Traders’ tokens of Horncastle

Words by:
Colin Smale
Featured in:
October 2020

Colin Smale continues to trace the history of 17th century traders’ tokens in Lincolnshire. Compared to everyday coinage, these are quite rare, as they were only in circulation from 1656 to 1672. This month he looks at two tokens from Horncastle.

A closer look into Horncastle’s past throws up all kinds of anomalies. Where is/was the castle? Was there ever a castle, or was it simply a fortified manor house demolished in 1146? Secondly, given the historic tag of Banovallum (Wall on the River Bain) it seems likely that the Romans never heard of Banovallum but that it was a name given to it in the 19th century – in fact Banovallum may well have been Caistor, 20 miles to the north!

Oh well, the Saxons called it Hyrnecastre, which is pretty darn near, and it has certainly existed since at least Roman times; in fact part of the town, the library, is built on top of the Roman wall.

Horncastle has always been a trading town, with its annual horse fair reputed to be the largest of its kind in the UK. It had the label ‘Horncastle for horses’. Its market and livestock market, like most of our old markets is no more, buried under ‘modernism’, so there has always been plenty of room for traders.

The first token I have chosen to look at this month is that of John Chappman, as he chose to have a castle on one side of his coin!

Isn’t this so odd? I am wondering why he chose a castle when, as far as I can tell, there was no castle. As I mentioned earlier, castle or fortified manor house, this was demolished in 1146 and John Chappman was born 500 years later! Once again, facts have been buried with history and we have to make guesses. My guess is he thought an image of a castle fitted the town’s name.

John Chappman was an ironmonger by trade and looking at his signature in the centre of the coin it rather reminds me of our old and dearly departed Fred Dibnah. I once had to cover an event where he was speaking and asked him if he would sign my friend’s book. He opened the front cover and suddenly his pen was sliding all over the place. When he finished I couldn’t believe my eyes. His signature filled the whole page and clearly represented wrought ironwork – and our John seems to have had the same ‘flourishing’ idea, as we see in the centre of his coin.

My second choice of coin this month is that of John Smith, also an ironmonger and just look at his signature: remind you of anything? Surely, a wrought iron signature again.

With a total of 22 tokens to cover town or village names beginning with ‘H’, in Hagworthingham, Haxey, Heckington, Helpringham, Holbeach, Horbling, and Horncastle, clearly there is never enough space, but I understand that Mr O’Bee, whose coin collection I have been photographing, is shortly to bring out a book on Lincolnshire Tokens.

My thanks to Mr M. O’Bee of New Waltham Grimsby and The Spalding Gentlemen’s Society who allowed me to photograph these coins for this series.

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