These were the words which came to mind when I was presented with a surprise gift in the form of a Dymchurch Token dating from 1794. I knew at once, due to my research when writing a novel set in Georgian Dymchurch, that this was a coin issued in the village and used as small change, but now I wanted to learn more.
Having never seen a token before, I assumed it would be a simple type of coin with none of the detail we would expect to find in one minted by the crown. I was wrong. One side is embellished with the initials WP in the centre, a sheep, and around the edge the words Romney Marsh Halfpenny 1794. On the reverse, the Figure of Justice stands with the text For the Honor and Use of Trade. To my surprise, I discovered further detail on the rim: Payable at W.Parris Dimchurch x.x.x.
I felt overwhelmed that having mentioned a token in my writing, I now had my own. In the novel, a newcomer had tried to pay for goods with a token from his own village and the shopkeeper was not impressed. I used the words "I'll take coins minted by the farrier or the grocer” but four years after writing this I can’t recall where I gleaned this snippit of local history from.
I popped the words ‘William Parris Dymchurch Coins’ into my search bar on the laptop and was soon rewarded with photos of a coin which looked the same and some information on www.theromneymarsh.net . The first thing I learned was:
“Tokens, made of copper and bearing the names of local tradespeople, were used in lieu of coinage. Known as 18th Century Provincial Tokens or Conder Tokens, they are a form of privately minted token coinage struck and used during the latter part of the 18th Century and the early part of the 19th Century in England, Anglesey and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
The driving force behind the need for token coinage was the shortage of small denomination coins for everyday transactions…”
But it was the words under the photos of ‘my’ coin which interested me the most. I learned that William Parris owned 4, The High Street, Dymchurch from 1784 to 1837. Another search on the computer gave the information that No.4 is a building which still stands and is currently The Smuggler’s Chest, (Wellworths when I first came to the village in the year 2000).
This led me to recall a wonderful booklet I have on the history of the shop (Wellworths and Beyond, The History of a Dymchurch Village Shop back to 1784, by Colin & Margaret Walker). I knew this was the place to find out about my coin.
Something that leapt out from the pages was that these coins were manufactured by Lutwyche, and I soon discovered (again thanks to the internet) that he was a coin maker based in Birmingham. If we go back to my words “I'll take coins minted by the farrier or the grocer” it is clear I made a mistake here, wrongly assuming that the coins were produced in Dymchurch by the craftsmen who lived and worked here.
I should have used the word ‘issued’ rather than ‘minted’.
Who were the Parris Family who, out of all the tradespeople in the village became the ones to issue these tokens?
My book on 4 High Street, shows the family working in the village as Blacksmiths from the 17th century, with the business being opposite the Ocean Inn. In 1753 William Parris was born and it is he who went on to be a farmer owning 19 ½ acres of land, as well as the Blacksmiths, and by 1784 he also owned the grocery shop.
I understand now why I wrote ‘minted by the farrier or the grocer’ although we now know that to be incorrect as the tokens were minted in Birmingham.
The family tree (compiled by Colin and Margaret Walker) shows an all-too-common theme of eight children born to William Parris and his wife Susannah Wood of Newchurch, with several not surviving past birth or infancy and also sharing the same names. It was their second son named William, born in 1791, who went on to run the Blacksmiths, and also own The Victoria (Ocean) Inn. William Jnr’s daughter Elizabeth married William Caister and the grocers remained in the same family, albeit under Elizabeth’s married surname of Caister.
The story of the village shop continues in my booklet with some wonderful photos, family trees and stories. For me, the tale of my token has almost ended as by 1802 the production of these coins had ceased.
I have another booklet with reference to William Parris though – ‘Remembered’ by the Dymchurch & District Heritage Group features the story of William Parris on page 42. I have a feeling that both books are going to lead to me exploring Dymchurch further and will perhaps inspire another novel?