The Rose & Crown in Covent Garden, Westminster


A farthing token issued by a tradesman operating from the sign of the Rose and Crown  in Covent Garden, Westminster

A farthing token issued by a tradesman operating from the sign of the Rose and Crown in Covent Garden, Westminster

The above copper farthing token measures 15.4 mm and weighs 1.18 grams. It was issued by a tradesman (almost certainly a tavern keeper) operating from premises at or by the sign of the Rose and Crown in Covent Garden, Westminster.

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

Obverse: (.) AT THE.ROSE.AND.CROWN, around a rose crowned.

Reverse: (star) IN.COVENT.GARDEN, around twisted wire inner circle, within a triad of initials comprising V | (star)M(star) | (star)M , plus a central dot below upper “M”.

The lower and off-set positioning of the mullet at the start of this token’s obverse legend suggests that the die sinker ran out of room around the edge of the die when inscribing the legend.  The anomalous line on the obverse of the token which starts below the “R” in CROWN and which runs parallel to the image of the rose and crown appears to be the result of damage to the original die from which the token was struck.

There is nothing on the token to indicate the date of its issue. However, on stylistic grounds plus the weight of evidence drawn from other dated farthing tokens during the mid-17th century it is likely that the above token was issued during the approximate period 1650 to 1660.

The emblem of the rose and crown was a badge of the Tudors. The marriage of the Lancastrian King Henry VII with Elizabeth of York extinguished the feudal rivalry between the royal houses of York and Lancaster. Thereafter the Tudor rose, half red and half white, surmounted by a crown became the royal badge.

A modern pub sign in the name of the Rose and Crown

A modern public house sign in the name of the Rose and Crown

As a trade sign in London it probably dates from the 16th century although the earliest recorded in Bryant Lillywhite’s survey dates from 1606. Its origin as a sign may have derived from the arms of the Company of Mercers. In London (and elsewhere in England) the sign also became popular amongst tavern keepers.

While several different taverns are recorded as operating in the Covent Garden area from the mid-17th century onwards I have so far failed to find any documentary mention of one bearing the common name of the “Rose and Crown”. As such its existence, like many other London taverns of this period, is only known from the paranumismatic record left by 17th century tradesmen’s tokens.

Covent Garden (c.1720)

Covent Garden (c.1720)

The initials of the couple that traded from the Rose and Crown at the time the token was issued, a Mr. “V. (or U (1)).M” and his wife Mrs.”M.M.” have not previously been identified. However, this now may be remedied based on the research outlined below.

There were several individuals living in Covent Garden at the time of the 1666 Hearth Tax with surnames beginning with “W” and Christian names beginning with either “V” or “M”. These included the following;

  • Widow Mayden – paid tax on a premises with 10 hearths
  • Mary Mason – paid tax on a premises with 12 hearths
  • Mary Mount – paid tax on a premises with 14 hearths
  • Valentine Morecot – paid tax on a premises with 9 hearths

The relatively high number of hearths represented in each of the above returns would be typical of that expected for a tavern of the period. Thus any one of these individuals could be synonymous with or related to the token’s original issuers. It is possible that by the time of the 1666 Hearth Tax the original token issuers may have moved out of Covent Garden or one or both of them may have died. While outside of the city walls Covent Garden was affected considerably by the infamous and devastating outbreak of plague in London of 1665/6.

Only one man identified from the 1666 Hearth Tax return has initials which directly fit with those of the primary issuer identified in the token’s reverse triad of initials. This is Valentine Morecot whose surname was variously spelt as Morecot, Morcot, Morecott and even Morket. Furthermore it may be shown that the Christian name of Valentine’s wife during the period 1652 to 1663 (i.e. most likely period of the token’s striking based on stylistic evidence) also began with an “M”. Thus completing the required set of token issuers’ initials as dictated by the triad on the token’s reverse.

Based on a wide assemblage of church records, parish registers and a transcript of Valentine Morecott’s Will of 1666/7 (the original of which is held by the London Metropolitan Archives) it is possible to piece together a history of the above token’s issuers. While not all of the links in this history can be fully proven (as it is possible that there may have been more than one individual in 17th century Westminster by the name of Valentine Morecott who was born c.1618) they do fit into a very probable sequence of events.

Valentine Morecott’s Story

It is probable that our particular Valentine Morecott was baptised on 21st February 1617/8 in Birchington (Kent) the son of Richard Morket of the same parish. Valentine was one of at least two brothers. One of these, Richard (born November 1615 and died May 1616) is recorded in the Birchington parish registers. Valentine’s uncle was William Morecott. William died in Northamptonshire sometime prior to 1666 as noted in Valentine’s Will of 1666/7.

On the eve of the English Civil War we find Valentine living in the Westminster parish of St. Martin in the Fields. It is likely that he lived in or close to the relatively new developments (1630s) in the west of that parish which were built by Francis Russell (4th Earl of Bedford) who employed Inigo Jones as his architect. These new developments included the now famous piazza of Covent Garden plus St. Paul’s Church on its western side.

Covent Garden in 1737. St. Paul's Parish Church can be seen at the rear of the piazza

Covent Garden in 1737. St. Paul’s Parish Church can be seen at the rear of the piazza

At the stated age of 24 Valentine married the 22 year old Mary Gibson of the parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate (London). The couple married on 15th March 1641/2 (2) in St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. At the time this now famous church was less than 10 years old and was still a chapel of ease to the nearby parish church of St. Martin’s in the Fields.

It is unclear how many children Valentine and Mary had but from details found in Valentine’s Will of 1666/7 it can be assumed that they had at least one son, Thomas, who survived into adulthood. In 1666/7 Thomas is recorded as a Licensed Victualler. This is almost certainly a case of the son following in his father’s trade although other than in the paranumismatic record there appears to be no other further evidence of Valentine having been associated with this trade.

At some time prior to late 1652 Valentine became a single man again, presumably a widower. On the 1st November of that year he is recorded as marrying Martha Baldwin in the church of St. Dunstan in the West, Fleet Street. Presumably this was the bride’s parish church.

The south-east prospect of St. Dunstan's in the West on Fleet Street

The south-east prospect of St. Dunstan’s in the West on Fleet Street

We can assume that the couple set up home, along with Valentine’s one known existing son Thomas, in the Covent Garden area. From 1655 onwards we find fairly frequent mention of Valentine and his growing family in the parish registers of St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. From 1645 this church became the parish church for Covent Garden. Below are listed the parish register entries relating to Valentine and Martha’s various children;

14th July 1655 – Baldwine Morecott sonne of Valentine and Martha borne

8th April 1657 – Thomas Morecott sonn of Valentine and Martha borne the 8th, baptized 15th.

6th November 1657 – Thomas sonn of Valentine Morcott in (buried) Ch : yd

2nd September 1658 – Martha daughter of Valentine Morecott (buried) in Ch : yd

At some point becoming married in 1652 it can be assumed that Valentine and Martha ran the Rose and Crown tavern in Covent Garden. The exact location of this tavern is unknown. During their custodianship of this establishment they were almost certainly responsible for the issue of the above farthing trade tokens (3).

St. Paul's Church, Covent Garden

St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Between 1662 and 1663 Valentine took on additional responsibilities within his local community. It is during this period that we find him listed as one of the church wardens of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. Shortly after taking on this new position in the community Valentine was to experience two personal tragedies in short succession. Having already lost two of his children in 1657 and 1658 respectively he next lost his wife. This is evident from a further entry in St. Paul’s parish registers;

6th May 1663 – Martha Wife of Valentine Morecott (buried) Ch : yard

Presumably it was the loss of Martha that caused Valentine to relinquish his church warden’s position in favour of focusing his time and efforts on raising his remaining young children in addition to running the family’s business (i.e. the Rose and Crown) so as to keep “bread on the table”. Within less than a year of Martha’s death the burial register for St. Paul’s indicates that Valentine was to befall a further tragedy. This time in the death of another of his children;

22nd January 1663/4 – John Son of Valintine Morcott Bu Ch yard

With no wife to help run his business or look after his surviving children Valentine would probably have found life difficult. The combined effects of these personal calamities and added hardship appears to have proved too great for him to bear alone and within a month of his son John’s death he married his third wife, Mary Lloyd, on 22nd February 1663/4. For Valentine, who was now in his mid-forties, this was very probably a marriage of convenience and security for his remaining children and business. The same may also have been true for Mary Lloyd.

In the next couple of years Valentine and his family were to bear witness to two of the most dramatic and tumultuous events in London’s history. At the end of April 1665 Samuel Pepys, the famous diarist and naval administrator, noted in his diary;

“Great fears of the sickenesse here in the City, it being said that two or three houses are already shut up. God preserve as all!”

The “sickness” referred to was the infamous Bubonic Plague. This was no stranger to Londoners in the 17th century as there had been previous outbreaks within the city in 1603, 1625 and 1636. The outbreak of Plague in 1665 may not necessarily have been identified at first but by April several deaths in areas outside the city walls had been noted and fears of it spreading and escalating in intensity were rife.

On the 7th June Pepys came across his first direct encounter of the plague as he passed through Drury Lane on the eastern fringe of Covent Garden;

“This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and “Lord have mercy upon us” writ there; which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind that, to my remembrance, I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll-tobacco to smell to and chaw, which took away the apprehension.”

Only a few days later (10th June) Pepys’ worst fears were realised. The plague had entered into the city of London and was claiming victims on his very door step;

“…to my great trouble, hear that the plague is come into the City (though it hath these three or four weeks since its beginning been wholly out of the City); but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr. Burnett, in Fanchurch Street: which in both points troubles me mightily. To the office to finish my letters and then home to bed, being troubled at the sicknesse, and my head filled also with other business enough, and particularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away, which God dispose of to his glory!”

A contemporary wood cut illustrating the plight of London during the out break of the Bubonic Plague in 1665

A contemporary wood cut illustrating the plight of London during the out break of the Bubonic Plague in 1665

In Covent Garden the first plague victim is officially recorded in the parish burial register on 12th April. Thereafter it appears to have rapidly taken hold in the area peaking in September with up to 97 deaths in a month. After September things started to slowly improve as illustrated in the figures below.

Between the first recorded death from the plague in the parish of Covent Garden in April 1665 and the last in August 1666 a total of 226 were recorded. This is approximately 60% of all the recorded deaths in the parish over that same period. The burial bells at St. Paul’s Church must have been continually tolling during the height of the plague (August to October 1665) and its comparatively small churchyard must have been full to overflowing. As in many other London parishes during this period it is probable that with so many dead the corpses to accommodate use of communal plague pits at locations outside the city had to be resorted to.

A contemporary wood cut illustrating the mass burial of London plague victims in 1665

A contemporary wood cut illustrating the mass burial of London plague victims in 1665

It appears from St. Paul’s parish burial register that the Morecott family was very lucky and came out of this epidemic unscathed. It is possible that once the outbreak started to spiral out of control they could have shut up their home and left the city for a safer place of refuge with relatives living outside of the city. This was a common form of escape for those who had this option available to them and could afford to do so. Unfortunately many people weren’t able to exercise such an option and had to stay in the city and take their chances. Some residents of the city were forced to flee their homes whether they had planned to or not. A rapid and unlawful escape from a house stricken by the plague was often a risk worth taking given the alternative of being boarded up in the premises as a form of guarantee until it could be proven the house hold was plague free. Being subject to such an enforced guarantee was often a death sentence for those in a household where only one family member was initially affected. A late example of residents in Russell Street, Covent Garden, illegally fleeing from an infected household before it could be officially put under guarantee (as signified by the official painting of a cross on its door together with the words “Lord Have Mercy On Our Souls”) is sited in the London Gazette of 10th May 1666. This account is reproduced in full below.

LG 10-05-1666 Issue 52

By the time the plague had almost run its course in early 1666 it had claimed the lives of 75,000 to 100,000 Londoners. This was up to a fifth of the city’s population.

No sooner was London emerging from the great calamity of the plague it was suddenly to be faced with another in the form of the Great Fire of 1666.

A contemporary oil painting of the Great Fire of London from the River Thomes looking across to Old St. Paul's Cathedral

A contemporary oil painting of the Great Fire of London from the River Thomes looking across to Old St. Paul’s Cathedral

The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of London from the early hours of Sunday 2nd September to Wednesday 5th September 1666. It started in a small Bakery in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge and from there rapidly spread, the towering flames being fanned by the late summer winds. The fire gutted the predominantly thatch roofed and timber framed old medieval properties which made up the bulk of London’s buildings inside of the old city walls. The fire threatened but did not reach the Tower of London, Westminster, Charles II’s Palace of Whitehall or most of the northern and eastern suburbs outside the city walls. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, the old St. Paul’s Cathedral and most of the buildings of the city authorities. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants. The official death toll from the fire was small, only six verified deaths being recorded. However, this figure is now challenged on the grounds that the deaths of some of the poorest victims may have gone unrecorded. In addition the intense heat of the fire may well have cremated many victims leaving no recognisable remains.

Fortunately for the Morecott family they lived in Covent Garden which was one of those districts to the west of the old city which had a lucky escape from the fire. We know they were still living in the parish at this time as only a few months later we find a further reference to the family in the parish registers of St. Paul’s;

22nd March 1666/7 – Valintaine Morcott (buried) Church yard

It is likely that Valentine’s health was failing at least a month before his death as his Last Will and Testimony is dated 20th February 1666/7(2). The opening section of the Will confirms that just prior to his death Valentine was still residing in the parish of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. In his Will he leaves the following;

To his son Thomas Morecott (Licensed Victualler) the sum of £5

To his cousin Mary Morecott (daughter of the late William Morecott of Northamptonshire) the sum of £5 to be paid on her 21st birthday.

To Valentine Morecott (son of the late William Morecott of Northamptonshire) the sum of £10 to be put aside to secure him an apprenticeship once he reaches the age of 15.

To Mary Bradford the sum of 10 shillings in order for a mourning ring (4) to be made for her in memory of Valentine.

To Thomas Malin (Cabinet maker of St. Andrew’s Parish Church, Holborn and the appointed Overseer of Valentine’s Will) Valentine’s own deaths head ring or the sum of 20 shillings in order for a  mourning ring to be made for him in memory of Valentine.

The rest of Valentine’s estate was bequeathed to his wife Mary Morecott.

The Will bears no mention to any of Valentine’s other surviving children. If his son Balwine were still alive at the time of Valentine’s death he would be 12. It is unconceivable that Valentine would have left no provision for his youngest known son in Will unless he had made a previous agreement with his wife Mary to take good care of Baldwine and continue to bring him up well after his death.

It is not known what happened to Valentine’s remaining family after his death. It is possible that his son Thomas (recorded as a Licensed Victualler in 1666) may have already taken over the family’s old business, i.e. the Rose and Crown tavern in Covent Garden. However, this by no means certain. While nothing specific about Valentine’s business premises (assuming he still had any) are mentioned in his Will it is clear that after the specific itemised bequests of money and mourning rings had been made out of his estate all his remaining money, goods and premises were to pass to his wife Mary. If the Rose and Crown tavern was still run by the family in 1666 it could therefore have passed to Mary.

Based on the negative evidence for any entries relating to the Morecott family in the parish registers of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden,  after Valentine’s death in late March 1666/7 it can only be assumed that the family sold up and moved out of the parish to make new lives elsewhere in the capital or outside the capital.

Notes:

1) Latin characters were used for the legends on 17th century tokens. In this alphabet there was no letter “J” or “U” the letter “I” and “V” were used in their place resectively.

2) It this period in Britain the Julian calendar was still used in which each successive year ran from 25th March to following 24th March. The change to the Gregorian calendar, which ran from 1st January to the following 31st December, did not occur until 1st January 1752.

3) It is apparent that Valentine Morecott married three times during his life and that each of his successive wives had a Christian name beginning with “M”, i.e. Mary from 1641/2, Martha between 1652 and 1663 and Mary from 1663/4. Assuming that Valentine was still married to his first wife after 1649 (i.e. after which the first trademen’s tokens started to appeared in England) there is an argument that the lower “M” on the triad on the token’s reverse, i.e. that which represents the issuer’s wife’s Christian name initial, could equally apply to any one of Valentine’s three wives. However, on stylistic grounds this particular token does not appear to be one of the earliest issues made prior to the mid-1650s. Furthermore a review of the most prevalent issuing period for farthing denominations during the period of mid-17th century token production (1649 to 1672) clearly indicates that by 1664 the issue of farthings had greatly declined in favour of half pennies. Taking these combined observations into consideration it may be concluded that Valentines Morecott’s farthing tokens almost certainly date from the period in which he was married to his second wife Martha (i.e. 1652 to 1663).

4) The presentation of mourning or funerary memorial rings was fairly common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries particularly amongst the middle and upper classes. Many wealthy people included instructions in their will on how much money was to be set aside for the purchase and inscribing of funerary rings together with instructions as to their design plus a list of those people who were to receive them.

A mid 17th Century Deaths Head Type Funerary Ring from London

A mid 17th Century Deaths Head Type Funerary Ring from London

In Samuel Pepys’s Will he bequeathed the grand total of 129 mourning rings be given away at his funeral. The grander and number of rings bequeathed by an individual was often an indication of their wealth. The internal shanks of such rings were often inscribed with the name of the deceased as a memorial. The designs of such rings were often “ghoulish” by modern standards and typically included skulls and cross bones or simply a skull (i.e. the so called deaths head design) as per the funerary ring bequeathed by Valentine Morecott to Thomas Malin of Holborn.

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