Hot new pennies are cast down on the heads of eager youngsters waiting on the street below. They pounce and rake up a few coppers for sweets and other small delights in a melee’ of arms and legs.
It is a tradition that goes back to times when there was no social security and all the charity on offer came from well off benefactors in the town. It was a time when charity really did begin at home.
The tradition seems to have started in late Victorian times. The Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors threw pennies from the Town Hall on ‘Mayoring Day’ each year to what was then a seething mass of children from the Lion Street and Mermaid Street Schools.
Whose bright idea it was for the pennies to be heated is lost in the records, it seems rather sadistic, for in those days the coins were six times as large and heavy as today’s pennies and retained the heat for six times as long. A ‘real’ penny down the neck was a painful experience indeed.
The venue has not always been the Town Hall, it seems to have moved back and forth between the Town Hall and the George Hotel (Where the Mayor’s Banquet took place). It seems that some Councillors preferred to eat before the penny ceremony. It seems to be fixed in Market Street now, probably due to the increased
All Ryers who spent their school-days here will have stories to tell of scrabbling for pennies, but to the older generation it really meant something special. In the days between the Wars and for the ten years after the Second War, a penny was an amount worth having. It would buy 2oz. of sweets or even (if you went to Miss Fry’s in The Mint) an ice cream. So ten or eleven pennies, which was the average a youngster could expect to twin’ was worth two or three pounds in today’s money.
When they spent their 1951 pennies they were not to know that just one, in mint condition, is worth £64 today. Someone in the Council of the time must have been shrewd for over 100 coins were kept back and are today valued at £8,000.
This is why the title of this piece is ‘Have the Pennies Become Outdated?. Has the time come to put up the value of coinage thrown from the Town Hall? Could a ‘silver shower’ of hot coins be the answer? It would certainly increase the number of children attending the event. This year there was just a handful, who may have pocketed a couple of dozen coins each but what does 24p. buy today? Not even two oz. of sweets and certainly not an ice cream.
“Rye’s Own” October 2009
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