The above copper farthing token measures 16.9 mm and weighs 1.10 grams. It was issued in the mid-17th century by John Patston a tradesman living adjacent to the Tower of London in the liberty of St. Katherine by the Tower, Middlesex.
The design of the token may be formally described as follows;
Obverse: (mullet) IOHN. PATSTON. , around twisted wire inner circle. Two monograms possibly arranged to form a merchant’s mark. Upper most a conjoined “T” and “S”. Below “I” followed by conjoined “H”, “O”, “N” and finally a “P” in the style of a merchant’s mark.
Reverse: (mullet) AT. THE. IRON. GATE , around twisted wire inner circle. Within a triad of initials comprising I | .P. | .A , with three dots below.
The token is undated but on both stylistic and probability grounds most likely dates to the period 1649 to the early 1660s.
The triads of initials on the reverse of the token are those of its issuer, John Patston, and his wife, Mrs. A. Patston. A further abbreviation of the token issuer name (i.e. John P.) appears in the second of the merchant mark like arrangement of monograms on the tokens obverse. The significance of the first monogram (i.e. Ts) is unknown and remains a tantalising mystery. Could it be the abbreviation of a business partner’s name or something totally different?
John Patston’s business address is clearly stated on his token as being at the Iron Gate. This location was within the precincts of the Tower of London at the south-east corner of the Tower Ditch (i.e. the moat) immediately adjacent to a set of water stairs that took their name from the gate. On the west side of the Iron Gate was Tower Wharf and on the east side St. Katherine Street which led into the Liberty of St Katherine by the Tower. This extra-parochial district of east London comprised approximately 1,000 houses many of which were in a poor state of repair and were crammed along narrow lanes. The district was inhabited by many seamen and rivermen plus vagabonds and prostitutes. Foreign craftsmen and immigrants were also attracted to the area as the Liberty did not come under the jurisdiction of the City’s guilds. Despite the areas high population density in the Great Plague the Liberty’s mortality rate was only half of the rate in areas to the north and east of the City of London.
In the maps published to illustrate Strype’s Survey of London and Westminster of 1720 (1) only one range of buildings are shown adjacent to the Iron Gate. This survey describes the approach to the gate from the west as follows;
Next, on the same South side, toward the East, is a large Water Gate, for Receipt of Boats and small Vessels, partly under a Stone Bridge from the River Thames. Beyond it is a small Postern, with a Draw-Bridge seldom let down, but for the Receipt of some great Persons, Prisoners. Then towards the East is a great and strong Gate, commonly called the Iron Gate, but not usually opened.
The plan illustrating Haiward’s and Gascoyne’s survey of the Tower of London pre-dates that in Strype’s Survey by 123 years. It shows two significantly longer and parallel ranges of buildings on the south side of the Tower Ditch leading up to the Iron Gate. It was one of these tenements that was later occupied by John Patston and his family in the mid-17th cen
Interestingly this particular token is reported to have been found by a “mudlark” in recent times on a stretch of the River Thames foreshore immediately south of the Tower of London. As such it was literally only a stone’s throw from its original issuer’s premises at the Iron Gate where it had originated some 360 years earlier.
In Search of John Patston and his Family
Other than working at premises at or by the Iron Gates near the Tower of London John Patston’s token gives no clue as to what his trade might have been. However, sufficient references remain in the historical record to allow us to address this question and many others relating to the life of this particular token issuer and his family.
The following partial life history of John Patston has been generated from parish registers, Livery Company records, hearth tax returns and probate records. While there is always the chance of confusing the historical records relating to different individuals, who share the same name, the use of specific time line, family relationship and geographical identifiers can often be used to help eliminate or minimise this risk. Where available such criteria have been applied in this case.
John Patston was born c.1636 in Northamptonshire (Note 1). On 10th May 1648 his father John, a vintner in Northampton, bound him as an apprentice grocer to John Barnaby of London (2). It appears that that young John Patston was the last of four separate apprentices that John Barnaby took on over his career. The young John would almost certainly have been bound into a standard seven year apprenticeship after which he would have received his freedom and become eligible to set up business himself as a member of the Worshipful Company of Grocers.
Unfortunately John Barnaby died in late 1650 (3) and it can only be assumed that John Patston was re-bound to another master grocer in order to complete his apprenticeship. Irrespective of this initial upset in his early career by 1659 John had become a citizen grocer of London. This is apparent from the apprenticeship records of the Worshipful Company of Grocers which recorded on 1st September of that year John took on his own fist apprentice. This was Collyer Hutchinson the son of Francis Hutchinson a yeoman of the Liberty of St. Katherine by the Tower, Middlesex (4). Collyer was the first of four apprentices that John took on over the duration of his career.
Collyer Hutchinson’s family lived in the Liberty adjacent to the business address as stated on John Patston’s farthing token (i.e. the Iron Gate). Whether this is an indication that by this date John had already taken up residence in premises at the Iron Gate isn’t certain. However, by 10th January 1659/60 an entry in the registers for St. Katherine by the Tower clearly places him locally and therefore it might be deduced that he was already established at the Iron Gate. This particular register entry is further illuminating in that it not only records the christening of John’s son, also named John, but additionally the name of his then wife, Anna. This is almost certainly the same “Mrs. A. Patston” whose initials are recorded in the triad on the reverse of John’s farthing token (Note 2).
On 14th December 1664 John Patston took on a second apprentice namely John Sperry, the son of a yeoman (of the same name) from Riseley in Bedfordshire (5).
The Hearth Tax returns for 1666 records that John Patston was occupying premises with 6 hearths on the south side of Tower Ditch (6), i.e. that area adjacent to the Iron Gate. At this time this constituted the second largest number of hearths recorded from any of the premises bordering the south side of the Tower.
On 4th May 1666 John took on new apprentice. This was Humphrey Hutchins, the son of a Thames waterman (of the same name) from the Liberty of St. Katherine by the Tower, Middlesex (7). A further review of the Hearth Tax returns for 1666 indicates that Hutchins family lived in a dwelling having only 2 hearths in Lees Court close to St. Katherine’s Church (8). Presumably John Patston knew the father of his new apprentice well. The two would have likely worshipped at the same parish church. Also as a waterman, presumably plying his trade from the local Iron Gate and St. Katherine’s Water Stairs, it can be imagined that Humphrey would have ferried John Patston up and down the River Thames on many occasions.
How the Patston family’s fortunes fared during the Great Plague of 1665 is unknown but given that John appears to have re-married sometime prior to 1672 one assumption is that Anna may have been a victim of the deadly outbreak that cut short the lives of an estimated 100,000 Londoners in less than a 12 month period. No record of Anna’s burial has so far come to light.
John’s second wife was named Elizabeth. A record of their marriage has so far not been identified although on 20th October 1672 the couple christened their daughter, also named Elizabeth, at the nearby parish church of St. Dunstan in the East. This was followed two years later, on 5th October 1674, by the christening of their son, named John, at the same parish church (Note 3). Evidence exists that John Patston had an earlier daughter, named Sarah, in 1668 (Note 4). There is no conclusive evidence as to who her mother was but it was very possibly Elizabeth.
It is interesting to note that in the mid-1670s the Patston family appeared to favour the parish church of St. Dunstan in the East over their previous association with the collegiate church of St. Katherine by the Tower. While both churches were local to the Tower of London St. Dunstan’s was slightly further away from the Iron Gate. It may be that this was Elizabeth Patston’s original home parish or that the Patston family were no longer trading from their former premises having possibly moved further west into the city. From evidence in John Patston’s later history it is clear that by the end of his life he had re-established an association with the church of St. Katherine by the Tower.
In 1680 John Patston was in his mid-40s and was still actively trading as a grocer. On 2nd April of this year he took on what was to be his fourth apprentice. This was Joseph Faircliff the son of Humphery Faircliff an embroiderer from the neighbouring parish of All Hallows-by-the-Tower, London (9).
On entering his apprenticeship the young Joseph Faircliff would have been expecting to serve his new master for at least the next seven years of his life. However, this was not to be. Less than a year later John Patston’s health appears to have taken a turn for the worse. John must have been aware that whatever was afflicting him was gravely serious as on 22nd February 1680/1 he prepared his Will in which he described himself as “weak in body but sound and perfect in mind” (10). Within ten days of making his Will John was dead. The register of St. Katherine by the Tower records his death on 12th March 1680/1 and his burial in the adjoining churchyard on 15th March.
John Patston’s Will, which was proven on 14th March 1680/1 (11), is enlightening in that it reveals several more facts relating to his family history.
It is clear from his Will that at some time after 1674 (i.e. the last known reference to his wife Elizabeth) John had re-married for a third time. As yet no record has been identified of either John’s marriage to his last wife Blanch or to the death of his second wife, Elizabeth.
At the time of John Patston’s death he had three surviving children, a son John and two daughters Sarah and Elizabeth. All three were under the age of 21 and un-married. The mention of only one son suggests that his first recorded child (.i.e. John, born to him and Anna in January 1659/60) was already dead.
By the provisions of John’s Will his wife Blanch was bequeathed £200. His three surviving children, Sarah, Elizabeth and John, who are seemingly listed within the Will in order of their respective ages, were each bequeathed £100 which was payable to each of them on reaching the age of 21 or, in the case of the two girls, on the occasion of their marriages. To his surviving apprentice Joseph Faircliff, who is described as a mealman (i.e. a trader in grain and cereal) John left the sum of £5. After the payment of all outstanding debts John left the balance of all his goods and estate to the executor of his Will, namely Humphrey Hutchins, waterman of the Liberty of St. Katherine by the Tower (12). Rather than just being the father of John’s third apprentice it appears that Humphrey Hutchins was also one of his most trusted friends.
1) John Patston’s estimated year of birth (i.e. 1636) has been back calculated from the date when his father bound him as an apprentice grocer to John Barnaby in 1648. In the mid-17th century the typical age for boys to be bound into apprenticeships was 12 although there are examples of some boys being older (i.e. in the range 14 to 18) which could push John Patston’s birth year back to as early as 1630.
2) An entry for 8th March 1655 in the parish registers for St. Mary Whitechapel in east London contain reference to the marriage of a John Patston, of the parish of St. Albans Wood Street (aged 25) and Anne Rappitt of St. Mary Whitechapel (aged 19) who was the daughter of William Rappitt, a baker of the same parish. While the names and ages of this couple fit well with the triad of initials of our token’s issuers’ the occupation stated in the marriage registry for John (a gold wire drawer) does not fit with his previous and later known occupation as a grocer. As such this record has been discounted a being a reference to a different Mr. J. and Mrs. A. Patston to that of our token issuers.
3) In addition to the contemporary documentary references to John and Elizabeth Patston evidence of their marriage is further substantiated from the numismatic record.
Examples of a second trade token type exist which bear an almost identical set of monograms to those on the reverse of John Patston’s farthing token. This second token is struck on an octagonal brass flan and is of a half penny denomination. The obverse of the token depicts a representation of the coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Grocers around which is the triad of initials of its issuers I. P. and E. Above a legend, in three lines, gives the token issuer’s address as “AT IRON GATE”. The reverse of the token bears the legend “HIS HALFE PENNY” in three lines. Below are two monograms possibly arranged to form a merchant’s mark either side of which is a rosette decoration. The upper most monogram comprises a conjoined “T” and “S”. The second below comprises an “I” followed by conjoined “H”, “O”, “N” (i.e. for JOHN) and finally a conjoined “P” and “E”. The added letter “E” in the monogram and the triad displayed on this token is an obvious reference to John Patston’s second wife Elizabeth.
While this second token type is undated its use of a distinctive octagonal flan is something that is only seen in the last four years of the generally accepted issuing period of 17th century British tradesmen’s tokens which ran from 1649 to 1672.
4) On 25th June 1691 a Sarah Patston, aged 2 (i.e. born c.1668) of the Liberty of St. Katherine by the Tower married Jabez Phillips aged 23 at the parish church of All-Hallows, London Wall. This is very probably the marriage of John Patston’s daughter Sarah as recorded in his Will. A review of baptism entries in the registers of the church of St. Katherine by the Tower for 1668 has failed to identify an entry for Sarah. However, it does contain the following puzzling entry which cannot be easily reconciled with the currently perceived family history of John Patston the token issuer.
- John, some say a bastard, the son of Sarah Patston, daughter of John, was born the 13th of December, baptised the same day.
The above entry is reported here for completeness and as an example of how difficult such research can be, particularly where there is more than one person living in an area of study during the same period and who share a common name or set of initials.
1) 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).
2) Webb, C. – London Livery Company Apprenticeship Registers, Grocers’ Company Apprenticeships 1629-1800. Volume 48. (Society of Genealogists. 2008).
3) PROB/11/213. National Archives (London).
4) Ibid .
5) Ibid .
6) Davies, M.; Ferguson, C.; Harding, V.; Parkinson, E. & Wareham, A. – London and Middlesex Hearth Tax. The British Record Society. Hearth Tax Series Volume IX, Part II. (London, 2014).
7) Ibid .
8) Ibid .
9) Ibid .
10) PROB/11/366. National Archives (London).
11) Ibid .
12) Ibid .
I would like to thank Nathalie Cohen of Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) for her permission to reproduce her photograph of volunteers of the Thames Discovery Programme surveying the foreshore in front of the Tower of London (as viewed from the north end of Tower Bridge).