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History Feature - The Walthamstow Penny
Reporter DANIEL BINNS speaks to resident Bill Foster about his research into Walthamstow's long tradition of making its own currency.
During last year's E17 Art Trail one of the most popular projects was the 'Stowner' – a make believe currency created by designer Jonathan Thomas and issued to residents by his very own Bank of Walthamstow.
While many enjoyed the crisp bank notes – decorated with images of William Morris and Walthamstow Stadium – few might have been aware that the Stowner was actually following in a long tradition of home-grown cash in E17.
Its origins date back to the 1600s, when many communities in England started producing their own low-value coins for everyday goods in response to a severe shortage of currency being produced by the government.
The trend for semi-legal “tokens” slowly spread across the country, reaching Walthamstow in the early 1800s while it was in the process of rapid expansion and urbanisation.
This was helped in large part by the British Copper Company, which just happened to have its own mill by Walthamstow Marshes.
Between 1810 and 1814 it helped to churn out a series of localised pennies and half pennies.
One proud owner of a Walthamstow Penny is Bill Foster, of Springfield Road, who has researched the history of the currency after stumbling across an obscure reference online.
The 35-year-old hunted down the coin for £35 on eBay, but they can sell for upwards of £60.
He said: “I think it's quite an interesting part of Walthamstow's history and it's great to own a piece of it. It's lucky a few have survived for so long as many of the coins were later melted down for their copper.”
Mr Foster has written a short history of the coins on his website walthamstowdiary.com.
He said: “I have no way of knowing what my token has been used for since it rolled of the presses in 1812, but I like to think that it was used to buy ale in the Chequers or Cock tavern.
"Perhaps it was used as payment at one of the dentists that extracted teeth on the market, or maybe used to buy a ticket for a night out at the long gone Palace Theatre".
During his research Mr Foster discovered that the coins were shipped across the globe, and were even accepted as currency in some parts of Canada.
However the tokens were eventually made illegal in 1817 and the Walthamstow mill closed in 1857, but the building still stands as a storage facility for Thames Water.
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