The Axbridge Nail

Thomas Pennington was a famous bellfounder from Exeter, in Devon, where several generations of the family were active as bell founders between 1618 and 1763. Thomas was the first, working between 1618 and the 1660s, so this is one of his earlier castings. The linked fleur-de-lys frieze is his personal trade mark. The nail also has the Lamb of Axbridge in the centre and the legend 'Burgesses de Axbridge' around the edge.

Surprisingly few nails remain in existence and those which do use differing materials. Axbridge has a nail made of bronze on a stone base. Bristol has four nails made entirely of bronze. Limerick (Ireland) also has a bronze nail but with a circular plate of copper. Liverpool has a copper nail. Barnstaple has a stone nail(also known as a tombe stone). Surprisingly, the Axbridge nail appears to be the only one found today outside of a port, although there is a later stone one in the market at Bath dating from the 1770s. To pay on the nail, means to make a prompt cash payment. The nail was used for commercial transactions involving buying and selling at weekly markets and for larger transactions at annual fairs. The Axbridge nail is designed to make it for use. The gently sloping surface of the nail enables the coins to be shuffled downwards as they are counted, but the raised rim stops them from falling off. As it stood in the open air it also facilitated detection of clipped, counterfeit or foreign coins, which may have escaped unnoticed in the dim, ill-lit interiors of the surrounding shop premises.

Seven-shilling piece

The seven-shilling coin/piece. This unusual coin, minted in 1800, was known as a 'third guinea', which means that it was valued at seven shillings (35 pence, today). When it was introduced in 1797, during the French Revolutionary wars, the financial situation at the Bank of England was precarious: gold was in short supply and banknotes were given legal tender status in any amount. In order to pay the Bank's dividends it was decided to produce what at the time was known as seven-shilling pieces, with odd amounts of the dividend being paid in silver coins. A total of £315,000 worth of coins was authorised in October 1797. The denomination was struck each year until 1813, with the exception of 1805, 1807, and 1812. Between 1800 and 1812 third and half guineas were the only gold coins issued. The coin weighed 2.8 grams and was 17 millimetres in diameter with a milled edge. The design of the reverse changed in 1801 following the union of the parliaments of Great Britain and Ireland, when simultaneously the king relinquished his claim to the French throne.

A third guinea, or... The seven-shilling coin/piece. A guinea was worth £1..1s..0d (£1.05, today). This unusual coin, minted in 1800, was known as a ‘third guinea' (35 pence).No guinea coins and few half-guinea coins were minted at this time. as gold was in short supply during the Napoleonic War period. The third guinea was only minted during the reign of a single monarch, George III. It was introduced in 1797. In 1801, the king relinquished the British claim to the French throne, so changes were made in the coin's lettering. This coin was produced in the last year in which coins displayed 'MAG BRI FR ET HIB REX' (Great Britain, France and Ireland King). Our thanks to Les Stanley, who discovered the coin in a field in Axbridge.

15th Century Guild Hall window

When Axbridge built a new Town Hall, this window was removed from the old Guild Hall. Its design is based on a text from Matthew 3:16/17.

“And Jesus, when he was baptised, went up straightway out of the water; and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him. And a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The dove is saying, “God that ys lord of all Save the counscyl of this hall.” Though medieval councils may have believed God was well pleased with them, they often actually needed quite a bit of saving!

Research has revealed a lot about the symbolism within the picture.

  • Nobody had previously associated the picture with the biblical verse shown in the write-up. This verse is particularly appropriate in Axbridge, as the local church is dedicated to John the Baptist.
  • Previously, it has tended to be described as a ‘roundel, though that describes its shape rather than its original purpose.
  • Glass was an expensive product in the 15th century. Even the wealthy merchant who lived in one of the prime sites in Axbridge, King John’s Hunting Lodge, could not afford to have glass in his windows. (Tudor houses with large, multi-paned windows are built by people who are showing off their wealth).
  • The glass in this window would have been hand-blown and, consequently, not very large and quite thin and fragile. It has suffered a couple of cracks, possibly when it was removed from the Guild Hall. They have been carefully repaired.
  • The artist who painted the scene on the glass was probably a local artist judging from his skill at depicting a dove!
  • It is quite possible that this was the only window glass used in the Guild Hall, though It is conceivable that one other similar sized window could have been used, though at a very high cost.
  • There are clouds at the top of the picture, which presumably represent heaven. Notably several heart shaped objects are incorporated in the design.
  • Multiple rays emanate from these clouds and radiate behind the dove, epitomising the glory of heaven.
  • In the past, differing efforts have been made to describe the bird. Various options, including an eagle, were suggested, but it was eventually stated to probably be a dove, though with little conviction.
  • Medieval art normally shows a dove with wings folded on its back (in a recumbent position) or fully extended (in flight). This dove, though it is flying, has its wings half open with a rather long feather folded back at the ends.
  • Some medieval art does show a dove as here, descending from heaven, with its beak at the bottom and its feet at the top, though most have it upright.
  • Doves have a relatively short beak, whereas this dove’s beak is rather elongated.
  • Doves have fairly small feet, unlike the large, clawed feet shown here.
  • Despite all these problems with the description of the dove, the context shown here makes it obvious that this is the bird intended. Medieval art was rarely known for its accuracy in drawing.
  • The head of the dove is held within a circle with four trefoils round the internal edge. This is presumably intended to be a halo. Trefoils represent the Holy Trinity, whilst a quatrefoil, and probably the fact that there are four trefoils here, represent the four gospels. Jesus’ baptism is reported in all four gospels, not only Matthew as shown above.
  • Interestingly, there is what we would recognise as an expanding speech balloon stretching from the dove’s mouth to the text, which appears in a type of parchment form around the edge, implying that it is the dove which is imploring God to save the council of the hall. This type of speech bubble is known as a banderole (‘little banner’), or sometimes as an angel banner, or a phylactère, or a speech roll.
  • The King’s Head

    The carved king's head found in the museum probably dates back to the 1600s and is thought to have served as the inn-sign for ‘The King's Head’ tavern.