The Historical Old Mint House at Pevensey. Dating from 1342 A.D.
A quaint old half-timbered house, with over- hanging eaves and time-darkened red tiles, stands close to the Castle walls and opposite the Eastern Postern. This is the Mint House, now nearly six hundred years old, and one of the most interesting buildings in the South of England.The site of the present structure is reputed to have been used as a Norman Mint as long ago as 1076 A.D. The Mint House was erected in 1342 A.D. to the size and shape as it now stands, but the interior was considerably altered in 1542 A.D. by Dr. Andrew Borde, then Court Physician to King Henry the Eighth. It contains twenty-eight rooms, all rich in oak beams of good preservation, one of these rooms being panelled with oak carvings of the Renaissance period.
In 1548 King Edward the Sixth stayed here for the benefit of his health, and the bedroom which he used to occupy is still shewn. Adjoining this is the room of Andrew Borde the King's host, and it was from this window that Sir Harry Raft leaped down on a September night in 1607, to meet his death from sword wounds after an unequal contest against five horsemen. On the site of the present house was a building, used as far back as 1076 A.D. for minting coins, and presumed to have been connected - by a subterranean passage running beneath the Roman walls with the earliest part of the Norman castle. Coins were struck here during the reigns of William the Conqueror, William Rufus, Henry the First, and King Stephen, over the period of 1076 to 1154 A.D., and it is believed that the Mint ceased operations soon after the accession of Henry the Second.
The Pevensey Mint is mentioned in the Domesday Book and four of the coins struck here are now exhibited in the British Museum, whilst a few others are scattered among provincial museums.
To the right on entering is the Oak Room, panelled throughout with wood in an excellent state of preservation, and carved with splendid examples of the handwork of the Renaissance period. The massive overmantel is divided into four sections, each lower panel representing a leviathan with an elaborate tail and borne upon a stippled background. The probable date of these carvings is 1460 A.D. and they are good examples of the work of the fifteenth century, being deeply cut and still in perfect condition despite the five hundred years or more of their existence. During a century they remained hidden, why it would not now be possible to ascertain, but from somewhere about 1800 the panelling was covered over by plaster, and owing to change of ownership of the house the existence of the woodwork was lost sight of.
One day an accidental blow caused a piece of wall plaster to fall away and the discovery of a portion of carving in the damaged spot led to the whole of the plaster being carefully stripped olf, leaving these walls exactly as now shewn.
The profusion of oak beams here as well as elsewhere in the house — are worthy of note, and serve to show what kind of material was used in the "good old days." Of course a building of this age simply must have a traditional ghost and next to the Oak Room is a little chamber — the smallest room in the house — which is reputed to be the abode of a feminine member of the spirit world, attired in costume of the sixteenth century. Many people have asserted that they have seen this spectre and some years ago a gentleman volunteered to spend a night in this room in order to investigate the matter.
The following is his account of what occurred, and it should be borne in mind that the chamber has only one door, this leading off from an inner passage, and a single window looking out on to what was then a small and entirely enclosed space shut between the walls of the house.
Having locked the door as a precaution against practical jokes, I laid down upon the couch my host had had carried there, but did not undress. Nothing happened, and after some time, I fell asleep, but was soon disturbed by a peculiar tapping noise. It was a metallic sound occurring at irregular intervals, and seemed to come from the vicinity of the window. Glancing in this direction I was, I must admit, rather startled to see a face pressed against the outside of the diamond-paned window.
I cried out involuntarily, and the 'something' immediately passed through and stood near the foot of my couch, although I know that the window was securely fastened when I retired. I was able to see the figure quite distinctly, and it was that of a young woman in a very old-fashioned dress. 'She" wore a close-fitting bodice with tight sleeves, and the dress was very full upon the hips, a costume similar to that in which Queen Elizabeth is often portrayed, but with a smaller ruff around the neck. 'She' also wore a head-dress which appeared to be of stiffened lace. I am sorry that I did not notice the 'lady's' actual features or expression, as after a few seconds she moved over towards the window again, and I felt so unnerved at her presence that I took the opportunity to fling myself off the sofa and rush out to awaken my host. I distinctly remember that the door was still locked when I reached it, and that when I returned with my host and his friend the window had not been tampered with, as some threads that I had fastened across it before retiring were unbroken.
To those who are believers in the supernatural, an account of a sixteenth century tragedy which occurred in the Mint House may be deemed to have some connection with the ghostly visitor mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, assuming that the haunted room was formerly the boudoir of the principal victim.
The manner of the tragedy was unusual and ghastly in detail, but a few words will suffice for the main outline. It occurred in 1586, when Thomas Dight, a London merchant, resided awhile in Pevensey with his mistress, having rented the Mint House from the owner, who was then abroad. Returning unexpectedly one evening and finding the lady in the arms of a stranger, Dight, in a fit of jealous fury, caused his mistress's tongue to be cut out, and then had her securely bound and carried to what was formerly the Minting Chamber. At the merchant's direction his men-servants suspended the captured lover by chains from the ceiling, and built a large fire on the stone floor beneath him. The woman was forced to lie and watch the struggles of the unfortunate man being slowly tortured by heat and smoke, until death put an end to his agonies.
In the stillness of the night his body was quietly carried down to the town bridge and cast over, to be carried out to sea. The woman was then carried to one of the upper rooms, where she was left, still with hands and feet tied. Lying there, without food or light, she suffered a lonely and painful death.
Her body was afterwards buried on or near the premises and nothing was known of the incident until Dight recounted it to his friends in a confession made shortly before his death in 1601.
Nearby the haunted room is the kitchen, a spacious apartment, possessing a large recessed fireplace, and an open hearth complete with a fine old Sussex iron fireback and firedogs. Here again the ceiling is well served with oak beams, a particularly good specimen supported upon walls of more than thirty inches thickness stretching over the hearth, and looking as strong now as it did when built into the dwelling some hundreds of years ago. Viewed on a winter's night, by the fitful light of a log wood fire, this room presents a typical picture of the comfortable kitchens which were a feature of the good old days some centuries before gas stoves and electric cookers were thought of.
Immediately behind the kitchen is the Minting Room, the oldest part of the building, but of course all traces of the coiner's furnaces have long since vanished. This site dates right back to the early days of the reign of William the Conqueror, and it is interesting to visualise that on this spot, more than eight hundred years ago, Norman workmen were busily engaged in striking coins for use in the monarchy of the first Norman King of England. The issue of money from this mint ceased in 1154 A.D., during the reign of King Stephen.
It may seem strange to find that the Mint was outside the castle walls instead of being an establishment within them. The reason for this seems to have been that although the building of the Norman castle was commenced by the Earl of Moreton in 1069 A.D., the erection went on rather slowly, and the Pevensey Mint commenced its operations at a time when there was no accommodation for this work inside the portions then being built. If tradition is correct there was a subterranean passage running beneath the Roman wall and connecting the Mint House with the Castle Keep. It was in this room, in 1586, that Thomas Dight tortured his mistress by compelling her to watch the death agonies of her captured lover, after her tongue had been cut out by one of Dight's servants.
On the right of the Oak Room is the Servants' Hall, a large room, possessing a separate entrance from the street, and a separate stairway to the upper apartments. Here is a spacious open fireplace and the hearth is still equipped with fireback, firedogs, and cooking pot, all made of Sussex iron. Apparently the early builder made the eastern end of the Mint House a "self-contained" servants' quarters, with its own entrance, staircase and sleeping apartments immediately above. Passing up the old staircase and along a small corridor the visitor comes upon the room once occupied by the youthful monarch, Edward the Sixth, who ascended the throne in 1547 on the death of his father the oft-married Henry the Eighth, and stayed at the Mint House a few months later.
The Minting Chamber
The owner of the house at that time was the Doctor Andrew Borde, a figure well known in the Court of King Hal, and holding the position of Court Physician to that monarch. After Henry's death, Borde took up new appointments in the new Court and became medical adviser and companion to Edward, the latter being then only ten years old. Possibly the doctor considered the air of Pevensey to be a better tonic than mere medicines, as the young king, being in poor health, was brought by his adviser to stay at the Mint House for a quiet rest after his first few months of experience as nominal ruler of the kingdom. Here they stayed for some time, occupying adjoining bedrooms.
The Chamber in which the king slept is immediately above the Oak Room, and was evidently what would be termed the "best bedroom." It possesses a "bay" window, a well-timbered ceiling and the walls were adorned with frescoes. Formerly each wall was fully decorated with fresco work, and though these are still possibly intact many of them can now hardly be discerned. This is owing to the more modern attentions of some would-be improver, who sought to alter the appearance of the room by covering the frescoes over with a thin film of plain plaster.
One picture represents a cherubim in a mass of foliage, whilst another displays a curious motto which reads "Give ye of that little to my brethen also." The visitor will notice here an extravagant display of oak beams in the ceiling, and, as in the majority of the larger rooms in the building, the original constructor of the house seems to have been a believer in employing as much stout woodwork as he could possibly find accommodation for. And it is doubtless due to the substantial inner work that the house remains firm and strong now that it is over the good age of six hundred years.