The above copper farthing token measures 15.6 mm in diameter and weighs 0.80 grams. It was most likely issued in the 1650s. The token was issued by George Carpenter, a mealman (i.e. a dealer in cereal grains and milled flour) operating from premises in Wapping. The design of the token may be formally described as follows;
Obverse: (mullet) IORG. CARPENTR. IN around a twisted wire inner circle, within a depiction of a wheat sheaf.
Reverse: (mullet) WAPING. MELL. MAN. around a twisted wire inner circle, within a triad of initials comprising G | .C. | .S with a small dot below the “C”.
Even by the phonetic spelling standards of the 17th century the obverse legend on this token appears clumsy, i.e. JORG. for GEORG. along with the missing “E” in the issuer’s surname.
The triads of initials on the reverse of the token are those of its issuer, George Carpenter, and his wife, Mrs. S. Carpenter.
The depiction of the wheat sheaf on the token’s obverse almost certainly represents the trade sign which hung over George’s business premises in Wapping. The symbol of a wheat sheaf was popular in 17th century London as a tavern sign and was also adopted by many bakers and mealmen, an emblem synonymous with their respective trades (1).
During the mid-17th century the area to the east of the Tower of London was still relatively lightly populated and in parts semi-rural. It contained a scattering of villages, including Wapping and Shadwell, which collectively were to become the borough of Tower Hamlets.
Wapping developed along the north embankment of the Thames, hemmed in by the river to the south and the now drained Wapping Marsh to the north. This gave it a peculiarly narrow and constricted shape, consisting of little more than the axis of Wapping High Street and some north-south side streets. John Stow, the 16th century historian, described it as a “continual street, or a filthy strait passage, with alleys of small tenements or cottages, built, inhabited by sailors’ victuallers”(2). A chapel to St. John the Baptist was built in Wapping in 1617. However, the hamlet continued to remain part of the parish of St. Dunstan and All Angels, Stepney until it was constituted as a parish in its own right in 1694.
Being located on the north bank of the River Thames, Wapping had long been associated with ship building, fitting and provisioning. It was inhabited by sailors, mast-makers, boat-builders, blockmakers, instrument-makers, victuallers and representatives of all the other associated maritime trades. Wapping was also the site of “Execution Dock”, where pirates and other water-borne criminals faced execution by hanging from a gibbet constructed close to the low water mark. Their bodies would be left suspended until they had been submerged three times by the tide.
A further farthing token is known to have been issued in the name of George Carpenter, mealman of Wapping. It is very similar to the one described earlier other than for the following differences;
1) The die sinker has corrected the spelling of the issuer’s name from JORG. to GEORG. CARPENTER on the token’s obverse.
2) The triad of initials on the reverse of the token have been altered to G | .C. | .M
Surviving examples of this second token are far commoner than first type described which until relatively recently was unrecorded.
The fact that the anomalous spelling of George’s name has been corrected on this second token is suggestive of it being a later farthing struck in the name of the original token’s issuer. The change in the triad of initials on the reverse of this second token (i.e. from “S” to “M”) is also of note and suggests that the issuer had re-married by the time this second farthing was commissioned.
The Search for George Carpenter of Wapping – A Tale of two Mealmen?
A good point to start the search for any 17th century London token issuer are Parish Registers, particularly those in the immediate locality to the area from which their trade premises were located. A review of parish registers from eastern London yields several references to a person(s) named George Carpenter in the neighbourhood of Wapping in the 1640s to 1660s. Looking at these entries as a whole it is obvious that there was more than one individual in the Wapping area during this period bearing the name “George Carpenter” and that some, if not all, of them were related.
From the parish register entries alone it is difficult to draw precise and accurate conclusions as to the history and relationships of those individuals whose initials are presented in the triads on the reverse sides of the two above trade tokens (i.e. Mr. G.C and Mrs. S.C plus Mr. G.C. and Mrs. M.C.). However, thanks to the preservation of the Will of one George Carpenter, mealman of Wapping, in the National Archives it is possible to address most of the gaps and questions raised from the Parish Register entry evidence.
It is possible that George Carpenter was the son of Thomas and Joyce Carpenter of (Old) Gravel Lane, Wapping. While it is not certain when he was born it is likely to have been several years prior to his sister Elizabeth whose baptism is probably that recorded on the 15th June 1632 in both the parish church registers of St. John’s Wapping and the neighbouring St. Mary’s, Whitechapel.
On 16th February 1636 a George Carpenter married an Alice Caustin at All Saints’ Church, Wandsworth, Surrey. It is possible that these individuals are one and the same as those recorded in the following parish register entries for St. John’s Church, Wapping which must almost certainly refer to the same George Carpenter whose Will is preserved in the National Archives at Kew (3);
1642 – August: Baptism of James son of George and Alice Carpenter
1644 – 22nd November: Baptisms of Sarah and Rebecca twins of Alice and George Carpenter, mealman
From the earlier mentioned Will of George Carpenter, mealman of Wapping, it is clear that at the time of its preparation in February 1651/2 George’s second oldest son was named William. The Will contains no mention of Sarah or Rebecca so it can be assumed that they both died in infancy.
At some time after the 1644 but prior to 1647 it appears that George Carpenter re-married as indicated from the further parish register entries from St. John’s Church, Wapping, listed below.
1647 – 16th October: Birth and baptism of William Carpenter son of George Carpenter, mealman of Old Gravel Lane, and Susana Carpenter
1650 – 24th October: Baptism of William Carpenter son of George Carpenter and Susana Carpenter
1651 – 26th June: Burial of Henry son of George Carpenter
Presumably Alice Carpenter died some time shortly after the birth of Sarah and Rebecca although no burial record has so far been found for her. A baptism record has similarly not been identified for Henry Carpenter so it is unclear if he was the son of Alice or George’s second wife Susana.
It is interesting to note from the above parish register entries that in 1647, at least, the Carpenter family were living in the same area of Wapping, i.e. Old Gravel Lane, as George’s parents had lived at the time of his sister Elizabeth’s baptism in 1632.
As yet a marriage record for George and Susana Carpenter has not been identified but presumably they must have been married by the end of in 1646 at the latest.
At the time George Carpenter made his last Will and Testament on 3rd February 1651/2 he describes his condition as being “sick and weak in body”. He states himself as still being a mealman of the hamlet of Wapping and still married to “his loving wife” Susana, who he named as executrix of his Will and whose duty was to be assisted by three overseers, namely his brother-in-law, Robert Hutton and two of his friends, Edward Parsons and George Street.
According George’s Will in February 1651/2 he had four surviving children all of whom were under the legal age of entitlement (i.e. 21). In addition to providing several interesting details concerning his surviving family, George’s Will also identifies some of his closest friends, property holdings and personal wealth. In accordance with the provisions of his Will George divided his estate and belongings into the following bequests;
1) To his eldest son George on his 21st birthday:
The sum of £300 plus two free hold tenement properties complete with a “Corn yarde with Corn flatts, pitts, Cisternes (and) Mill Kill(n)” in Long Lane, Bermondsey. George had recently purchased these properties from William Hirrocks a citizen and brewer of London. At the time the Will was prepared both properties were being occupied by Edward Birknell, a tanner.
2) To his second eldest son James on his 21st birthday:
The sum of £500.The interest from which was to be used for their education and maintenance until the time of their coming of age and receipt of their full inheritance.
3) To his two youngest sons John and William on their 21st birthdays:
The sum of £250 each. The interest from which was to be used for their education and maintenance until the time of their coming of age and receipt of their full inheritance.
4) To his cousin and servant George Carpenter:
The sum of £60.
5) To his sister Elizabeth Hutton, brother-in-law Robert Hutton and his good friends Edward Parsons and George Street:
The sum of 40 shillings each for the purchase of mourning rings with which to remember him by.
6) To his wife Susanna:
All the remains of his worldly house hold goods, stock, ready money, plate and leases.
Within a week of George making his Will the following record was entered into the parish register of St. John’s Church Wapping.
1651/2 – 9th February: Burial of George Carpenter the husband of Susan
George’s will was proven on 18th February 1651/2.
Without any doubt whatsoever it is certain that the first of the two farthing tokens illustrated above (i.e. that bearing the reverse triad of initials G | .C. | .S) was issued by George and Susanna Carpenter sometime between 1648/9, when the issue of such farthings commenced in London, and the death of George in February 1651/2. So what of the second token (i.e. that bearing the reverse triad of initials G | .C. | .M) issued in the name of George Carter, mealman of Wapping? The third initial does not match the Christian name of either of George’s known two wives, Alice or Susanna. So who did issue the second farthing token? The answer to this question is inferred in the following entry from the parish register of St. Dunstan’s Church, Stepney;
1654 – 10th December: Christening of George (15 days old) son of George Carpenter, mealman of Wapping, and Mary Carpenter
It appears that the second token was issued by George Carpenter junior and his wife Mary after his father’s death in 1651/2. George junior obviously decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and became a dealer in cereal grain whist staying, at least for a time, in his family home of Wapping. He even issued an almost identical farthing trade token to the one circulated by his father some years earlier. Based on the style of George junior’s token it is likely to date to the mid-1650s to early 1660s. The comparative high frequency with which these slightly later tokens appear in the paranumismatic record suggests they were issued in larger numbers and had a longer circulation life than the ones issued by his father.
A marriage record, dated 27th March 1651, exists for a George Carpenter and Mary Ward of the parish St. Margaret’s, Westminster. While this could be the marriage of George Carpenter junior it is dated nearly a year prior to George Carpenter senior’s Will in which there is no mention of his eldest son, who was then still less than 21 years of age, being married.
A further review of the London parish registers of the period has revealed several other references to George Carpenter junior, mealman of Wapping and his family.
1654 – 28th November: Birth of George Carpenter the son George and Mary – St. John’s, Wapping.
1657/8 – 4th February: Burial of a male child still-born of George and Mary Carpenter – St. John’s, Wapping.
1659 – 3rd April: Baptism of John the son of George Carpenter, mealman of Wapping Dock, and Mary Carpenter – St. John’s, Wapping.
1663 – 21st April: Christening of George (15 days old) son of George Carpenter, mealman of Upper Shadwell, and Mary Carpenter – St Dunstan’s, Stepney.
1665 – 28th May: Burial of George Carpenter the son of George and Mary Carpenter – St. John’s, Wapping.
The death of George and Mary’s infant son in May 1665 was probably due to him contacting plague. Like other areas of London the Tower Hamlets area was badly hit by the infamous outbreak of bubonic plague which decimated the capital’s population during 1665 and into 1666.
The period 1654 to 1665 the Carpenters address is variously given in the above parish register entries as Wapping (1654), Wapping Dock (1659) and finally Upper Shadwell (1663). The Hearth Tax returns from Wapping Hamlet of 1666 indicates a George Carpenter occupying premises with four hearths. Unfortunately the hearth tax entry fails to identify which part of Wapping he lived in.
1) Lillywhite, B. – London Signs: A Reference Book of London Signs from Earliest Times to the Mid Nineteenth Century. (London, 1972).
2) Strype, J. – A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster: Containing the Original, Antiquity, Increase, Modern Estate and Government of those Cities. – Corrected, Improved, and very much Enlarged Edition. (London, 1720).
3) PROB/11/220. National Archives (London).