Tag Archives: Bishopsgate

Ralph Butcher in Bishopsgate Without

A farthing tradesman's token issued by Ralph Butcher of Bishopsgate Without, London (Image courtesy of Simmons Gallery)

A farthing tradesman’s token issued by Ralph Butcher of Bishopsgate Without, London (Image courtesy of Simmons Gallery)

The above brass farthing token measures 16.9 mm and weighs 0.90 grams. It was issued in the name of Ralph Butcher a tradesman who operated his business in the Bishopsgate Without district of London.

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

Obverse: A legend in italics in three lines reads; Ralph / Butcher / 1666 .

Reverse: (circle with eight radiating rays) WITHOVT . BISHOPS . GATE , around a twisted wire inner circle within the depiction of a rod from which is suspended six candles, three either side of a lion rampant facing left.

The design on the token’s reverse is almost certainly a depiction of the trade sign which hung over Ralph Butcher’s premises or that of premises adjacent to his. If it was his personal trade sign, and not just an historic one which had long been associated with the building he worked from, its design may well offer clues as to the token issuer’s trade. The rod with suspended candles would have been instantly recognizable in the 17th century as an emblem associated with a wax or tallow chandler (Note 1).

The district in which Ralph Butcher’s trade property was located, i.e. Bishopsgate Without, lay immediately to the north east of London’s city walls outside the Bishopsgate entrance to the city and along the Old North Road. It was one of the parts of London which was spared by the Great Fire of September 1666 which, by coincidence, was the year in which Ralph Butcher issued his token.

In Williamson’s standard catalogue of 17th British tradesmen’s tokens (1) a foot note against the entry for the above token indicates that in 1664 the same Ralph Butcher was trading in Tower Street, within the heart of the City of London. His evidence for this being the existence of a farthing token bearing the sign of the Three Sugar Loaves with the obverse and reverse legends; RALPH BVTCHER. 1664. IN. TOWER. STREETE. The token’s reverse bears a triad of issuer’s initials; R.B.A.

A farthing trade token of Tower Street issued by R & A B in the name of the Three Sugar Loaves in 1664

A farthing trade token of Tower Street issued by R & A B in the name of the Three Sugar Loaves in 1664

In addition to indicating the presence of a tradesman by the name of Ralph Butcher operating in Tower Street in 1664 we may deduce from the token that the Christian name of the issuer’s wife began with the letter “A” (e.g. Ann or Agnes for example). In addition, the trade sign indicated (take this word out***), if personal to the issuer and not just a historical one associated with his premises etc., may be indicative of Ralph Butcher being a grocer. The trade sign of one or more sugar loaves was commonly adopted by grocers in 17th century London to mark and advertise their shops (2).

A map of the Ward of Bishopsgate Without, London in c.1720

A map of the Ward of Bishopsgate Without, London in c.1720

In Search of the History of Ralph Butcher & His Family

The following brief account of the life of the above token issuer and his immediate family has been pieced together from a variety of sources including parish registers, livery company records, hearth tax and probate records and finally burial registers related to the Society of Friends of London.

Initial searches of transcribed London parish registers and related genealogical data bases (3)(4)(5)(6) has indicated two families with the surname Butcher living in 1660s London having heads of the family by the name Ralph. The first of these families (Ralf and Mary Butcher) lived in the parish of St. Sepulchre, Holborn while the second (Ralph and Ann Butcher) lived, or at least had strong associations, to the parish of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate Without. Given that the Ralph Butcher we are interested in was issuing trade tokens in Bishopsgate Without in 1666 (if not also in Tower Street in 1664) the primary focus obviously falls on the second of the above two identified families.

In an attempt to confirm Ralph Butcher’s profession the trade signs on both the earlier described trade tokens associated with his name have been used as a guide. As previously noted the depiction of a rod of suspended candles or sugar loaves and on trade signs of the period is strongly associated with candle makers and grocers respectively. A review of the master and apprentice records for the Worshipful Companies of Tallow Chandlers, Wax Chandlers and Grocers (7)(8)(9) has failed to identify a Ralph Butcher associated with any of them. As such it is reasonable, but by no means certain, to conclude that our token issuer’s practiced an alternative trade.

The first reference to Ralph and Ann Butcher in the parish of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate Without, occurs in the parish baptisms records where we find the following entry for his son;

5th May 1660 – Simon the son of Ralph and Ann Butcher

Ralph Butcher is further recorded as living in the ‘first precinct on the West” of the parish in the returns from the 1662/3 Hearth Tax. He is listed as paying 10 shillings on a property with 5 hearths (10). Unfortunately the Hearth Tax assessments for Bishopsgate Without from 1666 have not survived. However, those for Tower Street have but contain no listing for a Ralph Butcher.

We can’t be sure if Ralph Butcher, the token issuer of 1666 from Bishopsgate Without, is the same individual who issued the earlier farthing token from a business in Tower Street in 1664. Having now ascertained that both the former and latter tokens were issued by a Ralph Butcher who had a wife whose Christian name began with “A” further supports Williamson’s assumption that both tokens were issued by the same individual.

By 25th January 1668/9 Ralph Butcher’s health was obviously a cause for concern for him as it was on this date that he draw up his Last Will and Testimony (11)  This document is very enlightening as its opening sentences not only confirms the status of his health, i.e. being “weak in body but of sound and perfect mind and memory”, but goes on to verify him as being of the parish of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate Without, and his standing as a “citizen and poulterer of London” (Note 2). As a poulterer Ralph would have sold both poultry and game to the general public typically from a street facing open fronted shop located either in front of or below the private rooms of his home.

A 17th Century Poulterer's Shop - By Frans Snyders (1579–1657)

A 17th Century Poulterer’s Shop – By Frans Snyders (1579–1657)

Ralph Butler’s Will confirms him as still being married to his “loving wife” Ann who he made executrix and principal beneficiary of his estate and worldly goods. His Will makes no mention of any surviving children but does mention the existence of three other “kinsfolk”, namely Richard Butcher, Elizabeth Watkins and a nephew, John Block. To each of these individuals he left only the token sum of one shilling each. Additional sums of 40 shillings each were bequeathed to his good friends William Harwood and Ezekiel Woolley who he also requested to act as overseers of his Will.

Ralph’s Will clearly indicates he owned or had interests in multiple properties. These included his own home and a neighbouring one in the Bethlem district of the parish, the latter of which was then occupied by a William Pemberton. Ralph’s other holdings comprised two copyhold properties in the village of Plaistow in Essex (some 6 miles from Bishopsgate). At that time these were in the hands of tenants, namely George Sherebofe and Ralph’s friend Ezekiel Woolley.

Ralph Butcher went on to live a further 20 months after making his Will. His burial record is enlightening in that it more accurately confirms whereabouts in the parish he was living at the time of his death, the cause of his death (as best known at the time), where he was buried and his precise religious denomination.

Ralph’s death was not recorded in the burial register of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate Without, despite the fact he was still living in the parish at the time. Instead it is to be found in the London and Middlesex burial records of the Society of Friends. It appears that Ralph Butcher was a Quaker. His burial register entry (for 25th November 1670) reads as follows;

Ralph Butcher neer halfe Moon Ally without Bishopsgate Departed this Life the 25th day of the 9th Month 1670 and was buryed in the Burying in Checker Ally his Distemper was given in a Dropsie.

Assuming Ralph didn’t move residences within the parish during the last 20 months of his life we know that the location of his home was between Half Moon Alley and Bethlem (or Bedlam as it was more commonly known). This puts it approximately within the bounds of the red circle in the map below, where Half Moon Alley is marked in yellow.

A map of the Ward of Bishopsgate Without, London (c.1720) indicating the general area where Ralph Butcher is believed to have lived. Half Moon Alley is indicated in yellow.

A map of the Ward of Bishopsgate Without, London (c.1720) indicating the general area where Ralph Butcher is believed to have lived. Half Moon Alley is indicated in yellow.

Ralph’s cause of death is given in his burial record as dropsy. This was the term commonly given in the 17th century to edema, a condition whereby liquid is retained in parts of the body and under the skin causing severe swelling.

Ralph Butler’s body was interred in Chequer Alley Quaker Burial Ground (Note 3) which was located north of the city walls on Bunhill Fields between Upper Moor Fields and Old Street. His Will was proven on 2nd December 1670 (12).

No further conclusive record has been found relating to either Ann or Simon Butcher after Ralph’s death. However, the burial registers of the Society of Friends of London do record the interment, in Chequer Alley Burial Ground, of a still born child on 15th September 1672 to a Richard and Ann Butcher. This poses the question – did Ann Butcher marry Ralph’s “kinsman” Richard after her husband’s death?

Footnotes:

1)  An almost identical token in terms of style, design, trade sign and issuing location to that described above for Ralph Butcher was issued in the name of Henry Slater in 1667. It is unclear if Henry operated from neighbouring business premises to Ralph Butcher, thereby qualifying him to use the same trade sign, or if he took over those formerly occupied by Ralph in 1666.

2) George Berry has previously identified only two 17th century poulterers’ token from London. These were issued by John Puller of the Strand and Edmund Warner of Newgate Market (13). The identification of Ralph Butcher’s trade now brings the count of known London poulterers’ token issues to three.

A half penny trade token of 1666 issued by Edmund Warner, a poulterer, of Newgate Market.

A half penny trade token of 1666 issued by Edmund Warner, a poulterer, of Newgate Market.

3) The site of Chequer or Checker Alley Quaker Burial Ground lies in an area historically known as Bunhill Fields. This name is possibly derived from a corruption of “Bone Hill”, alluding to the area having been used for occasional burials since the early medieval period. There was certainly a mass secondary interment of human remains on the site in 1549 when over 1,000 cartloads of bones were brought from the charnel house of St Paul’s Cathedral after its demolition (14). The initial burial ground site, which comprised 30 square yards, was purchased for the sum of £270 in 1661 by the London Quakers (15). This was the first freehold property owned by Quakers in the city. The plot lay between of Checker Alley, on its southern side and Coleman Street, on its northern edge. This cemetery opened four years earlier than that of the nearby “Dissenters'” burial ground, on the eastern side of Bunhill Row and north of the “New Artillery Ground”. The latter still forms part of Bunhill Fields Cemetery and Memorial Gardens today.

A map of Bunhill Fields in 1676 showing the location (in yellow) of Checker Alley Quaker Burial Ground at its maximum extent in size

A map of Bunhill Fields in 1676 showing the location (in yellow) of Checker Alley Quaker Burial Ground at its maximum extent in size

As well as burials arising from routine deaths Checker Alley Burial Ground also contains the graves of 1,177 Quakers who died in the Great Plague of 1665/6. The initial plot of 30 square yards quickly became full and additional plots of land were purchased to extend it, until by c.1845 about £3,600 had been invested in the site (16).

Graves were not individually marked with monuments or gravestones. The sole exception was a small tablet on the wall, simply inscribed “G. F.”, in commemoration of George Fox (1624–1691), one of the founders of the Quaker movement. However, so many Quakers came to visit this that it was denounced as being idolatrous by Robert Howard, a prominent member of the Society, and it was destroyed. George Fox is now commemorated by a more modern marker which has also been set against the wall (17).

The location of Quaker Gardens south of Old Street, London

The location of Quaker Gardens south of Old Street, London

The burial ground closed in 1855 by which time it contained approximately 12,000 burials. Shortly after this date work began on the site’s redevelopment. In 1880, as part of the initial land reclamation works some 5,000 bodies were exhumed and re-buried with carbolic acid in a corner of the remaining site (18). The cleared land was subsequently built on until less than half an acre of the original open site remained. What remains of the site today has now been neatly laid out and constitutes Quaker Gardens, a small public garden in the extreme south of the London Borough of Islington. Apart from a couple of memorial plaques, one of which commemorates George Fox, nothing remains to remind the passer-by of its former use or history.

The following video clip presents further information of the Checker Alley Quaker burial ground along with other lost cemeteries of London.

References:

  1. G.C. – Trade Tokens Issued in the Seventeenth Century in England, Wales and Ireland by Corporations, Merchants, Tradesmen, Etc. – A New and Revised Edition of William Boyne’s Work. – Volume 2. (London, 1967).
  2. Lillywhite, B. – London Signs: A Reference Book of London Signs from Earliest Times to about the Mid Nineteenth Century. (London, 1972).
  3. Searched via the data bases available at Ancestry – Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records (http://www.ancestry.co.uk/).
  4. Searched via the data bases available at Findmypast – Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records (www.findmypast.co.uk).
  5. Searched via the data bases available at FamilySearch – Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records (https://familysearch.org/).
  6. Boyd, P. – Inhabitants of London. A genealogical Index held by the Society of Genealogists, London.
  7. Webb, C – London Livery Company Apprenticeship Records – Tallow Chandlers’ Company. 1633-1800. Society of Genealogists (London, 2003).
  8. Webb, C – London Livery Company Apprenticeship Records – Wax Chandlers’ Company. 1666-1800. Society of Genealogists (London, 2000).
  9. Webb, C – London Livery Company Apprenticeship Records – Grocers’ Company. 1629-1800. Society of Genealogists (London, 2008).
  10. 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).
  11. Reference Number: MS 9172/61. Will Number: 154. London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section, Clerkenwell, London
  12. Ibid 11.
  13. Berry, G. – Seventeenth Century England: Traders and their Tokens. (London, 1988).
  14. Holmes, B. – The London Burial Grounds: Notes on their history from earliest times to the present day. (New York. 1894).
  15. Butler, D.M. – The Quaker Meeting Houses of Britain Volume 1. (Friends Historical Society. London. 1999).
  16. Ibid 15.
  17. Bowes-Isaacson, L. & P. – Notes for Visitors to Bunhill. (Bunhill Fields Meeting House. 2001).
  18. The British Architect and Norther Engineer. Volume 7. January to June 1877. Bunhill Fields. Page 321. (Manchester. 1877).

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Filed under Tokens from North of the City Walls

Thomas Bonny at the sign of the Clothworkers’ Arms in Bedlam

A half penny tradesman's token issued by Thomas Bonny of Bedlam

A half penny tradesman’s token issued by Thomas Bonny of Bedlam

The above brass half penny token measures 20.8 mm and weighs 2.28 grams. It was issued in the name of Thomas Bonny a tradesman who operated his business in the district of Bedlam in Bishopsgate Without district of the City of London.

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

Obverse: (sexfoil) THOMAS (rosette) BONNY (rosette) AT (rosette) THE , around a twisted wire inner circle within which is a depiction of Clothworkers’ Arms.

Reverse: (sexfoil) IN (rosette) BEDLAM (rosette) 1667 (rosette) , around a twisted wire inner circle within the legend in three lines reads HIS / HALFE / PENNY . Below a triad of initials reads, .T|B.| M.

The reverse of the token bears a triad of issuers’ initials, i.e. those of Thomas Bonny and his wife. Given that Thomas’s wife’s first name began with the letter “M” and given the time period in which the token was issued there is a high probability that her name was either Mary or Margaret as both names were very popular in 17th century England. The issue date of the token, i.e. 1667, is clearly stated on its reverse.

The location of the Bedlam or Bethlem district of Bishopsgate Without, London (c.1720)

The location of the Bedlam or Bethlem district of Bishopsgate Without, London (c.1720)

The token issuer’s place of abode, i.e. Bedlam, was the colloquial name given to Bethlem, a 13th century priory church founded by the Italian bishop-elect of Bethlehem to raise alms and funds to support the crusades to the Holy Land. It was located just north of St. Botolph’s Parish Church off Bishopsgate Street outside the city walls. By 1330 Bedlam was more often referred to as a hospital which in medieval terms may have simply denoted a hostel for travelling alms-seekers. By the 1370s the hospital had been seized by the crown and was becoming a far more secularized institution. It was from this period that it became first associated with the care of the mentally ill. So was to begin a centuries long tradition for which the institute, and its later nearby successor, was to became famous throughout Europe.

Detail from a map of Elizabethan London (1572) taken from "Civitates orbis terrarum" showing the location of Bethlem Hospital in the Bishopsgate Without Ward of the city

Detail from a map of Elizabethan London (1572) taken from “Civitates orbis terrarum” showing the location of Bethlem Hospital in the Bishopsgate Without Ward of the city

Although Bethlem had been enlarged by 1667 to accommodate fifty nine patients, the Court of Governors of the hospital observed at the start of 1674 that;

“The Hospital House of Bethlem is very old, weak & ruinous and to small and streight for keeping the greater number of lunatics therein at present.”

Given the increasing demand for admission and the inadequate and dilapidated state of the building it was decided to rebuild the hospital on a site at nearby Moorfields. This was just north of the city walls and one of the largest open spaces in London. The architect chosen for the new hospital, which was built rapidly and at great expense between 1675 and 1676, was the famous natural philosopher and City Surveyor Robert Hooke.

Engraving by Robert White of the new Bethlem Hospital designed by Robert Hooke and built at Moorfields, outside of the City of London in 1676

Engraving by Robert White of the new Bethlem Hospital designed by Robert Hooke and built at Moorfields, outside of the City of London in 1676

By the late 1670s the original site and any remaining buildings which had once comprised part of the original Bethlem Hospital had been absorbed by the wide spread urban development to the west of Bishopsgate Street Without. Today nothing remains of the medieval hospital. Its former site is now occupied by the Great Eastern Hotel next to Liverpool Street Railway Station.

The device illustrated in the obverse field of the token is the coats of arms of the Worshipful Company of London Clothworkers (Note 1). It is likely that in this case the device represents the trade sign that hung over, or adjacent to, the token issuer’s business premises in Bedlam and/or is a direct indication of his profession.

In Search of the History of Thomas Bonny & His Family

The following brief history of our token issuer and his immediate family has been pieced together from a wide variety of sources including parish registers (Note 2) and records, livery company records, school admission registers, tax records, contemporary newspaper entries and finally probate records.

Due to the relatively large number of 17th century Londoners having the name “Thomas Bonny” (or phonetically similar surnames, e.g. Bonney, Bonnie, Bonne, Bunny, Bunnee, Bonnes and Boune etc.) reconstructing the history of this token issuer has been challenging given the increased potential for ascribing the life events and records relating to one individual with those of contemporaries having the same or a similar name. With increased potential for such confusion being apparent added caution and conservatism has been applied in reconstructing the following brief family history. Despite such efforts the following must be considered as only a possible and not definitive history.

Thomas Bonny was born c.1616. Nothing is known of his early life or where he was born. By the time he was 31 (in 1647) we know that he was married and he and his wife had just had their second son, Thomas(1). From later evidence(2) we know that Thomas Bonny had at least two other children, Eleanor and a younger daughter by the name of Judith. It is also possible that Thomas’s first son was named Francis (Note 3).

A reference to Thomas in 1659 indicates that by that date he was a goldsmith (Note 4) and citizen of London. As a goldsmith in the mid-17th century it is also possible that Thomas’s business activities could have includes aspects of the banking trade.

In 1659 Thomas enrolled his second son Thomas, then aged 12, as a student in the Merchant Taylors’ School. Founded in 1551, by the Merchant Taylors’ Company, this early school was located in the Manor of the Rose, in Suffolk Lane in the Candlewick Ward of the city of London.

By 1657 Thomas Bonny, the goldsmith and later token issuer, was living in Cheapside in the parish of St. Mary Colechurch(3) . He was 41 years old. It has to be assumed that by this date his wife had died as in this same year he re-married. His new bride, Mary Metcalf, was the widower of John Metcalf who had lived in a property on the northern side of the church of St. Mary Colechurch on the south-west side of Old Jewry. Prior to his death, in 1656, John Metcalf had been a prominent member of the parish and keeper of the Royal Exchange(4) .

A section of the Agas Map of London (c.1561) showing part of Cheapside Ward and including location details of the home of Thomas Bonny in Old Jewery (in yellow); the parish church of St. Mary Colechurch (in red); the Mercers' Hall (in blue) and the Great Conduit (in green) being one of the city's principle supply points of "clean" water.

A section of the Agas Map of London (c.1561) showing part of Cheapside Ward and including location details of the home of Thomas Bonny in Old Jewry (in yellow); the parish church of St. Mary Colechurch (in red); the Mercers’ Hall (in blue) and the Great Conduit (in green) being one of the city’s principle supply points of “clean” water.

From 1657 until the time of the Great Fire of 1666 there is an abundance of documentary evidence for Thomas Bonny in the parish of St. Mary Colechurch(5). Much of this comes from parish records such as the churchwardens accounts and vestry minute books. A sample of this evidence is presented below.

Firstly, from annual rate assessments of the inhabitants of the parish(6);

1) For the Lord Mayor’s relief payments which were levied to support the poor house holders of the city, and which were collected door to door or at the church door on stimulated dates, we find the following entry for the years 1657, 1659, 1660, 1661 and 1666;

Mr. Thom. Bonny (also spelt Bonney) – 1 penny per week or annually 4 shillings and 4 pence

A separate payment of 1 penny a week for the above is also recorded in the name of Mrs. Bonny in 1657. 

2) For the annual assessment for the payment of the parish’s poor rates of 1663 and 1664;

 Mr. Bonny – 3 shillings and 6 pence

3) For the annual assessment of payments to pay for the wages of the parish “raker” (i.e. street cleaner) for 1666;

Mr. Bonny – 3 shillings and 6 pence

Secondly, from the three years of existing records for the congregation’s seating arrangements in the 13 sets of pews of the parish church of St. Mary Colechurch between 1657 and 1661 (i.e. 1657, 1678 and 1661) we have the following listings for the Bonny family (variously spelt in the entries as either Bonny, Bonney or Boney)(7) ;

 Mr. Bonny – Pew 12 in 1657 and 1658 and Pew 10 in 1661.

Mrs. Bonny – Pew 8 in 1657 and 1658 and Pew 9 in 1661.

Between 1662 and 1666 Thomas Bonny is known to have had associations with two adjacent properties on the west side of Old Jewry immediately north of the parish church of St. Mary Colechurch. The most southerly of these was surveyed in 1648 as comprising a cellar, 13 ft. 4 in. by 11 ft.; a shop and staircase, 16 ft. by 12 ft.; a yard 11 ft. by 4 ft. 8 in.; the hall and kitchen over the shop, 18 ft. by 12 ft.; a staircase and house of office, 5 ft. by 5 ft.; the room over the hall and kitchen, 20 ft. by 12 ft.; and 2 garrets over that room, 20 ft. by 12 ft. This house contained 3 storeys and garrets above ground and the first and second storeys would each appear to have jettied 2 ft. over the street beyond the storey below. At some time in the 1650s this property was divided into two and according to the Hearth Tax return of 1662 we know that Thomas Bonny was occupying one part of it which had 3 hearths and shared a common oven with the other part of the property(8). By the time of the Hearth Tax assessment of 1666 Thomas no longer appears to be in this property and instead can be found in the adjoining house to the north. This house had been in the possession of John Metcalf from at least 1638 until his death in 1656 and obviously passed into Thomas Bunny’s hands when he married John’s widow Mary in 1657. According to a contemporary survey this property comprised a cellar, 14 ft. by 11 ½ft.; a shop and entry, 17 ft. by 12 ft.; a yard, 11 ft. by 5 ft.; a chamber, 18 ½ ft. by 11 ½ft.; a kitchen and staircase, 11 ½ ft. by 10 ft.; a chamber, 12 ft. by 10 ft.; and a garret, 20 ft. by 11 ft.(9).

Thomas Bonny took on a 21-year lease on the latter of the 2 properties from its owners, the Worshipful Company of Mercers. Like the neighbouring tenement to the south this property was divided into 2 parts just prior to 1662 when it was probably represented by 2 houses, each with 3 hearths. In 1662 these were occupied by a Mr. Joseph Moore and Mrs. Frances Howell, a widow. By the time of Hearth Tax of 1666 the 2 houses, each of which still contained 3 hearths, were occupied by Thomas Bonny himself and a Mr. James Townsend(10,11).

In 1666 Thomas Bonny became a churchwarden for the parish of St. Mary Colechurch(12). He and his wife had survived the ravages of the plague of 1665, which had killed approximately 100,000 of the city’s population. However, they weren’t to escape the effects of the Great Fire of early September 1666 which consumed four fifths of the city including all of Cheapside Ward. Thomas Bonny is officially listed as one of those who lost his property in the parish, most likely during the course of the first full day of the fire (i.e. Monday 3rd of September).

A plan of mid-17th Century London showing the extent of destruction of the city by the Great Fire of September 1666 plus the location of Thomas Bonny's home in Cheapside Ward (yellow dot) and the main street running through the district of Bedlam in the Bishopsgate Without Ward (green line)

A plan of mid-17th Century London showing the extent of destruction of the city by the Great Fire of September 1666 plus the location of Thomas Bonny’s home in Cheapside Ward (yellow dot) and the main street running through the district of Bedlam in the Bishopsgate Without Ward (green line)

It is unclear what happened to the Bonny family immediately after the Great Fire but by 1667 we know from the numismatic and  hand writing evidence (Note 5) that Thomas and Mary were living and working in Bedlam in the Bishopsgate Without district of the city. This area of London was not directly affected by the inferno of 1666 and like other districts spared by the fire saw an immediate escalation in its property and rent prices as those who could afford to invested in new properties in the city did so.

It is possible that Thomas Bonny planned to rebuild his home in Old Jewry, Cheapside as a “Mr. Bonner” paid the sum of 6 shillings and 8 pence on 21st May 1668 to the city authorities for the staking out of his old home’s foundations(13) . Quite how far his plans got to either rebuild on or sell his cleared building plot are unclear.

It is not known in which part of Bedlam the Bonny family lived and worked but we know from the numismatic evidence that Thomas’s business address was “at” or “by” the trade sign of the Clothworkers’ Arms. The depiction of such an image on his token might be interpreted as a direct advertisement of his occupation. While it is not impossible that Thomas Bonny could have switched trades (i.e. from a goldsmith to a clothworker) after being forced out of Cheapside by the Great Fire it appears highly unlikely that he did. A search of the transcribed on-line master and apprentice records relating to the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers(14) has failed to find any one associated with this Livery Company during this period with the name Bonny (or a phonetically similar sounding surname). Furthermore, documentary evidence exists confirming that Thomas Bonny was still describing himself as a “citizen and goldsmith of London” in mid-1668(15). It appears most likely that the coat of arms depicted on his token simply represented the historic trade sign hung above the property in or adjacent to which he lived and worked. This was a time before the official numbering of properties in London’s streets, lanes and allies.

It wasn’t uncommon (Note 6) for tradesmen to apply a previous occupant’s or neighbour’s trade sign to their address, especially where such a sign was an established local land mark that was well known to the local populace.

By late June 1668 it appears that Thomas Bonny’s health was starting to fail as on the 24th of that month he made his Last Will and Testament in which he describes himself as being “sick in body but of perfect memory”(15). Despite his obvious concerns Thomas’ health didn’t finally fail him until early November 1671 as confirmed by the following burial register entry in his local parish church, St. Botolph, Bishopsgate Without.

7th November 1671 – Burial of Thomas Bonnes (aged 55)

Thomas’s Will was subsequently proven on 16th November 1671(16). He named Mary, his wife, as executrix and requested the following provisions to be made after the settlement of any debts or expenses outstanding on his estate;

a) To his eldest daughter Eleanor Churcher, 1 shilling to be paid 3 months after his death.

b) To Judith Bonny, his second daughter, 20 shillings to be paid 3 months after his death.

c) To Thomas Bonny, his son, 20 shillings to be paid 3 months after his death.

d) To George Bonny, his brother, his coloured suit and coat plus 10 shillings to be paid and delivered to him a month after his death

e) To his loving wife, Mary Bonny, the remains of his estate together with all ready money, goods and chattels

Thomas’s Will makes no reference to his eldest son. Whether Thomas outlived him or there had been a rift between the two is unknown.

Coincidentally on the same day as Thomas Bonny’s Will was proven the following entry was made in the register of the Bonny family’s parish church, St. Botolph, Bishopsgate Without;

16thJanuary 1671 – Marriage of Thomas Boone and Sarah Finch

This is possibly the marriage of Thomas Bonny (the token issuer’s) second son who was born in 1647 and would have been 24 at the time of his father’s death.

No further clear references to the Bonny family appear after the above date other than for some possible references to one of his sons and grandsons in the late 1680s and early 1690s (Note 3).

 

Footnotes:

1)  The Worshipful Company of Clothworkers was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1528, formed by the amalgamation of its two predecessor Companies, the Fullers (incorporated 1480) and the Shearmen (incorporated 1508). It succeeded to the position of the Shearmens’ Company and thus ranks twelfth in the order of precedence of Livery Companies of the City of London.

The original craft of the Clothworkers was the finishing of woven woollen cloth: fulling it to mat the fibres and remove the grease, drying it on tenter frames, raising the nap with teasels and shearing it to a uniform finish. The Ordinances of the Clothworkers’ Company, first issued in 1532 and signed by Sir Thomas More, sought to regulate clothworking, to maintain standards and to protect approved practices.

From the later Middle Ages, cloth production gradually moved away from London, a situation exacerbated by the Great Fire of London and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Famous members of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers included King James I and the famous diarist and naval administrator, Samuel Pepys.

2) A search of transcribed London parish baptism, marriage and burial records(17,18,19,20) has identified various individuals in the London area in the mid-17th century by the name of Thomas Bonny (or with a phonetically similar surname). These are listed below as well as possible entries for the token issuer’s wife, i.e. Mary or Margaret Bonney etc. together with their possible children;

6th September 1636 – Baptism of Rachell the daughter of Thomas and Mary Bone. St. Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate Without.

20th April 1641 – Burial of Thomas Bonny. St. Dunstan in the East. London

12th November 1642 – Marriage of Thomas Bonnce and Jean Fletcher. Holy Trinity Church, Minories.

16th April 1653 – Marriage of Thomas Bonner and Mary Fowler. St. Augustine’s Church, Watling Street.

13th April 1657 – Baptism of Thomas Bonus to Thomas and Joane Bonus. St. Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate Without.

14th June 1668 – Marriage of Thomas Boane to Marry Bibble. St. James’ Church, Clerkenwell.

8th January 1670 – Burial of Mary Bones (aged 35). St. Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate Without.

16th January 1671 – Marriage of Thomas Boone and Sarah Finch. St. Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate Without.

7th November 1671 – Burial of Thomas Bonnes (aged 55). St. Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate Without.

25th July 1673 – Burial of Thomas Boone, the son of Nicholas Boone. St. Andrews’ Church. Holborn.

28th August 1673 – Burial of Mary Bone. St. Sepulchre’s Church. Holborn.

Unfortunately, when analysed on their own there is no way of knowing which, if any, of the above entries are references to the same Thomas Bonny (or his wife) who issued a half penny trade token in 1667 from his premises in Bedlam. However, the burial record for Thomas “Bonnes” in the parish church of St. Botolph’s, Bishopgate is arguably of particular relevance in relation to our token issuer. Living in the district of Bedlam it is highly likely that Thomas Bonny’s local parish church was St. Botolph’s and as such that would be the obvious location for his burial, assuming he didn’t move out of the parish after 1667. This entry has been used as the principal starting point in the research presented in the above brief family history

3) It is possible that Thomas Bonny’s first son was named Francis Bonny. An individual by this name, who was also a London goldsmith, was living in the parish of St. Andrew’s, Holborn in the early 1680s. From Francis’ Last Will and Testament(21), which was made on 10th March 1683, we know his then wife was named Hester Bonny and that he had a nephew (i.e. possibly the son of one of Thomas Bonny the token issuer’s other three children) named Thomas Bonny who then lived in Covent Garden.

At some point c.1688, and possibly in relation to the internal political and religious turmoil created in the Kingdom by the Glorious Revolution, Francis Bonny and a Mr. John Whiting put up £1000 each in sureties for the bail of a Mr. Jasper Grant. Mr. Grant was indicted for “spiriting away a person beyond sea” and after being subsequently convicted of this crime “fled in rebellion to Ireland”. Francis Bonny subsequently gave John Whiting a bond to indemnify him and afterwards committed suicide(22). The following notice was published in the London Gazette on 27th February 1689(23);

“Whereas Francis Bonny late of London, goldsmith, died £1,100 indent to the Crown. These are to give notice thereof to Debtors of the said Bonny, that they may not make any payment to their own prejudice.”

In a further issue of the London Gazette that month(24) Hester Bonny, inserts a notice that Thomas Bonny (i.e. Francis’ nephew) has some time since;

“fraudulently and deceitfully got into his hands, several trunks, wherein was writings of great value and, Jewels, Plate, Linen, etc., of Francis Bonny decd and other persons. And all, persons are cautioned against buying the said goods.”

After Francis’s death a legal battle subsequently started between the Treasury (representing the Crown) and Francis’s widow Hester. The Treasury’s solicitor argued that in committing suicide Francis’s entire estate were to be forfeited to the Crown (as per the legal custom at that time). Hester’s counter argument to the Crown was that at the time of his suicide Francis was “non compos mentis” (i.e. insane).  In early 1691 Hester Bonny eventually won her legal battle and the bulk of her husband’s estate passed to her(25) as per the provisions of Francis’ Will of 1683.

4) While Thomas Bonny is clearly listed as a goldsmith and citizen of London in documents dated 1659(26) and 1668(27) a search of the transcribed master and apprentice records for the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths has failed to identify him(28).

5)  Handwriting evidence further supports that Thomas Bonny, the 1667 token issuer of Bedlam, was the same Thomas Bonny who was lining in the parish of St. Mary Colechurch up until the Great Fire of September 1666.

Signatures of Thomas Bonny - c.1666 (top) and 1671 (bottom)

Signatures of Thomas Bonny – c.1666 (top) and 1671 (bottom)

An analysis of the two signatures above supports this. The first dates to c.1666, when Thomas was churchwarden of St. Mary Colechurch. It is taken from an entry in the latter’s parish registers. The second if from Thomas Bonny’s Last Will and Testament which is dated 24th June 1668. This Will was proven 8 days after the burial entry for “Thomas Bonnes” which was made on 7th November 1671 in the registers of parish church of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate Without (i.e. the local parish church for the district of Bedlam).

6) There are many examples of mid-17th British tradesmen who issued tokens displaying trade signs that are seemingly inappropriate to their occupations. The following examples are all taken from tokens issued by goldsmiths(29);

a) Henry Pinckney of Fleet, London, at the sign of the Three Squirrels.

b) Samuel Calle of Exeter at the signs of the Smoking Man and Covered Cup.

c) Joseph Partington in Skinner Row, Dublin, at the sign of the King’s Head.

  

References:

  1. Robinson, C.J. Rev – Register of the Scholars Admitted into The Merchant Taylor’s School from A.D. 1562 to 1874. Compiled from Authentic Sources with Biographical Notes. Volume I. (London, 1882).
  2. London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section, Clerkenwell, London, England; Reference Number: MS 9172/61; Will Number: 311.
  3. Keene, D.J. & Harding, V. – Historical Gazetteer of London Before the Great Fire Cheapside; Parishes of All Hallows Honey Lane, St Martin Pomary, St Mary Le Bow, St Mary Colechurch and St Pancras Soper Lane. (Centre for Metropolitan History, London, 1987).
  4. Ibid 3.
  5. People in Place Project – St Mary Colechurch: Vestry Minutes 1613-72 (London, 2011).
  6. Merry, M & Baker, P. – Source specific data sets, Cheapside and Tower Hill, 1558-1769. On-line data sets accessible at http://sas-space.sas.ac.uk/id/eprint/752. (Institute of Historical Research, Centre for Metropolitan History, London 2007).
  7. Ibid 6.
  8. Ibid 3.
  9. Ibid 3.
  10. Ibid 3.
  11. 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).
  12. Ibid 6.
  13. Mills, P. & Oliver, J. – The Survey of Building Sites in the City of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Volume I. (London Topographical Society Publication. No.103. 1967).
  14. The Records of London’s Livery Companies Online – Apprentices and Freemen 1400-1900 (ROLLCO at http://www.londonroll.org/).
  15. Ibid 2.
  16. Ibid 2.
  17. Searched via the data bases available at Ancestry – Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records (http://www.ancestry.co.uk/).
  18. Searched via the data bases available at Findmypast – Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records (findmypast.co.uk).
  19. Searched via the data bases available at FamilySearch – Genealogy, Family Trees & Family History Records (https://familysearch.org/).
  20. Boyd, P. – Inhabitants of London. A genealogical Index held by the Society of Genealogists, London.
  21. PROB 11/394 – Will of Francis Bonny (10th March 1683), National Archives, London.
  22. Shaw, W.A. – Appendix: 1691, 2 January – 4 May in Calendar of Treasury Books. Volume 17, 1702 (London, 1939).
  23. The London Gazette – Issue 2536, Page 2. (London, 1689).
  24. Hilton-Price, F.G. – A Handbook of London Bankers with Some Account of Their Predecessors the Early Goldsmiths. (London, 1891).
  25. Shaw, W.A. – Appendix III, 1689-1692 in Calendar of Treasury Books. Volume 9 (London, 1931).
  26. Ibid 1.
  27. Ibid 2.
  28. Ibid 14.

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James Reddall at the Plough in Bedlam

A farthing token issued in the name of James Reddall of the Plough in Bedlam, Bishopsgate Without, London

A farthing token issued in the name of James Reddall of the Plough in Bedlam, Bishopsgate Without, London

The above copper farthing token measures15.7 mm and weighs 1.17 grams. It was issued in the name of James Reddall, a tradesman operating from the sign of the plough in Bedlam, Bishopsgate Without, London.

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

Obverse: (star) IAMES. REDDALL. AT , around the depiction of a swing plough facing left.

Reverse: (star) THE. PLOW. IN. BEDLAM, around a twisted wire inner circle, within a triad of initials comprising I | .R. | .S with a dot below the “R”

Based on the style of this token it probably dates to the period 1650 to 1660.

The issuing location of this token was the district of Bedlam in the Bishopsgate Ward of the city.

The location of the Bedlam or Bethlem district of Bishopsgate Without, London (c.1720)

The location of the Bedlam or Bethlem district of Bishopsgate Without, London (c.1720)

Bedlam was a colloquial name given to Bethlem, a 13th century priory church founded by the Italian bishop-elect of Bethlehem to raise alms and funds to support the crusades to the Holy Land. It was located just north of St. Botolphs Parish Church off Bishopsgate Street outside the city walls. By 1330 Bedlam was more often referred to as a hospital which in medieval terms may have simply denoted a hostel for travelling alms-seekers. By the 1370s the hospital had been seized by the crown and was becoming a far more secularized institution. It was from this period that it became first associated with the care of the mentally ill. So was to begin a centuries long tradition for which the institute and its later nearby successor was to became famous throughout Europe.

Detail from a map of Elizabethan London (1572) taken from "Civitates orbis terrarum" showing the location of Bethlem Hospital in the Bishopsgate Without Ward of the city

Detail from a map of Elizabethan London (1572) taken from “Civitates orbis terrarum” showing the location of Bethlem Hospital in the Bishopsgate Without Ward of the city

Although Bethlem had been enlarged by 1667 to accommodate fifty nine patients, the Court of Governors of the hospital observed at the start of 1674 that;

“The Hospital House of Bethlem is very old, weak & ruinous and to small and streight for keeping the greater number of lunatics therein at present.”

Given the increasing demand for admission and the inadequate and dilapidated state of the building it was decided to rebuild the hospital on a site at nearby Moorfields, which was just north of the city walls and one of the largest open spaces in London. The architect chosen for the new hospital, which was built rapidly and at great expense between 1675 and 1676, was the famous natural philosopher and City Surveyor Robert Hooke.

Engraving by Robert White of the new Bethlem Hospital designed by Robert Hooke and built at Moorfields, outside of the City of London in 1676

Engraving by Robert White of the new Bethlem Hospital designed by Robert Hooke and built at Moorfields, outside of the City of London in 1676

By the late 1670s the original site and any remaining buildings which had once comprised part of the original Bethlem Hospital had been absorbed by the wide spread urban development to the west of Bishopsgate Street Without. Today nothing remains of the medieval hospital. Its former site is now occupied by the Great Eastern Hotel next to Liverpool Street Railway Station.

The reverse of the token bears a triad of issuers’ initials, i.e. those of James Reddall and his wife. The appearance of “I” for “J” for “James” can be explained by the use of Latin script in which Js are represented by Is. At the time the token was issued we can assume that James wife’s Christian name was Sarah, Susan or similar.

I have been unable to find any conclusive evidence of where and when the primary issuer of this token was born, married or buried. However, he could well be one or all of the following individuals both of whom lived in the Parish of St. Botolphs in Bishopsgate Without, this being the token issuer’s local church;

1) James Reddall – married Judith Finch on 26th September 1661 (extracted from the parish registers of Holy Trinity Church, Minories, London).

2) James Reddall – buried on 22nd February 1684/5 at St. Botolphs, Bishopsgate Without.

A further examination of the parish registers of St. Botolphs in Bishopsgate Without indicate the following children being born to a James and Judith Reddall;

1)      Thomas – christened on 8th September 1661

2)      Elizabeth – christened on 24th January 1663/4

3)      Finch – christened on 26th March 1664/5 (Finch apparently being taken from the mother’s maiden name)

A further reference to a James Reddall can be found in the Hearth Tax returns of 1662 for the first western precinct of the Bishopsgate Ward. He is recorded as occupying a property with 6 hearths.

Based on the information on his token James Reddall’s occupation can’t be certain but it is clear that he traded from or near to the sign of the plough in Bedlam. In London the sign of the plough was adopted from the 16th century onwards by several taverns but was by no means exclusive to that trade.

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The Half Moon Brew House in Bishopsgate Without

A farthing token issued in the name of the Half Moon Brew House in Bishopsgate Without, London

A farthing token issued in the name of the Half Moon Brew House in Bishopsgate Without, London

The above copper farthing token measures 15.5 mm and weighs 1.02 grams. It was issued by a brewer operating from premises at or by the sign of the Half Moon in Half Moon Alley which lay off the south-west side of Bishopsgate Street in the Bishopsgate Without Ward of the City of London.

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

Obverse: (mullet) THE.HALFE.MOONE.BREW, around twisted wire inner circle, within is a depiction of a crescent half-moon on its side.

Reverse: (mullet) HOVS.WITHOVT.B.GATE, around a twisted wire inner circle, within a triad of initials comprising G | O | .I

There is nothing on the token to indicate the date of its issue. However, it is likely that it dates from the approximate period 1650 to 1660.

The location of the Half Moon Alley and Court (in yellow and blue respectively) plus Sir Paul Pindar's house (in red) at the entrance to the alley of Bishopsgate Street, London (c.1720)

The location of the Half Moon Alley and Court (in yellow and blue respectively) plus Sir Paul Pindar’s house (in red) at the entrance to the alley of Bishopsgate Street, London (c.1720)

In his survey of London and Westminster (1720) John Strype describes Half Moon Alley and its environs as follows;

 Half Moon Alley, very ordinary, and ill inhabited; almost at the entrance it divdes itself, one part falling into Half Moon Court which is a good large place; and the other part in a straight Line runs Westwards into Moorfields: On the South side of this place is Stone Cutters Yard, a pretty open, but ordinary place; and on the North side is a small Alley that leads unto Dunning’s Alley.

 The first mention of the sign of the Half Moon in this location occurs in 1543 in a land release in which we learn that Robert Wood dwelt at “le Signe de le hulfe Mone”(1). From Strype’s Survey we learn a little more of Robert Wood and his family as the Strype records a monument to Robert’s widow, Joan, inside the Church of St. Botolph Without, Bishopsgate.

 Here under lyeth the Body of Joane Wood, Wife of Robert Wood, Citizen and Brewer of London, who had Issue, two Sons and three Daughters; viz. John, Richard, Joane, Anne and Frances. She deceased the 25 day of November, An. Dom. 1600.

Based on the above it is implied that Robert Wood was operating a Brew House at the sign of the Half Moon off Bishopsgate Street Without as early as 1543.

Detail from a map of Elizabethan London (1572), taken from "Civitates orbis terrarum" showing Bishopsgate Street Without and the mansions and gardens along it. The area indicated in blue is that of the Half Moone Brew House and Alley.

Detail from a map of Elizabethan London (1572), taken from “Civitates orbis terrarum” showing Bishopsgate Street Without and the mansions and gardens along it. The area indicated in blue is that of the Half Moon Brew House and Alley.

It further appears from Joan Wood’s Will, 1600, that she sold the Half Moon brew house with it yards, gardens, etc., to Ralph Pindar in 1597 on condition that he should pay a yearly sum of £20 to the parson and church-wardens of St. Botolph, and that in default of such payment the premises were to go to them. Joan also bequeathed various benevolent charities of the church of St. Botolph, its parishioners and poor.

 In the latter few years of the 16th century Sir Paul Pindar (c.1565-1650), a wealthy merchant and later diplomat, acquired much land on the north-east side of the city walls. This included the earlier holdings of Joan Wood which lay on the west side of Bishopsgate Street and included Half Moon Alley. In 1623 Pindar returned to live in his London home after serving as King James I’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople. Pindar’s business activities enabled him to invest in speculative trading expeditions, loan large sums to Charles I and contribute the enormous sum of £10,000 towards the rebuilding of the original (i.e. Old) St Paul’s Cathedral. However, the political upheavals of the 1640s and Charles’s inability to repay loans left Pindar with huge debts when he died.

Engraved portrait of Sir Paul Pindar, by Thomas Trotter after an anonymous painting of 1614, England, 1794.

Engraved portrait of Sir Paul Pindar, by Thomas Trotter after an anonymous painting of 1614, England, 1794.

In 1599 Pindar built himself a new three and a half storey timber-framed mansion on the west side of Bishopsgate Street Without at the head of Half Moon Alley. Bishopsgate Street was one of the main roads from the city to East Anglia and had recently been paved. It was also convenient for Pindar’s business activities. Less than a mile away was St Paul’s Cathedral, a rendezvous for city merchants, and Cheapside, where traders also acted as bankers. Closer still was the recently founded Royal Exchange at Cornhill, where Pindar would have met other wholesale merchants and swapped news. By 1610 the house was being used to accommodate a succession of overseas ambassadors to the Court of King James. Pindar’s magnificent town house survived the Great Fire of London (1666) and by 1660 had already been split into separate apartments. The upper storeys of the house were taken over by the London workhouse and contained wards for “poor children and vagabonds, beggars, pilferers, lewd, idle, and disorderly persons”. The ground floor rooms which led onto the street front were used as a tavern which traded under the name a sign of Sir Paul Pindar’s Head.

The "Paul Pindar's Head Tavern" in Bishopsgate Street, London, c.1890. Note the signed entrance to Half Moon Street (i.e. originally Half Moon Alley) on the right hand side of the house front.

The “Paul Pindar’s Head Tavern” in Bishopsgate Street, London, c.1890. Note the signed entrance to Half Moon Street (i.e. originally Half Moon Alley) on the right hand side of the house front.

Pindar’s house, together with adjacent parts of Half Moon Alley, were ultimately consumed by the expansion of Liverpool Street Railway Station in 1890. However, as an early example of its type the original timber framed façade of his house was preserved and is now on public display in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The wooden house façade, built 1599-1600, for Sir Paul Pindar, for his house at the corner of Half Moon Alley and  Bishopsgate Street Without, London (Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

The wooden house façade, built 1599-1600, for Sir Paul Pindar, for his house at the corner of Half Moon Alley and Bishopsgate Street Without, London (Victoria & Albert Museum, London)

It is possible that prior to 1650 the brewer who issued the above farthing token paid rent on his brew house to Sir Paul Pindar’s estate. After Pindar’s death it is not clear who owned the brew house or the other properties in Half Moon Alley.

The initials of the couple that operated the Half Moon brew house at the time of the token, a Mr. “G.O” and his wife Mrs.” I. (or J. given that capital Js are represented by capital Is in Latin script) O.”, have not as yet been positively identified. However, there were three individuals living in Half Moon Alley at the time of the 1662 Hearth Tax with surnames beginning with “O”. Any one of these could have been related to the token’s original issuers. By 1662 the token issuers may have moved out of the alley or may even have died. One particular individual identified from the Hearth Tax returns has initials which directly fit with those of one of the primary issuer identified in the token’s reverse triad. This person is;

Griffith Owen – Paid tax on a premises with 5 hearths in the first precinct on the west of the alley.

A search of the parish registers for St. Botolphs Without, Bishopsgate has identified the marriage of one Griffith Owen to a Jane Spencer on the 16th May 1641. The initials of this couple exactly match those of the triad on the reverse of the token. When reviewed together with the 1662 hearth tax return this combined information would suggest that we may have found the identities of the token issuers.

While the identity of the token issuers may still pose a possible question mark their stock trade is very clearly identified on the token. They were commercial brewers operating from their own Brew House, which can be thought of as more of a local microbrewery by today’s standards.

In the mid-17th century ale/beer was still the traditional staple drink of the masses in Britain. Before the Victorian improvements in public sanitation, cholera and other water-transmitted diseases were a significant cause of death in Britain. Because alcohol is toxic to most water-borne bacteria, and because the process of brewing any beer from malt involves boiling the water, which also kills them, drinking beer instead of water was a far safer option.

It was not uncommon for workers who engaged in heavy physical labour to drink more than 10 pints of dilute or “small” beer during a day to maintain their hydration level. Small beer is that liquor extracted from the “second runnings” taken from a very strong beer mash. It typically is of low alcohol content. Small beer also formed the stable liquid consumption of the rest of Britain’s household, both young and old alike. With such high consumption levels it was not always practical or feasible for every household to brew their own supply, particularly in the often cramped and overcrowded towns and cities. This is where the local brew houses filled the gap in the market. Taverns, Inns and Ordinaries also help fill the gap but then, like today, they served more as a place for social drinking and dining.

Footnote: Trends in 17th Century Drinking Habits

Beer had been the traditional drink in England for centuries, but by the second half of the 17th century it was starting to face competition for the first time. Gin, for one, was new on the London scene, but it was just one of a host of new beverages cutting into the national consumption of beer. These included tea, coffee, hot chocolate and brandy.

The problem for English ales began in the 1640s when both Parliament and the Royalists created excise duties on beer to pay for the Civil War. Parliament created the first of these in 1643. After the Restoration beer duties became more important than ever, because they became a replacement for the old baronial duties that had previously funded the army. At the same time, the government was encouraging the distilling of gin as a cheap alternative to beer. To facilitate this both Charles II and James II licensed brewers to distil spirits on their premises. In these circumstances the decline of beer consumption was inevitable, although the situation only hit public awareness around 1690. In the 18th century gin drinking became a huge public problem in London, particularly within the poorer and lower classes. Gin Palaces became common place in parts of the city and were often seedy dens on iniquity where the clientele could famously get “drunk for a penny. Dead drunk for twopence”. This issue was famously highlighted by William Hogarth in his contrasting prints of 1751 entitled “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane”.

"Beer Street" and "Gin Lane" - William Hogarths satirical and contrasting prints (1751) promoting the merits of drinking tradditional and vertuous ale versus those of partaking in the more demonic alternative of distilled spirits

“Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” – William Hogarth’s satirical and contrasting prints (1751) promoting the merits of drinking traditional and virtuous ale versus those of partaking in the more demonic alternative of distilled spirits

These prints were commissioned in support of what would become the Gin Act of 1751 which was enacted in order to reduce the consumption of spirits, a popular pass time that was regarded as one of the primary causes of crime in London. By prohibiting gin distillers from selling to unlicensed merchants and increasing fees charged to merchants, it eliminated small gin shops, thereby restricting the distribution of gin to larger distillers and retailers. Hogarth’s two prints were designed to be viewed alongside each other. They depict the evils of the consumption of gin as a contrast to the merits of drinking beer.

References:

1) Harben, H.A, – A Dictionary of London. (London, 1918).

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