STORYLINE – 1: A FACE IN THE MUD – Coin Find Near London Olympic Site Hides Political Turmoil (Historical Fiction)

STORYLINE - 1: A FACE IN THE MUD -  Coin Find Near London Olympic Site Hides Political Turmoil (Historical Fiction)

One of the few coins minted in the ten-month reign of Harold II

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William would not have wanted these to be available during his reign!

The Lost Coin

‘My Lord King we have cast your new silver penny’, Eadnoth tells the still dining Harold. Eadnoth is a balding, middle-aged fellow who owns and controls the only licensed mint in the Lea Valley. Before he died King Eadward ordered a new silver penny to be minted. After his coronation Harold had Eadnoth complete the casting for the other side with his image.

‘Can I see it?’ Harold takes the newly-minted penny from Eadnoth and scans it at arm’s length. He then holds it closer, admiring it. finally Harold hands back the coin to |Eadnoth, ‘This is fine workmanship. Your craftsmen have excelled themselves! Who carved my likeness?’

‘Wiglaf drew it onto parchment, and Earnald scored the image into the mould, my Lord King’, Eadnoth answers proudly.

Is Earnald your Flemish engraver?’

‘Aye my Lord King, recommended by Count Baldwin himself!’ Eadnoth adds, ‘Lord Tostig brought him in his own ship’.

‘So he did’, Harold sounds pained at mention of his renegade brother.

Twice this year Tostig has raided around the coast. The fyrd has had to be called out twice, taking men from watching the south coast for Duke William’s ships. Although Tostig’s men were beaten off, both times with great loss to himself, Harold did not need these diversions. He faced the possibility of invasion by a sworn enemy as well as by the opportunist King Harald Hardraada.

‘Show it to my brothers, Eadnoth’, Harold gestures to the young earls, Gyrth and Leofwin.

‘If I did not know you, Harold, looking at this I would take you for a king!’ Gyrth jokes. Unlike Harold and Leofwin, who with lighter colouring take after their mother, Gyrth resembles his father, the old Earl of Wessex.

When Harold took Godwin’s title, the younger brothers were given their earldoms. godwin’s rivals Leofric of Mercia and Siward of Northumbria took a step back, old men with ambitious sons who sought glory and resented the Godwinsons’ rise to power. Leofric and Siward are dead now. Leofric’s grandsons stand to gain by Harold’s demise, despite his marrying their sister Aeldgyth. They anticipate William’s generosity. Eadwin, Earl of Mercia and his brother Morkere of Northumbria watch events in the south with interest.

‘Are you hunting today, Harold?’ Leofwin asks, handing bck the penny to Eadnoth, who eagerly scoops it up and places it in the leather purse at his side. In pulling out his hand again Eadnoth inadvertently pulls out the coin with it.

The coin drops to the floor of King Harold’s hunting lodge near the River Lea. This lodge, at the edge of the hamlet of Leyton is where Harold prefers to stay when affairs of state allow.

‘Very well, Eadnoth’, Harold turns to look up at the excited old fellow and smiles, ‘proceed with minting’.

‘My Lord King’, Eadnoth bows and doffs his cap in respect. ‘I shall have the new pennies ready for distribution within the month’.

‘I thank you’, Harold smiles again and turns to his brothers. Eadnoth leaves. No-one spots the now tarnished silver penny in the broken, betrodden straw.

King William looks around in the half-darkness of the lodge. No torches have been lit here since the vanquished Harold last stayed here before the ride to Hastings.

‘Shall we prepare this lodge for you, my liege?’ Earl William fitzOsbern asks his friend the king.

‘We think not. Whoever wishes to use the lodge does so with our blessing. It is of no use to us. Tomorrow we sail for Normandy, so see to it that a tenant is found for this place’.

The Conqueror leaves the lodge and mounts his steed. A sudden gust of cold wind from the nearby marshes blows across his short, russet hair as he pulls on the reins and heads the hunting party back to Barking Abbey, leaving fitzOsbern to hand the keys to the newly-appointed coinmaker, the Fleming Earnald.

‘See that any coins here are removed and melted for the king’s new issue of silver pennies’, fitzOsbern tells Earnald. ‘He wishes to see no more coins with the image of that usurper, understand?’

‘I shall, my Lord Earl, of course!’ Earnald gladly takes the keys to his new home from the earl and casts an appreciative look about him. His new Saxon serfs can see to cleaning the floor of the lodge. The silver penny that fell from eadnoth’s purse still lies in the grubby straw that awaits the besom.

‘Dad, look what I found in the mud by the river!’ an excitable Gary Purser gingerly offers a small piece of round, flat metal to his father. Laid-off printer John takes the coin and holds it up to the light of the window,

‘Where did you find this?’

‘By the River Lea, near where they’re building the Olympics! Gary hums with excitement, trying to remember exactly where it was he saw the tarnished metal. What drew his eyes was a silver coke can he might use for his school science project. When he picked up the can, there was the coin, half buried with grass growing around it. He asks his father, ‘What’s it worth?’

‘How the hell would I know? History wasn’t my best subject’, John answers. Ring up the British Museum. They’ll tell you’.

‘Where was the coin exactly?’ Tom Wells, the coin consultant asks Gary. When the boy finishes telling him how he found the coin, the smiling consultant puts a hand on Gary’s shoulder and tells him, ‘Sit down before you fall down, Gary. This coin is rare. Few minted for King Harold were ever found. Had you found many, buried in a casket or whatever, it would be Treasure Trove, when things are buried for safe-keeping – or buried as grave goods. This was lost or abandoned. Sell it, take it to an auction – or keep it’.

He hands the coin back to Gary and laughs,

‘It’s like winning the Lottery. Lay it in flat coke for a day, and it’ll clean up like a new penny!’

(*The above, slightly re-written, was my entry into a short story competition for Newham Writing Competition with a limit of 1,000 words. It earned me ?100 for first prize. Where Earl, subseq. King Harold’s hunting lodge was situated is at Leyton, within the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF). The coin find itself could have been made within either LBWF or London Borough of Newham (LBN), one of three boroughs – including Waltham Forest and Hackney on either side of the River Lea – that hosted the 2012 London Olympics. The Olympic Park is a regeneration area based around bombed-out and derelict factory buildings. The erstwhile Stratford Locomotive Shed (30A) and former Great Eastern Railway/London & North Eastern Railway/British Railways Locomotive Building Works were also sited here until the mid-1980’s. Besides the competition zones, the area includes housing and the Westfield shopping precinct).

Images down the Lea Valley

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River Lea at Amwell – this is how the scene would have looked at the time of King Harold’s reign
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The Lea below king’s Weir, again much as King Harold would have known it
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Where the Lea enters the Thames, modern London at Bow Lock.
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Map of the 2012 London Olympic Park site
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View north along the River Lea of the 2012 London Olympic Park
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View South along the Lea towards the 2012 London Olympic Park site including Westfield at Stratford (Newham)
Stratford Loco Shed is one area redeveloped for the 2012 London Olympic competition site
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Inside one of the derelict straight sheds at 30A after closure of the steam shed
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Another part of the large 2012 Olympic site, Stratford’s ex-Great Eastern loco works