Category: Collections

Evesham tokens in the Pearkes collection – a forgotten hoard rediscovered?

In the second volume of his 1781 Collections for the history of Worcestershire Treadway Russell Nash included a plate of engravings depicting numismatic specimens with local links. Among them were 37 Worcestershire tokens, most originating in the private collection of ‘the Rev. Mr. Pearkes, of Worcester’. Nash’s Rev. Pearkes can be identified as John Pearkes FSA, a clergyman antiquary with strong links to Worcestershire and the surrounding counties; his ecclesiastical career included stints as curate of Kington in the 1760s and early 1770s, Prebendary of Worcester Cathedral from 1776 to 1781, and rector of Bredon and Bredon’s Norton from 1781 until his death on 27 April 1787.

Engravings of Worcestershire tokens in Nash’s Collections; most derive from Pearkes’ collection.

During his lifetime Pearkes amassed a vast collection of books, coins, tokens, and other historical artefacts, the bulk of which were sold at two separate auctions held by John Gerard of Soho on 21-22 February and 7-8 April 1788. The corresponding sales catalogues confirm Pearke’s wide-ranging numismatic interests, which included ancient coins, contemporary medals, and plenty inbetween; at the core of his collection, however, was a ‘very curious and choice Collection of Town-Pieces and Tradesmen Tokens’, comprising more than 1,400 English, Irish, and Welsh tokens of the seventeenth century. Roughly three-quarters of these were private tokens, details of which are frustratingly absent, but the catalogue does provide information on just under 300 ‘Town-Pieces’ – halfpennies and farthings struck by civic bodies – present in his collection.

An Evesham halfpenny (Cotton 25a), almost certainly from the Pearkes collection. Engraving from Nash 1781, 91ff.

The ‘Town-Pieces’ in Pearkes’ collection have a broad national coverage, and there are only limited indications of a Worcestershire bias in the representation of issue-locations: in many respects the county’s element is pretty modest, comprising seven Evesham halfpence (Cotton 25a), two Stourbridge halfpence (Cotton 64), and a single Worcester farthing (Cotton 79). Of these specimens, however, the Evesham parcel stands out. Not only are its tokens unduly well-represented in Pearkes’ collection at the county level, they are among the most numerous in the collection as a whole – just behind Bristol, which is represented by 12 specimens, and on level pegging with Gloucester’s seven specimens. This sense of disproportionality is heightened when we consider the scale on which these tokens were produced; according to the late Robert Thompson, the number of dies used to produce Evesham’s civic tokens were considerably outranked by Gloucester and Bristol at a ratio of nearly 1:2:8.

Why, then, should Rev. Pearkes have possessed such an unusually large number of Evesham civic tokens? One possibility is that the group derives from an otherwise unrecorded hoard uncovered in the Evesham area during the eighteenth century. Circumstantial evidence suggests that this idea is not entirely far-fetched. Brick buildings in Evesham town centre testify to a substantial remodelling of the town in the eighteenth century, and it could be that a hoard of civic tokens emerged in the course of dismantling an earlier post-medieval building in this period. As a prominent local collector, Pearkes would have been attuned to any such discoveries; he certainly possessed the financial means to acquire a hoard of tokens in whole or in part. Pure speculation, of course – further archival research may furnish additional evidence supporting or challenging the theory.

Murray Andrews

Research visit – Tenbury Museum

In a previous post I reported on a research visit to the Corinium Museum, Cirencester, which was generously facilitated by a small grant from the UK Numismatic Trust. Funding from the UKNT has also allowed me to pursue other research visits to regional archives and museums, and on this basis I visited Tenbury Museum in July 2017 to examine their token collection.

Situated in the northwest of the county on the Shropshire border, Tenbury is probably the smallest of Worcestershire’s ‘small towns’, with just under 3000 inhabitants at the time of the 2001 census – roughly three times the population of the seventeenth century parish, if the evidence of the hearth tax returns of 1664/5 and 1676 ecclesiastical census can be trusted. It lies in the heart of the picturesque Teme Valley, whose undulating topography is a mosaic of rich red cultivated soils, hilly pasture flocked by cattle and sheep, and stretches of ancient woodland interspersed with scattered farmsteads and small villages. Much of this setting was familiar to early modern visitors; according to the late sixteenth century antiquary William Camden, the region possessed ‘rich meadows, and the soil on both sides [of the Teme] produceth excellent Syder, and Hops in great abundance’, while two centuries later the topographer James Baker would note Tenbury’s ‘rich and spacious’ countryside, and how ‘in summer…none exhibits on its bounds larger or more varied successions of productive plantations of grain, cyder-fruit and hops’.  A walk through the town takes barely any time, and gives some stunning glimpses of its medieval and early modern inheritance.

The Kings Head Pub, Cross Street – one of several surviving early modern buildings in Tenbury

Since 1977 Tenbury has had its own local museum, run by an active and enthusiastic team of volunteers from the Tenbury Wells Museum and History Group. After a speculative enquiry in the spring I quickly discovered that the museum held a small collection of seventeenth century tokens, and after some email correspondence with the group secretary, Mike Thompson, a research visit was arranged for the summer.

Tenbury Museum in Goff’s Free School

On arrival in Tenbury I met up with Mike, who kindly showed me around the stunning Tenbury Pump Rooms, a Grade II* listed mid-nineteenth century bath house built to promote the town as a Victorian working class spa destination. The Museum Group organises tours of the Pump Rooms on a monthly basis, and I’d strongly recommend a visit! Following this trip we headed towards the museum, which presently occupies a Free School built in 1819 on the bequest of the Hereford-born coal merchant Edward Goff. The building is attractive, but very small – although this is certainly part of its charm.

The numismatic collection at Tenbury Museum is similarly modest, as is its Worcestershire token element – just three specimens. Size isn’t everything, however,  and from the perspective of the Project these objects represent a very welcome body of evidence indeed. One specimen is a civic halfpenny of the Wardens of Bewdley, issued in 1668 (Cotton 3); its reverse motif, an anchor flanked by a sword and a rose, is the same design as that used on the town’s common seal. The remaining two specimens are both private issues: one a 1667 halfpenny of Thomas Balamey of Kidderminster (Cotton 40), and the other a 1662 halfpenny of William Swift of Worcester (Cotton 107). Balamey’s profession is indicated by the presence of the Weavers arms on the obverse of his token, and extracts from his 1691 probate inventory published by Cotton illuminate the nature of his business: his ‘stock in trade’ included eight looms, large quantities of wool and linen yarn, and other tools of the trade. It also informs us of the standards of living a successful weaver might maintain at this date, which included a well-furnished house and personal estate worth £206 6s. 9d.

Swift’s token, by contrast, chose to depict the three pears of Worcester, leaving few numismatic clues as to his profession. The Swifts were a prominent family in seventeenth century Worcester, with one member,  Samuel Swift, being elected to the mayoralty in 1684; the named William Swift can probably be identified with the 57 year old ‘merchant and sugar baker, grocer and draper’ recorded in the county visitation of 1682-3 , who had previously served as the county’s high sheriff in 1675, and whose burial is recorded in the parish registers of Worcester St Swithun under 20 February 1688.

From a numismatic perspective the specimens in Tenbury Museum have some interesting features. The halfpenny of William Swift, for example, was struck using a pair of dies observed on another specimen that I have recorded; however, the Tenbury specimen lacks a die crack present on that specimen, so must have been produced before it. This sort of information is really useful for building up a high-resolution chronology of token production, so was a real treat to discover! Both other specimens are also struck from dies recorded in other museum collections – in these cases, the phenomenal nineteenth century collection formed by William Alfred Cotton held at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum.

I’m really grateful to Mike Thompson and the team at Tenbury Museum for facilitating this research, and to the UK Numismatic Trust for providing the funding that made it happen.

Murray Andrews

Research visit – The Corinium Museum, Cirencester

With the kind support of a small grant from the UK Numismatic Trust, in April 2017 I was able to undertake the first of several research visits to study examples of Worcestershire tokens held in regional museums. My destination? The Corinium Museum, Cirencester!

Remains of the Roman city wall in Abbey Grounds Park, Cirencester

I must admit that this was a quite unexpected location to find myself on the hunt for seventeenth century tokens. Cirencester is best known as the site of Corinium Dobunnorum, the second largest town in Roman Britain; consequently, the Corinium Museum holds an absolutely exquisite collection of Roman material from the town and its hinterland, and rightly emphasises these finds in its public galleries.  However, the museum also holds a decent post-Roman archaeological and numismatic collection, within which is presently included the archaeological collection of Reverend David Royce (1817-1902), a Rutland-born vicar and antiquary formerly based at Lower Swell near Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire. Donated to St Edward’s Hall, Stow-on-the-Wold, in 1902, Royce’s collection primarily consists of local finds acquired during his tenure in the Cotswolds, and preliminary work on this material was initiated by Leslie Grinsell in the mid-twentieth century and eventually published in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society in 1964. In this paper Grinsell noted that Royce ‘was for many years an ardent collector of 17th-century trade tokens of the Cotswolds and their surroundings’; for reasons of brevity, however, only the Gloucestershire component of this collection was published, leaving the character of its Worcestershire element frustratingly unclear.  After a few emails and phonecalls I discovered that Royce’s archaeological collection had since been relocated to the Corinium Museum, and now formed the target of my visit; once all was arranged with the museum I hopped on the early train to Kemble to undertake the research.

Incidentally, I saw some really cute ducklings in a nearby pond…

The Worcestershire element of Royce’s token collection was small, consisting of four tokens only: three of Shipston on Stour, and one of Evesham. This mix seems quite consistent with the suggestion that these represent local finds discovered in the north Cotswolds; Evesham and Shipston are some of the southernmost Worcestershire towns whose denizens are known to have struck tokens during the seventeenth century, and both were connected to the area around Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold by major overland routes at this period.

All of the Worcestershire tokens housed in the Royce collection are private issues, produced on behalf of named individuals rather than civic institutions. The Evesham specimen was a 1649 farthing token of Peter Cross (Cotton 31a), and was in very crisp condition; it is quite likely that it had never entered the ground, and could well have been discovered between the floorboards of an old building prior to Royce acquiring it. The same could not be said for one of the Shipston on Stour specimens, a 1666 halfpenny token of Henry Cotterell (Cotton 60); this example is moderately corroded and rather worn, and probably was unearthed by the plough like so many of the other finds in Royce’s collection.

The last two tokens are undated farthing tokens of Edward Pittway (Cotton 62), each a die-duplicate of the other. Establishing the dating of such specimens is one of the main aims of the Worcestershire Token Project, and while a thorough treatment of this topic must await the results of the completed die study, the borders surrounding the inscription and central designs give some clues. Early work on seventeenth century Oxfordshire tokens by John Milne has provided a standard classification for border types, and his research – and subsequent work on other county series by George Berry, Peter Preston-Morley, and George Pegg, among others – has demonstrated that border types have a broad correspondence with issue dates. All the specimens of this type that I’ve seen combine cable pattern inner borders with outer borders composed of ‘oblong labels’, a combination that occurs on tokens of other counties in the period 1648-c.1664.

What about the faces behind the objects? As always, our first clues are stamped across the tokens themselves. Edward Pittway’s tokens bear the Ironmongers Arms, while those of Henry Cotterell bear the Mercers Arms, indicating the trades of their issuers. Peter Cross’ token, however, bears no such information, and we are forced to delve a little deeper into the historical record. The seventeenth century Evesham Borough Books, meticulously edited by Stephen Roberts and published by the Worcestershire Historical Society, confirm that Cross was a man of some local standing. He was elected as assistant to the town council on 30 March 1649, and held that role as late as 1665. Cross died in the summer of 1667, and his burial is recorded in the parish register of Evesham All Saints under 16 July 1667; by the end of the following month he had been replaced in his civic post by one Thomas Bartlett. The design of Cross’ token adopts the common motif of a triangle of initials representing his own name and that of his wife, whose forename is recorded only as the letter ‘M’; consultation of the parish register of Evesham All Saints confirms her maiden name as Mary Baseley, the couple having wed on 7 October 1638. Future research will add much more flesh to these bones!

Many thanks to all the staff at the Corinium Museum, Nigel Surman (Stow and District Civic Society), and the UK Numismatic Trust for generously sharing information, granting access to the Royce collection, and generally making this trip possible!

Murray Andrews