Birmingham: Home of Heavy Metal

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The latest exhibition to open at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is celebrating the work and showcasing memorabilia about the Heavy Metal band Black Sabbath. The exhibition opens on June 26th and closes on 29th September 2019. If you want to visit it, then here’s the link to get tickets.

The band was formed in Aston, Birmingham in 1968 (not far from one of BMT’s heritage sites, Aston Hall) and is considered to be one of the pioneers and godfathers of the Heavy Metal music genre.

And speaking of Heavy metal, let’s look at the original Heavy Metal: Lead.

Lead has been used to make objects from since before the Romans. It can be easily extracted from its ore, Galena being the main one, which often includes silver as well. It has a low melting point (325 degrees Celsius) and is easily worked. It is still used today in plumbing, batteries, bullets, solders, paints, roofing and radiation shielding.

After the Roman period, the use of lead reduced until prior to the Industrial Revolution, then it became popular again. It was only in the 19th Century, that it was been discovered that this easily worked metal has a sting in its tail. It is a neurotoxin and will accumulate in soft tissues and bones. It will damage the nervous system and cause brain damage and behavioural problems. As such it is recommended to wear gloves when handling lead artefacts to reduce the risk of small amounts of lead being absorbed into the body through the skin.

After copper alloy finds, those made from lead are regularly handed in for recorded at the PAS. Out of the 21,269 finds that have been recorded by the West Midlands FLOs (WMID), nearly two thousand of those are made from lead or one of its alloys.

Tokens, Spindlewhorls and weights are the most commonly found artefact types. But Seal matrices, buttons, ampulla and toys have been recorded as well.

Here are half a dozen of some of the recorded finds from the Birmingham area, all made from Heavy Metal. (Btw Birmingham area includes Walsall, Wolverhampton, Sandwell and Dudley).

A bifacial lead token from Bloxwich, WMID-F94A6C.  Unifaced (one sided) tokens are more common than two sided, which makes this example quite nice.

WMID-F94A6C, a bifaced lead token.
WMID-F94A6C, a bifaced token.

An incomplete Ampulla from Aldridge, WMID-6D02A1. Ampulla are often found in fields or rural areas as it is suggested that the holy water contained within the ampulla would help protect crops and livestock from illness.

WMID-6D02A1, an incomplete ampulla.
WMID-6D02A1, an incomplete Ampulla.

A movable type printing block for the letter R. WMID-6CB757. Movable type printing blocks were invented around AD 1450 by Johannes Gutenberg along with the printing press. Gutenberg was the first individual to create his type pieces from an alloy comprised of lead, tin and antimony, the same materials currently used today. It is possible that this printing block could be Late Medieval in dating, it is more likely to be Post Medieval (AD 1700 to AD 1900), due to the style of the lettering present.

WMID-6CB757, a removable printing press letter.
WMID-6CB757, a removable printing press letter.

A possible dog’s head hawking whistle, WMID-1E0445, from Walsall. It is similar in style to the dog headed ewer spouts and is considered to be Medieval dating.

The dog's head whistle, WMID-1E0445
WMID-1E0445, the possible dog’s head hawking whistle.

Half a papal bulla issued by Pope Urban III or IV between 1185 and 1264, found from Wolverhampton, WMID-AC0922. As we only have half the bulla, it is hard to be certain which one it was. Papal bulla were attached to papal documents as a way of proving their authentication. 

WMID-AC0922, an incomplete papal bulla of either Pope Urban III or IV.
WMID-AC0922, Half a papal bulla.

A regular six sided die from Blakenhall, WMID-EE1826. A die is referred to as regular if the opposite sides all add up to seven. Dice are a hard artefact to date exactly as they haven’t changed much in function and form since the Roman period. 

A regular six sided die, WMID-EE1826
WMID-EE1826, a regular die.

Congratulations Aimee! BMT Student Volunteer of the Year.

Every year, Birmingham Museums Trust chose one student volunteer out of all the many who volunteer for us, to be selected as our BMT Student Volunteer of the Year.

This year, Victoria & I’s volunteer, Aimee Hinds won the award!


Victoria nominated her for the award, to reflect the hard work and commitment she has shown to the PAS West Midlands team, whilst still studying for her Masters at Leicester University. She has been part of the team for over a year now, picking up finds identification, recording and photography very quickly and over that time has recorded nearly 100 finds. Alongside Aimee’s studying and volunteering she also manages a local charity shop. We are very grateful that she still finds the time to volunteer for us.

She was presented with her certificate and voucher for afternoon tea at the Edwardian Tea Rooms at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery at one of BMT’s heritage sites, Soho House, during a volunteer Explore BMT day.

Congratulations again Aimee, on a well deserved win!

Minted in Coventry in AD 1465

Thanks are extended to Duncan Slarke (Staffordshire & West Midlands FLO 2007-2009) who did the majority of the work on this back in February 2009. This is an update of his work.

During the initial three years of his first reign, Edward IV (1461-1470) struck money according to the weight and standards of his predecessor, Henry VI (1422-1461).

The indentures of 1464 and 1465 effectively reduced the weight of silver and gold coinage. Two new coins were introduced: The ryal (or rose noble) (two to the pound) and the angel (three to the pound and two to the mark).

His reasons for the recoinage are given in his proclamations quoted by Ruding as being, “amongst other thigns caused by lack of bryngyng of bolion into his myntes, which, as is conceived, is by cause that they that should bring bolion may have more for theire bolion in other princes’ mynters than in his”.

The problem has been described as “the great bullion famine of the 15th Century” which affected north-western Europe, bringing a monetary depression of such intensity that the 1440’s and 1450’s have been described as the, “low water mark of coinage in late medieval Europe”.

As part of the recoinage, increased minting capactiy was sought and on 6th July 1465 there was a commission to open new mints at Bristol, Norwich and Coventry.

Instructions were given to John Worledge and Thomas Nelson at Coventry, where the following coins were minted:
In gold: Ryal, Half ryal
In silver: Grot, Half-groat.

The new coinage resulted in a boom in minting drawn from the circulating medium at home and abroad as indicated by Tower mint figures. Between 15th September 1462 to 31st August 1464, £4, 891 in Gold and £17, 828 in Silver. Then between 1st September 1464 and 29th September 1466, £278, 774 in gold and £103, 753 in silver. Unfortunately the output records for Coventry have not been discovered.

The mints of Coventry and Norwich seem to have been short-lived: In a privy seal letter of 16th September 1465, the seigniorage which had previously been charged at London, York, Coventry, Norwich and Bristol was altered and the new charge ordered at London, York, and Bristol. This could show that the mints at Coventry and Norwich had already closed.

The fact that the Coventry mint was short-lived is borne out by the scarcity of the coins from the mint. Five have been recorded. An increase of four since Duncan did his initial work.

They are:

DENO-EF7C51, Groat of Edward IV, found in Newark and Sherwood, Nottinghamshire.

CPAT-DEF5B0, Groat of Edward IV, found in Oswestry Rural, Shropshire

NLM-4B7D64, Groat of Edward IV, found in West Lindsey, Lincolnshire

KENT-C586E1, a ryal of Edward IV, found in Smeeth, Kent

DENO-DB6FEB, A groat of Edward IV, found in Brampton, Derbyshire

Can we make it more? By recording where these coins have been found, we can start looking at mint distributions and trade links.

The coinages of Edward IV and of Henry VI (Restored), Blunt and Whitton, BNJ, 1946.
English Hammered Coinage, volume II, north 1991
A new history of the Royal Mint, Challis, 1992
Medieval English Groats, Buck, 2000.