The copper half penny token, pictured above, measures 21.2 mm and weighs 2.59 grams. It was issued in 1668 by Edward Munns, a tradesman operating from premises at or by the sign of the Sugar Loaf on London Bridge.
The design of the token may be formally described as follows;
Obverse: (sexfoil) EDWARD. MVNS. AT. THE. SVGAR , around a twisted wire circle. Within the depiction of a sugarloaf
Reverse: (sexfoil) ON. LONDON. BRIDG. 1668, around a twisted wire circle, within three lines the legend HIS / HALFE / PENNY
Edward Munns was one of only six tradesmen who lived and worked in one of the buildings which were perched along the sides of old London Bridge who are known to have issued private trade tokens (1).
Old medieval London Bridge comprised a broad road carried by twenty asymmetrical narrow stone arches resting on large piled masonry piers. It was the city’s only bridge over the River Thames which, prior to the building of the Victoria Embankment on its northern side, was considerably wider than it is today. On the south side of the bridge, at Southwark, its entrance was marked by a fortified gate house. For centuries the boiled and tarred (for preservation) heads and severed limbs of executed traitors were held aloft on pikes from the top of this gate house and publically displayed to all entering the city from the south.
It is believed that the practice of exhibiting traitor’s heads from the gate house at the south of the bridge continued into the first quarter of the 18th century. After the re-building of the city, post the Great Fire of 1666, the new Temple Barr gate way became a more regular location for their display.
The approach to the bridge on its northern side was via Lower Fish Street, just west of the church of St. Magnus the Martyr, in the Bridge Ward of the City.
By the start of the 17th century both the east and west sides of the bridge were covered in a near continuous row of three to five storey wooden tenements which contained both private dwellings and shops which fronted onto the road. From the 1580s the bridge also housed a tidal water wheel powered pump under arches at its northern end. This pump provided the city with one of its earlier supplies of water directly from the River Thames.
In 1579 a new grand and highly elaborate five storey building, Nonsuch House, was erected towards the southern end of the bridge. As part of this re-development one of arches of the bridge was taken out and replaced by a drawbridge. Whilst this added some additional protection to the City it allowed larger vessels access to the upper part of the River Thames for the first time in hundreds of years. Nonsuch House was Britain’s first recorded fully prefabricated building. It was built and trial erected in Holland before being shipped in pieces to London in 1578 where it was re-assembled on a space cleared for it on the southern part of the bridge.
In 1633 a fire broke out on the north end of the bridge which destroyed forty three houses and shops (2). Although there was some degree of re-building at this end of the bridge in the immediate years that followed a gap remained in the continual line of tenements. Luckily it was this natural fire brake which protected the buildings perched on the mid and southern parts of the bridge from being incinerated during the Great Fire of London. The Great Fire consumed most of the city of London over a period of four days in September 1666. It started in a bakery in Pudding Lane close to the bridge’s northern end.
It was from within the hustle and bustle of the unique surroundings on old London Bridge that Edward Munns issued his half-penny trade tokens. These tokens display the trade sign (i.e. the sugarloaf) and location (i.e. on London Bridge) at or close to which Edward’s premises stood. This was a time before the formal address numbering of buildings. Ornate and memorable trade signs, in association with specific street names, were the standard means of expressing a location’s address. Trade signs would typically be suspended above a trader’s business premises or built into their fabric. In isolation the sign of a sugarloaf is highly suggestive of its owner being a grocer(3). As one of the staple products sold by grocers in the 17th century, sugar, in the form of a distinctive wholesale loaf, would have been instantly associated with their trade by the public.
Whilst normally indicative of a grocer the sign was also adopted by a few other tradesmen in addition to some taverns of the period. However, a review of contemporary records has indicated that Edward Munns was neither a grocer nor a tavern keeper. A clue to his occupation was initially provided in a list of the individuals and their trades who lost their properties in the London Bridge Fire of 1633. This list indicates that at the north end of the bridge, at least, there was a predominance of tradesmen involved in aspects of the cloth and clothing trade (2).
Edward Munns was the youngest of three sons born to Thomas Munns and Susan Foster. Thomas was a citizen of London and draper from the parish of St. Mary Abchurch whilst Susan Foster was originally from the parish of St. Saviour’s, Southwark(4). The couple married in 1605 and although Thomas died in 1615 all three of his sons (Thomas b.1606, John b.1608 and Edward, b. circa 1615) went on to become drapers like their father(4). Each of the boys would have served a seven-year apprenticeship with a master draper. On completing their apprenticeships they received their freedom from their respective masters (Thomas in 1628, John in 1632 and Edward in 1637)(4) . Thereafter each of the young men would have been eligible to join the Worshipful Company of Drapers. Shortly after receiving his freedom Edward Munns started his own business from premises on London Bridge. This is confirmed from an entry in the London Poll Tax returns for 1641(2) ;
Munns, Edward – girdler on the bridge
On the 3rd March 1645 an Edward Munns married Ann Grimes at the church of Holy Trinity, Minories just outside the eastern boundaries of the city, close to the Tower of London. According to a leading genealogical index of London families(4) Edward Munns (the draper of London Bridge) had one recorded child, Ann, who married a John Heather in 1663. If Ann Munns was born circa 1645/6 this would have made her 17/18 at the time of her wedding. Given that it was common practice in the 17th century for parents to pass the mother’s first names on to their first born daughter this adds further support to Edward Munns the draper being the man who married Ann Grimes of the Minories in 1645.
I can find no further references to Edward Munns’ wife in any surviving records. Edward’s trade tokens of 1668 carry only his name. Often, but not always, if a trader was married he would incorporate both his and his wife’s initials into the reverse of his token design. While this was very common on the farthing tokens issued by London traders during the period 1649 to the early 1660s it was not so conventional on the half penny tokens which became increasingly predominant from the early 1660s to 1672. Edward’s final Will makes no reference to a wife and implies he only had one (or at least one surviving) child, Ann. Combining all these facts together it is tempting to speculate that Edward Munns’ wife died shortly after the birth of the couples only child. She may not even have survived the birth of this child. Death of mothers in or as a result of child birth was not at all uncommon in the 17th century.
A search of the Hearth Tax returns for 1666 has failed to identify Edwards Munns on London Bridge. However, we know he was still trading there in 1668 as that is the date on his tokens which confirms him on the bridge at or by the sign of the sugarloaf.
Two clues exist as to the precise location of the sign of the sugarloaf on the bridge. In mid-November 1667 an entrepreneur by the name of James Peters placed an advert in the London Chronicle informing those who were looking to buy or sell vacant plots of land in the city, post the Great Fire of 1666, to register with him(5) . James Peters was effectively offering his services as a land sale agent by compiling a registry of vacant and available land in the city. The advert clear states how those interested in taking advantage of his services were to find him;
“…the dwelling house of Mr. James Peters Scrivener, at the Sign of the Sugar-loaf near the Draw-bridge on London-Bridge…”
Returning to the Hearth Tax returns of 1666 an entry can be found for the above mentioned individual;
James Peters – Paying tax on a property with 6 hearths located on the Bridge on the East Side
Thus it can be deduced that Edward Munns’ shop was located by the sign of the sugarloaf which was on the south-east part of the bridge close to the draw bridge which was located on the south side of Nonsuch House.
Edward Munns had a long and seemingly successful career as a London draper. In 1667 he became a member of the Worshipful Company of Drapers. From 1678 he went on to be elected to various senior offices within the Company(6) . These included;
Assistant – In 1682/3 and 1683/4
Warden – In 1678/9, 1685/6 and 1687/8
Over his career Edward Munns took on no fewer than seven different apprentices(6). These included(4) ;
Samuel Pain – Received his freedom from Edward Munns on 23rd February 1649
James Goldham – Received his freedom from Edward Munns on 6th May 1657
Edward Kidder – Apprenticed to Edward Munns on 20th March 1666.
Francis Cade – Received his freedom from Edward Munns on 20th November 1667
John Clarke – Apprenticed to Edward Munns on 10th March 1680
Edward Kidder was the son of Thomas Kidder, a merchant tailor, who also had premises on London Bridge prior to his death in 1656(4). No doubt Edward Munns had known the Kidder family well before he took Edward on as his apprentice. John Clare, the son of a London butcher, was almost certainly Edward Munns’ last apprentice as Edward died in 1689/90(4)(6). By this date he was in his mid-70s and so had lived to a very respectable age for the period.
Edwards Munns’ Last Will and Testament was written on 23rd October 1688(7) and confirms that he had amassed a considerable amount of money as well as a certain amount of property during his life time. Edward made his son-in-law, John Heather, executor of his Will in which he left the bulk of his goods and estate to his daughter Ann with provision that it went primarily to her and then to her son John and not her husband. Presumably John was the eldest of the Ann and John Heather’s five children, the others being Susan, William, Elizabeth and Alice. Separate provisions were made in Edward’s Will for all five of his grandchildren. Such provisions comprised various monetary amounts. These were payable in the forms of individual differing annuities plus final sums which were to be paid to each grandchild on them reaching certain stipulated ages or, in the case of the girls, their marriages, which ever occurred first. Particularly generous provisions were made for John and Susan in Edward’s Will compared to those made for his other three grandchildren.
Edward’s Will makes no reference to him owning any leases or property on London Bridge. This coupled with the absence of his name against any of the returns from the Hearth Tax of 1666 suggests that his premises on the bridge were either rented or held by a lease which had expired by the time he made his final Will in October 1688. However, his Will clearly indicates that he did own land and property in Barrons Court and Barrons Alley in the Aldgate Without district of London. As yet I have been unable to locate the precise location of this address on contemporary maps or gazetteers within the fairly well-defined bounds of Aldgate Without. Interestingly the general location of this property was close to the parish church where it is believed Edward Munns married Ann Grimes in 1645 (i.e. Holy Trinity, Minories). As such it is possible that the bequeathed property in Edward’s Will was related to an inheritance secured from his late wife’s family.
Dickinson, M.J. – Seventeenth Century Tokens of the British Isles and their Values. (London, 2004).
Upcott, W. – Great Fire on London Bridge, in 1633. The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 94, Part 2. November 1824.
Lillywhite, B. – London Signs: A Reference Book of London Signs from Earliest Times to about the Mid Nineteenth Century. (London, 1972).
Boyd, P. – Inhabitants of London. A genealogical Index held by the Society of Genealogists, London.
The London Gazette, Number 209, November 14th to 18th, 1667.
Johnson, Rev. A.H. – The History of the Worshipful Company of the Drapers of London. Vol. IV. (Oxford, 1922).
PROB/11/396. National Archives (London).