Museum Musings – March 2021

Recently, West Berkshire has been able to acquire a very nice 17th – 18th century silver seal matrix for the collection. The item was found in the parish of Woolhampton in 2019 and declared treasure. This seal matrix has the image of a dove holding an olive branch, a recognised symbol of peace.

BERK-FA5F35 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

The handle is hexagonal and faceted with concave edges. The upper part of the handle has open work decoration 

The oval die is grey in colour and it depicts a bird with a long neck facing right holding a six-leaved olive branch in its beak. Both wings are raised upwards, one behind the other. The bird has an oval body which terminates with a long feathered pointed tail, its two talons, the left one slightly raised. There is a circular punch for the eye. The die is outlined with a border formed of very small circular punch marks.

Even though no exact match is known, a bird holding a branch is a common theme on seal matrices. Seal matrices were most popular in the 13th and 14th centuries after which their usage declined.

BERK-A752A4 Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY 2.0

One of my favourite seals from West Berkshire is this one which reads ‘SIGILL.ROGERI.DE.MVLINS’ (Seal of Roger De Mulins). During the late 12th century, Roger De Moulins was the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights of St John who died during the sacking of Jerusalem by the Saracens in AD 1187. Variations of the two crosses used on this seal were used by the Order during this period.

Roger de Moulins was in England between early February and mid-April AD 1184/85. He was present at a meeting of Henry II’s court in Reading in February AD 1185, together with the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who consecrated the Temple Church in London on 10th February, and the Hospitallers’ church at Clerkenwell on 10th March. So Roger de Moulins was at least in Berkshire in AD 1184/85. The main Hospitaller estate in Berkshire was at Greenham (in the old parish of Thatcham), the manor being granted by Maud, Countess of Clare during the reign of Henry II. It is possible that de Moulins visited the preceptory in Greenham during this time. Although the seal was found to the west of Newbury it is possible that the seal was lost during de Moulin’s visit to England.

There is another local personal seal matrix from West Berkshire. This one is in the West Berkshire Museum collection and is a copper alloy, circular with pierced conical handle, early 14th century, from Chamberhouse Farm, Thatcham.

Courtesy of West Berkshire Museum

Inscribed (asterisk)S’RADVLPHI COCI around a six petalled flower, and probably hung around the owner’s neck. Ralph Coke is listed in the bailiff accounts of Crookham Manor 1322-3.

There is nearly 7,000 examples of seal matrices recorded by the PAS, 71 of which are from Berkshire. You can find out more about these by visiting and searching for ‘Seal Matrix’ or visit this link for Berkshire.