William Minshew of Rosemary Lane, Whitechapel


A farthing token issued in the name of William Minshew of Rosemary Lane in Whitechapel

A farthing token issued in the name of William Minshew of Rosemary Lane in Whitechapel

The above copper farthing token measures 16.3 mm and weighs 1.12 grams. It was issued in the name of William Minshew of Rosemary Lane in eastern London in 1659.

The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (star) WILL.MINSHEW.IN, around the depiction of a swing plough facing left.

Reverse: (star) ROSEMARY.LANE 59, around the depiction of a still mounted on a masonry hearth with flames issuing from the top right side and distillate being collected in a receiving vessel located on its left side.

The “59” in the token’s reverse legend is an abbreviated issue date, i.e. 1659.

Near contemporary depictions of similar stone hearth mounted stills to the one shown on William Minshew's farthing Token (c.16 to 17th century woodcuts)

Near contemporary depictions of similar stone hearth mounted stills to the one shown on William Minshew’s farthing Token (c.16 to 17th century woodcuts)

Rosemary Lane (originally Hog Lane, or Hoggestrete) was the continuation of what is now Cable Street, running from the junction with Dock Street and Leman Street towards the Tower of London. Rosemary Lane was renamed Royal Mint Street in 1850. It crossed the parishes of Aldgate (in the west) and Whitechapel (in the east).

The section of Rosemary Lane which passes through the Parish of Whitechapel (c.1720)

The section of Rosemary Lane which passes through the Parish of Whitechapel with St. Mary’s Church in the top right on Whitechapel Street (c.1720)

I have been unable to find any conclusive evidence of where and when William was born. However, he could well be one of the following individuals who are recorded in their respective parish baptism records;

1)      William Minshawe – Baptised in the parish church of Garlickhithe on 1st September 1630. The son of Randall and Ursley Minshawe

2)      William Mynshawe – Christened in the parish church of St. Andrew by the Wardrobe on 26th July 1630. The son of Edward Mynshawe

3)      William John Minshaw – Christened in the parish church of St. Benet Paul’s Wharf on 18th May 1637.

By 1659, the date of issue on his tokens, we know that William Minshew was resident in Rosemary Lane. In isolation the presence of only his initials on the reverse side of his tokens suggests that at the time of their issue William was unmarried. If married it would was usual for tradesmen to apply a triad of initials to the reverse side of their tokens. These typically comprised the side by side initials of the couple’s two Christian names below that of their common surname.  However, a search of local parish registers indicates a William and Alice Minshew living in the parish of St. Mary’s, Whitechapel from at least 1654. The parish baptism records the couple having the following children;

  • Sarah Minshew; baptised on 11th January 1654/5
  • John Minshew; baptised on 13th October 1658
  • Mary Minshew; baptised on 16th June 1661
  • William Minshew; baptised 7th June 1663

Further analysis of the parish registers of St. Mary’s, Whitechapel indicates the following relevant entries for the family;

  • William Minshew; buried on 9th August 1664
  • Alice Minshew; buried on 20th January 1688/9 (1)

It is not clear if the burial of William Minshew recorded above is that of the token issuer or his infant son.

A further search of Hearth Tax returns for 1666 from the districts of Whitechapel and Aldgate has failed to return any entries for either a William or Alice Minshew.

The association of the Minshew family with St. Mary’s, Whitechapel potentially narrows down the stretch of Rosemary Lane on which the family may have lived (i.e. the eastern section which lay within Whitechapel).

A depiction of a Rag Fair in Rosemary Lane, East London (late 18th century print by Thomas Rowlandson)

A depiction of a Rag Fair in Rosemary Lane, East London (late 18th century print by Thomas Rowlandson)

From the mid-17th century Rosemary Lane gained strong associations with the second-hand rag/cloth trade. However, like in other areas of London the occupations of the tradesmen and women who lived and worked in the lane were far more diverse. At least 29 tradesmen living on Rosemary Lane during the mid-17th century are known to have issued tokens. Their trades are varied and include an ironmonger, a cheesemonger, a pastry cook, a fruitier, a cable maker, a blacksmith, a fishmonger, a tobacconist, a brewer plus several victuallers. While not a fellow token issuer there was at least one other “tradesman” living on Rosemary Lane around the same time as William Minshew who is worth noting. This individual was a Hangman by the name of Richard Brandon, a trade which he had inherited from his father, Gregory Brandon, who had been an Axeman or executioner.  Richard died in 1649. While his burial register entry in the parish registers of St. Mary’s Whitechapel is in itself unremarkable, “1649. June 2. Richard Brandon, a man out of Rosemary Lane” the note next to it is not, “This R. Brandon is supposed to have cut off the head of Charles I”. The historical content of this note is supported by several contemporary anecdotes.

Based on the information contained on his token William Mishew’s occupation is unclear. The token’s obverse depicts a plough while its reverse depicts a still. In London the sign of the plough was adopted from the 16th century onwards by several taverns but was by no means exclusive to that trade. The image of a still suggests a possible inference that William may have been a distiller, although this again is by no means a certainty. The sign of the still was used by some taverns and possibly some members of the Apothecaries’ Society who, for a period in the 17th century, viewed the Worshipful Company of Distillers as partial rivals to elements of their trade.

One interpretation of the emblems on this particular token is that William Minshew was a distiller operating from premises in or near the building occupied by a tavern which went by the name or sign of the Plough. A review of the 30 token types known to have been issued from traders in Rosemary Lane indicates a degree of commonality with respect to the emblems used on their tokens. These include;

1)      Sam Crisp, cheesemonger at the sign of the still.

2)      Mr.  C.W. and Mrs.  F.W. at the sign of the plough (possibly keepers of a tavern by the name of the Plough).

3)      P. H. Doe on Armetage Bridge (2). This token bears the emblems of a wheat sheaf on its obverse and a plough on its reverse (possibly a trader in grain or cereals operating at or close to a tavern by the name of the Plough).

Notes:

1)      Rather confusingly there is a second burial register entry for an Alice Minshew the day before that listed above (i.e. 19th January 1668/9) in the adjoining parish registers of St. Botolph’s, Aldgate.

2) As yet the author has not been able to identify this exact location on Rosemary Lane.

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