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The Forsbrook Pendant by Richard Halliwell


This Anglo-Saxon pendant was found in Forsbrook, Staffordshire, by a labourer who was levelling a hedge bank (V.C.H. I, 212). It came into the possession of a 'young lady' who took it to Isaac Whitehurst of Swan Bank, Congleton. Whitehurst wrote to Augustus N. Feaubes at the British Museum on June 28th, 1879. The letter explained that the lady would accept £15 for the pendant if the sale included a spade half guinea. He claimed that she wanted this 'just as a memento of the old curiosity'. Was it his commission? The British Museum receipt, also dated June 28th, is for £15, so the terms of the sale were obviously agreed.
The pendant is currently on display at the British Museum in the Department of Medieval and Later Antiquities, accession number M&LA 1879.7-14.1.
In 1977, Stoke-on-Trent Museum and Art Gallery commissioned the making of a replica, which is on display in the Archaeology gallery of the museum, accession number K36.1977.


The pendant, 28mm in diameter, is based on a gold solidus of Valentinian II (A.D. 375-392); the obverse side of the coin is visible. It is surrounded by a setting of garnets and blue glass, backed by cross-hatched gold foil which enhances the colours of the inserts. These are in 51 cloisons (cells) of straw-coloured gold in a pattern of pitch-fork design. The cloisons are made from strips of gold bent into suitable shapes and soldered to the plain surface. The garnets and glass are cut to fit the cloisons. Some of the settings are missing.
The way in which the pattern is altered at the top of the pendant forms a zoomorphic double-headed creature (Jessop 1974, 52). The 'stumpy open-jawed heads are confronted jaw-to-jaw under the cloisonne suspension loop' (Speake 1970, 7).
The settings of the creatures' large eyes have been lost but the triangular clue cells between the jaws remain.

The cloisons of the cylindrical suspension loop are arranged in a pattern of two rows of alternate-sized rectangles separated by a central row of six interlocking L-shaped garnets.
Around the rim of the pendant are two strands of beaded wire with a central strand of plain wire. These wires terminate in a pair of open-jawed animal heads, opposed one on either side of the suspension loop.


The coin is level with the face of the pendant, and the damage that appears to have been done when the coin was inserted suggests that the setting was not necessarily made for this particular coin. The reverse af the coin is hidden by a plain gold plate.
Gold. Small quantities of gold were probably mined in Britain in the Anglo-Saxon period, but this was supplemented by imports and re-use of the metal. Gold was used more for jewellery in the late 6th to early 7th centuries, gradually giving way to silver towards the end of the 8th century.
Garnet. Garnet was a popular choice of semiprecious stone for the Anglo-Saxon craftsman. It would be split, and then cut and shaped by a wheel or by flaking. Some Anglo-Saxon jewellery uses a fine red glass, presumably as a cheaper alternative to garnet. The source of the garnets used in the Forsbrook Pendant is probably India, and the supply would have relied on trade routes.
Blue Glass. Blue glass or paste was used as a contrast to the red garnet. The earlier view that lapis
lazuli was used (Speake 1970, 6) has been corrected (Jessop 1974, 25).


The history of the pendant can be divided into that of the solidus, Valentinian II and the completed pendant.

The Solidus. The solidus was introduced by Con-stantine as part of the Roman Imperial Coinage, in an effort to restore the gold coinage. It weighed about 4.55gms. and became successful because its value could be relied on. The gold was often acquired as a result of the sequestration of pagan treasures of the Empire. It became the standard gold coin throughout the late Roman period.
Valentinian II. The historical setting of the period of Valentinian II relies on several sources which are patchy .in their coverage and possibly biased or incorrect in their comments. A rough summary can be compiled as follows:
Valentinian I died in 375 due to a fit of apoplexy caused by the behaviour of some barbarian envoys.
The throne of the Western Empire passed to his elder son Gratian, and Valentinian II, who was four years old, shared power nominally. Gratian was killed during a rebellion of the army, and their leader, Magnus Maximus, controlled Britain, Gaul and Spain. Valentinian II held power in Italy until Maximus invaded the country in 387. Valentinian sought refuge in the Eastern Empire and in 388, the Eastern Emperor, Theodosius, defeated Maximus at Aquileia. The death of Valentinian II in suspicious circumstances during 392 led to more imperial usurpation which Theodosius could not halt until 394

The Pendant. The history of the pendant has to bemainly conjecture but its design links it with other cloisonne objects, especially those from the Sutton Hoo ship burial which is dated to the early- to mid-7th century. Its general design has parallels in the Bacton pendant and Wilton cross, both found in Norfolk, which use a solidus as the centre surrounded by garnet cloisons. Much of the cloisonne jewellery known in this country has been found in Kent and it is possible that the kingdom was a centre for this craft.

Local Significance The pendant was found well away from other finds of Anglo-Saxon date with the possible exception of a burial which was found at Barlaston. There are also known Anglian concentrations in the north-east Staffordshire Peak District (burials) and in the Trent Valley (burials and settlement).
The area relevant to the find-spot of the pendant was part of Mercia's expansion in the 7th-8th centuries. This expansion was due largely to King Penda who dominated most of the other kingdoms and established a strong principality until he was defeated and killed in 655. His successors maintained superiority until the early 9th century.
Place-name and other evidence suggests that perhaps most of the Staffordshire area was settled from the 7th century onwards, but lack of material evidence ensures that the Forsbrook pendant and Barlaston burial deserve special attention. Increased archaeological fieldwork and documentary research would be necessary to illuminate further the events of this period

Contemporary Significance The Forsbrook pendant was based on a coin that was about two hundred years old when it was used as thecentre-piece for an Anglo-Saxon cloisonne pendant. The pagan Anglo-Saxon communities did not use currency until they became accustomed to this method of exchange from Merovingian society. The role of Roman coins was as ornaments, weights, gaming counters and collectors' pieces.
As the Forsbrook pendant was a chance find, it is necessary to consider other examples of Roman coins in an Anglo-Saxon context to analyse their association with other artefacts. Typical of those found as grave goods is the example at Camerton, Somerset, where a coin of Constantine had 'probably been kept in a receptacle with a boar tusk, a flint scraper, a cowrie shell and a lump of chalk cut into a heart shape' (Meaney 1981, 216). Such association suggests the role of the coin as an ornament or charm, but their exact purpose is unclear. Meaney suggests (ibid, 220) their use as 'anti-Evil Eye' amulets.
The enhancement of the Forsbrook pendant by its garnet setting may have been with the purpose of being more effective in drawing the first, most virulent glance of the Evil Eye and distracting by dazzling the antagonist. People with wealth considered themselves more vulnerable to the Evil Eye as they would attract the most envy (ibid, 30).
The use of garnet could be associated with the belief that this stone was powerful against witchcraft and demons, and the circular design to attract the power of a ring. The use of the double-headed creature in the design draws on a symbolic tradition which has its roots in Celtic art and was used in the medieval period to depict the amphisbaena, the double-headed dragon.
However, while it is important to look at the possible psychological significance of the pendant, there is no absolute need to assume that it was worn for any other reason than its beauty and utility. This was an ornament which would have reflected quite clearly the prestige and social standing of the wearer and may have been even more highly valued for its inclusion of an "antique".


Jessup, R. 1974 Anglo-Saxon Jewellery. Shire Publications Ltd.
Meaney, A.L. 1981 Anglo-Saxon Amulets and Curing Stones. British Archaeological Reports, British Series 96.
Ozanne, A. 1962-3 The Peak Dwellers', Medieval Archaeology 6-7, 15-52.
Speake, G. 1970 'A Seventh-century Coin Pendant from Bacton', Medieval Archaeology 14, 1-16.
Wilson, D.M. 1976 The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon
England. Cambridge University Press.
Victoria County History, Staffordshire, Vol. I 1908.