Barnstaple Shilling – special delivery
Posted on 16th June 2020 at 10:10
Due the Coronavirus pandemic, for the first time since the 1930’s the Mayor has been unable to visit and hand-deliver the Barnstaple shilling to the residents of the local Almshouses. A bespoke gift card has been designed with a shilling inside and sent to every Almshouse resident. It is hoped that this personalised card will go some way to avoiding disappointment and continue an important local tradition in the mayoral calendar.
The History of the Shilling
The origins of the Barnstaple Shilling tradition are believed to date back to the 18th Century. A local landowner, Henry Gardner Tippett who died in 1795, bequeathed in his will that the rent from a piece of land he owned called Hole Ground be paid to charity. The Vicar of Barnstaple would be entrusted to arrange the distribution of this money to the poor in the Almshouses at Christmas. The Charity Commissioners reported in 1826 that this duty was now being carried out by the Town Clerk. In the 1930’s Mr S Bembridge, who owned Hole Ground, declined to pay the rent charges claiming that they were void under the Statutes of Mortmain.
The Statutes of Mortmain were two enactments, in 1279 and 1290, by Edward I of England aimed at preserving the kingdom's revenues by preventing land from passing into the possession of the Church. Possession of property by a corporation such as the church was known as mortmain. Mortmain literally means "the dead hand."
The Council felt the tradition should still carry on, and the responsibility then fell to the Mayor. At first a sixpence was given, but following the introduction of decimalisation, a process of converting a currency from its previous non-decimal denominations to a decimal system, the sixpence was later withdrawn and a five pence was used instead.
In 1984 it wasn't possible to obtain new five pence coins from the bank. It was thought that the tradition could be in danger of dying out because the presentation of a low value coin, which had already been in circulation held no particular significance to the recipient. The Town Council resolved to produce a special commemorative coin for the presentation instead.
Design of the Shilling
The Chosen design of the coin was to incorporate the Town’s Seal on one side and the Mayor’s Seal on the other. It was called the Barnstaple Shilling as the coin previously presented was the shilling’s successor, and by keeping the name of the obsolete coin the history of the tradition would be remembered. After a coin producing firm was selected, the design was quickly produced, the coins arrived in time for the 1985 Mayoral election ceremony. That year they were not only presented to the Almshouses but to those aged sixty and over who attended the Mayor Making Ceremony at the Barnstaple Guildhall. The annual Mayor Making ceremony still takes place in the Barnstaple Guildhall, and shillings are still distributed to the attendees who sit in the gallery and the residents of the Almshouses.
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