'.

The shortage of small change was giving the country big problems at the time. Allegedly by 1780, only 8% of copper coins in circulation were genuine regal coins. The Royal Mint contracted Matthew Boulton to produce copper coinage in 1797 and the minting of halfpennies was outsourced to Birmingham to combat counterfeiting. It is said the first halfpenny was produced during the reign of Edward I in the 1200's and was then abandoned in 1969 during the change to the decimal coinage.

Melrose Abbey

David I founded Melrose Abbey, the first Cistercian monastery in Scotland, in 1136. It was one of a number of abbeys that he set up in the Borders to show both his piety and his power over this contested territory.

The Cistercians were drawn to this fertile spot beside the River Tweed by its close associations with St Aidan and St Cuthbert. The monks came from Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire, the Cistercians’ great northern English missionary base.

Monastic life continued at Melrose for the next 450 years. The last monk, John Watson, died around 1590. The crumbling abbey church was used as a parish church until a new kirk was built nearby in 1810.

A focal point of the Borders

The great abbey church of St Mary the Virgin at Melrose loomed large in the lives of many people on both sides of the border.

Powerful people endowed the abbey richly and it was a highly desirable final resting place. Alexander II (died 1249) was among the privileged people to be buried here. The heart of Robert the Bruce (died 1329) was also buried at Melrose, although his body was interred at Dunfermline Abbey.

Melrose’s location put it on the front line of conflict with England during the later Middle Ages:

  • attacks by Edward I (1300 and 1307) and Edward II (1322) required major repairs
  • Richard II’s attack in 1385 led to a complete rebuilding of the abbey church
  • the War of the Rough Wooing in the 1540s caused further damage

Architecture of solitude

Only a very small part of the first abbey church survives. The present building of rose-coloured stone dates almost entirely to the post-1385 rebuilding. Yet Melrose is still considered one of the most magnificent examples of medieval church architecture anywhere in the British Isles.

Still remarkably intact are:

  • the presbytery at the east end, where the high altar once stood
  • the monks’ choir and transepts
  • part of the nave

Highlights of the interior include the ornate stone vaulting over the presbytery, the elegant piers and the window tracery (carved stone separating the glass).

The exterior is decorated with some of the most fascinating sculpture found on any medieval church building.

It depicts:

  • demons and hobgoblins
  • lute-playing angels
  • cooks with ladles
  • the famous bagpipe-playing pig

Everyday monastic life

Little remains standing of the two great cloisters that lay to the north and west of the abbey church, but their ground plans are largely complete. These provide a glimpse of monastic life.

Finds made here include everyday objects like:

  • cooking pots
  • portable urinals
  • floor tiles

There is also a precious fragment of the shrine of St Waltheof, the second abbot.

The various objects are displayed in the (restored) Commendator’s House, built in the late 1500s.

Find out more about Melrose Abbey

Details

Date Made
1806
Dimensions
dia 28.7mm (dia 1 1/8")
Time Period
Modern
Property Information
Melrose Abbey
Object Number
MEL1448
Access Status
Storage

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