Richard Athy at the sign of the Fleur de Lys in St. James Market Place, Westminster

A half penny token issued by Richard Athy at or by the sign of the "Fleur de Lys" in St. James Market, Westminster

A half penny token issued by Richard Athy at or by the sign of the “Fleur de Lys” in St. James Market, Westminster

The above octagonal brass half penny token measures 19.8 mm by 19.9 mm and weighs 2.06 grams. It was issued in 1668 by a tradesman named of Richard Athy whose premises were at or close by the trade sign of the “Fleur de Lys” in St. James Market Place, Westminster. The design of the token may be formally described as follows;

Obverse: (mullet) RICHARD. ATHY. 1668 ∙:∙ within inner and outer octagonal borders, around a central Fleur de Lys.

Reverse: Legend within six lines divided by five horizontal beaded lines reads, IN ST. / IAMESES / MARKETT / PLACE . HIS. / HALFE / PENY

St. James Market, Westminster (c.1720).

St. James Market, Westminster (c.1720).

This particular token was struck relatively late in the series of mid-17th century tradesmen’s tokens whose issue extended from 1648/9 to 1672. This is clear not only from the token’s legend, which indicates the date 1668, but also from its very distinctive shape. From or just prior to 1668 token manufacturers introduced four new shapes of flan on which they began to strike half penny and penny tokens. In order of their frequency of occurrence these were;

1)      Octagonal

2)      Heart-shaped

3)      Square

4)      Diamond-shaped

It has been suggested that these additional shape options were a marketing ploy to try and revitalize the token makers’ business which, by this date, had passed its peak.

Richard Athy’s token clearly infers the location of his business premises as being at or close by the sign of the “Fleur de Lys” in St. James Market Place, Westminster. Unfortunately this particular sign was adopted by a variety of tradesmen in London in the 17th century (1) and so offers no definitive clues as to Richard’s occupation. A review of several sets of surviving contemporary records has similarly failed to shed any light on Richard’s vocation. However, the records of the Worshipful Company of London Vintners list a Richard Athey as taking on four apprentices between 1672 and 1679 (2). These were;

  • Samuel Crew – The son of Robert, citizen of London and dyer on 1st October 1672
  • Phillip Scarlett – The son of Laiton, Warden and gentleman of Shropshire on 6th July 1676
  • John Lattimer – The son of John, citizen of London and cloth worker on 3rd October 1676
  • William Harris – The son of a late London grocer on 6th May 1679

Assuming that the master of above apprentices is one and the same person as our token issuer we can reasonably assume that he was a vintner who ran a tavern in St. James Market Place which traded under the sign was the fleur-de-leys.

Interestingly there appears to be no record of a Richard Athey ever being an apprentice of the Worshipful Company of London Vintners. This may indicate that he served his apprenticeship under a master tradesman belonging to a different (and as yet un-identified) London Livery Company. Examples of apprentices taking up final employment in a different trade to that in which they were originally trained is not unknown in the 17th century and became increasingly common in the 18th and 19th centuries.

There appears to be no listings for an Athey (or Athy) family in the Westminster Hearth Tax returns for 1666. However, analysis of transcribed London parish registers together the Westminster Highway and Poor Relief Rate Books has yielded more positive results.

A search of London parish registers has to date identified fifteen separate entries mentioning a Richard Ath(e)y and his immediate family. However, not all of these necessarily refer to the same individual who issued the above token. By viewing the records as a whole it is obvious that they refer to at least two separate individuals who shared a common name and lived in London during the same period. From the total of fifteen records two in particular stand out as being highly suspect as referring to a different Richard Ath(e)y to that of the token issuer. For completeness these entries have been recorded at the end of this article (see Notes 1 & 2).

The following record was entered on 24th January 1663/4 in the parish registers of St. Mary Somerset, which was located off Upper Thames Street in the Queenhithe Ward of the city.

  • Richard Athy and Susana Dix spinster one Northamp’sher one Essex, married

Further details relating to the above couple are available from their marriage license (3), reproduced below;

January 16th 1663/4 – Richard Athy, of Little Billing, co. Northton, Bachr, 23, & Susan Dix, Spr, 21, dau. of John Dix, of Romford, co. Essex, Gent., who consents; at St. Mary Mounthaw or St. Mary Somerset, London.

It is clear from the above that Richard was born in c.1640/1 and originated from Little Billing, Northamptonshire. Interestingly this small village, located approximately four miles west of the County town of Northampton, was the home of another mid-17th century London token issuer, John Athy, who shared the same surname as Richard and who was slightly older than the latter (see Note 3). It highly likely that the two men were directly related, possibly being either brothers or, possibly given the age difference, uncle and nephew.

It is reasonable to assume that Richard’s marriage to Susanna in 1663/4 was his first marriage and that only a few years previously he had completed a standard seven year trade apprenticeship. It is likely that this was served under a master tradesman belonging to one of London’s ancient livery companies. However, no record of his apprenticeship has yet been found.

Returning to the earlier mentioned parish register entries we find a total of 12 children being christened to a Richard and Susana(h) Ath(e)y within the bounds of London and Westminster between 1666 and 1686. These are listed below in chronological order;

1)      Elizabeth – Christened at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster – 9th December 1666

2)      Susanna – Christened at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster – 18th January 1667/8

3)      Richard – Christened at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster – 24th February 1669

4)      Ester – Christened at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster – 21st May 1672

5)      Mary – Christened at St. Olave, Old Jewry, London – 20th June 1673

6)      John – Christened at St. Olave, Old Jewry, London – 17th March 1674, Died 19th May 1675

7)      Susana – Christened at St. Olave, Old Jewry, London – 19th July 1676

8)      Rebecah- Christened at St. Olave, Old Jewry, London – 4th November 1674

9)      Susanah – Christened at St. Olave, Old Jewry, London – 4th May 1679

10)  Oliver – Christened at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster – 2nd June 1681

11)  Frances (Miss) – Christened at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster – 28th March 1682

12)  Henry – Christened at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster – 1st December 1686

Given the high mortality rate of children in London in the mid-17th century it is doubtful if all of the above survived infancy. It is clear from the respective parish register entry that their son John died in infancy. The fact that the couple named three of their daughters Susanna is a possibly indication that the first two had both died prior to each other whilst still in infancy.

The above list of christenings indicates that prior to 1673 Richard and Susanna Athy’s home parish was St. Martin in the Fields. This was the adjacent parish to St. James, Westminster where, at least in 1668, we can be fairly certain that Richard was a vintner plying his trade from premises at or by the Fleur de Leys tavern in St. James Market Place.

Between c.1673 and c.1679 it appears that the Athy family was living in the City of London where they had been married in 1663/4. By 1681 it appears that they were once again living in Westminster. This temporary move out of Westminster is further reflected by the short-term absence of Richard Athy’s name from the Westminster Highway and Poor Relief Rate Books. This is indicated by the summary of dated entries from both sets of books as listed below.

1672 – Two houses in the Market Place, St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster.

1682, 1683 & 1684 – Charles Street, south side, St. Martin in the fields, Westminster.

1684 (post May) & 1685 – Knigbridge, St. James Piccadilly, Westminster.

1688, 1690, 1693, 1694, 1695, – New Pye Street, St. Margaret’s, Westminster.

1696 – Orchard Street, St. Margaret’s, Westminster.

There is a possibility that the above listings relate to two or more individuals sharing a common name. For example some of the later entries (i.e. those after 1690) could be references to Richard Athy Junior (i.e. the token issuer’s son). Evidence to suggest that all the above entries are for Richard Athy the token issuer can be found in the Will of his son Richard junior (4). This document was prepared in 1689 and amended in 1692. During this period The Will states that Richard junior was a Lieutenant serving under Captain and Commander Charles Hawkins on Their Majesties Ship Advice, a fourth-rate Royal Navy frigate armed with 48 guns (5). The Will states that the principal beneficiaries of Richard’s estate were to be his father Richard Athy (Gentleman) of the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster and William Medgate (Scrivener) of London. Thus it is confirmed that after 1685 Richard Athy, the token issuer, moved out of the St. James area of Westminster and sequentially took-up residence in two separate addresses in the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster between 1688 and 1696.

After 1696 no further documentary references to Richard Athy (the token issuer) have yet come to light. It is likely that he died shortly after this date although no burial record has yet been found for him or his wife Susanna.

A Brief History of the early history of St. James Market, Westminster

In the 1650s the open space west of the Haymarket and north of Pall Mall, known as St. James’ Fields was considered ripe for development but hitherto this had been forbidden by the Crown. In March 1661/2 the Earl of St. Albans was granted a lease of much of this area by the Queen Mother. Development of the area was given further impetus in July 1662 when a meeting of commissioners for reforming the streets and buildings of London ordered the “paving of the way from St. James’, north, which was a quagmire, and also the Haymarket about Piqudillo”. A further Act of that same year also made provision for the paving of Pall Mall, the Haymarket and St. James’ Street. By 1663 the development of St. James’s Fields by the Earl had begun. As part of this development he established a market to serve the growing number of people who had come to live in the new buildings in the vicinity (1). This is the Westminster (or St. James) Market Place referred to as being the issuing location of the above token.

A view of Westminster by the Dutch engraver Jan Kip (c.1722).

A view of Westminster by the Dutch engraver Jan Kip (c.1722).

The Earl’s new market is first mentioned in a building lease of July 1663. The Westminster rate books confirm that it had been laid out and houses built around it before the end of the year. Building in Market Lane and St. Albans Street soon followed. The market itself was proclaimed on 27th September 1664 and facilitated the sale of all sort of provisions every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. By 1665 the new market place had its own purpose built market house and had also been made the new venue for the ancient St. James’ Fair (1).

“Whereas St. James Fair has been formerly kept in the Road near the House of St. James; be it known, that hereafter it is to be kept in St. James’ Marketplace to begin the 25th of July 1665, and to continue for 15 days at least in the Place aforesaid: A special care being taken for a better Regulation of the People thereabouts then has been formally.”

This annual fair had been held in the vicinity of St. James’ Fields since 1290. By the mid-17th century it had gained the reputation of being a boisterous and at times rowdy event. There is no record of how long the fair continued to be held in its new location.

On 1st April 1666 Samuel Pepys, the celebrated diarist and naval administrator recorded visiting the new market;

“So all up and down my Lord St. Albans his new building and market-house, and the taverne under the market-house, looking to and again into every place of building, and so away and took coach and home…”

Pepys mentions the market a second time in his diary in his entry for 11th April 1669.

“My wife and I out by coach, and Balty with us, to Loton, the landscape-drawer, a Dutchman, living in St. James’s Market, but there saw no good pictures. But by accident he did direct us to a painter that was then in the house with him, a Dutchman, newly come over, one Evarelst, who took us to his lodging close by, and did shew us a little flower-pot of his doing, the finest thing that ever, I think, I saw in my life; the drops of dew hanging on the leaves, so as I was forced, again and again, to put my finger to it, to feel whether my eyes were deceived or no. He do ask £70. for it: I had the vanity to bid him £20.; but a better picture I never saw in my whole life; and it is worth going twenty miles to see it.”

The Dutch artists being referred to above can be identified as Jan Looten (1618 to 1681) and Simon Verelst (2).

In 1720 John Strype (3) describes St. James Market as follows;

“St. James’s Market, a large place, with a commodious Market-house in the midst, filled with butchers shambles; besides the stalls in the Market Place, for country butchers, higglers, and the like; being a market now grown to great account, and much resorted unto, as being well served with good provisions. On the south-west corner is the paved alley, a good through-fare into Charles Street, and so into St. James’s Square, and those parts; but is of no great account for buildings or inhabitants. On each side, or square, of this market is a Row of houses, inhabited by such as have a dependence on the market, kept twice a week, but that on Saturdays is the most considerable.”

Parts of St. James Market house were occasionally used for purposes unconnected with trade. Richard Baxter, the Presbyterian preacher, held a number of meetings in rooms above Market-house and on one such occasion, in 1674, the size of his congregation was so great that the central supportive beam which supported the market’s upper story split and had to undergo emergency repairs before the upper rooms of the market could be re-opened (2).

The Market House in St. James Market Westminster from Strype's Map of 1720 and Jan Kip's engraving of Westminster of c.1722.

The Market House in St. James Market Westminster from Strype’s Map of 1720 and Jan Kip’s engraving of Westminster of c.1722.

I have been unable to find any contemporary images of St. James Market other than for the long distant partial view plus the schematic representation illustrated above. The first of these is Johannes Kip’s early 18th century print entitled “A Prospect of the City of London Westminster and St James’s Park”. In this the partial view of the Market shows a large building with a simple front, probably classical in style, having a pedimented centre facing down St. Albans Street and twin pediments at each end. Although this cannot be accepted as definite evidence of the building’s appearance, it is likely to be a more reliable representation than that the above mentioned schematic representation shown in John Ogilby and William Morgan’s survey (map) of London and Westminster of 1681/2. This representation of the market house shows it as a Jacobean building of two stories, with three entrances separated by projecting turrets which rise against a high hipped roof.


1)      A christening record, dated 16th August 1643, exists for Richard, the son of Richard Athy in the parish registers of St. Mary Magdalene in Milk Street, London.

2)      A christening record, dated February 1665, exists for an Anne Athey from the London parish of St. Mary le Bow. Anne’s father was recorded as Richard Athey.

3)      John Athy has been attributed (9) as the issuer of two separate farthing tokens from the King’s Head Tavern in Leadenhall Street. His family is recorded in the parish registers of St. Peter’s Church, Cornhill between 1642 and 1665 (10). The apprentice records of the Worshipful Company of London Haberdashers records him being bound to a Peter Hunt in 1633 by his farther, Simon Athy of Little Billing, Northamptonshire. Assuming he entered his apprenticeship at the usual age of 12 this would put John’s approximate year of birth as 1620/1 (11). For the very short period between 11th to 23rd Jul 1667, John was the Alderman of the Vintry Ward of London. He was discharged from this position “in consideration of his late great losses and many children, and other evident causes disabling him to the charge and execution of the office” (11). John died c.1693/4 and according to the provisions of his Will was buried with his first wife, Jane, in whose name his farthing tokens of c.1655-60 were issued.


1)      Lillywhite, B. – London Signs: A Reference Book of London Signs from Earliest Times to about the Mid Nineteenth Century. (London, 1972).

2)      Webb, C. – London Livery Company Apprenticeship Registers. Volume 43. Vintners’ Company 1609-1800. (2006).

3)      Chester, J.L. – Allegations for marriage licenses issued from the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury at London, 1543 to 1869. Church of England. Province of Canterbury. Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury at London. Harleian Society (London, 1886).

4)      PROB 11/441/102 – Will of Richard Athy, Lieutenant aboard their Majesty’s Ship Advice (6th November 1697), National Archives, London.

5)      Lavery, B. – The Ship of the Line – Volume 1: The development of the battlefleet 1650-1850. (2003).

6)      Sheppard, F.H.W. – Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster. Part 1 (1960).

7)      Wheatley, B & Cunningham, P. – London Past and Present: It’s History. Associations and Traditions. (2011).

8)      Strype, J. – A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster. Volume II, Book VI (London, 1720).

9)      Rogers, K. – “On Some Seventeenth Century London Tokens”. Numismatic Chronicle, 5th Series. Volume VIII. (1928).

10)  Boyd, P. – Inhabitants of London. A genealogical Index held by the Society of Genealogists, London.

11)  Woodhead, J.R. – The Rulers of London 1660-1689: A biographical record of the Aldermen and Common Councilment of the City of London (1966).


Filed under Tokens from West of the City Walls

2 responses to “Richard Athy at the sign of the Fleur de Lys in St. James Market Place, Westminster

  1. WOW … this took a huge amount of research. Quite simply, the best piece of research on a 17th C trade token I have ever seen. A delight for anyone interested in the history of London.


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