Issue 26, January 1986
At midnight on New Year’s Eve twenty-five years ago in Keinton Mandeville and Hardington Mandeville and every other ville in the Queen’s realm, the farthing ceased to be legal tender.
Farthings were first coined in 1279 so at midnight on New Year’s Eve 1960, a piece of history disappeared from daily life. But only a small piece: you would need ten farthings buy a penny chew today. Even back in 1705, 24 farthings was the going rate for ‘a six penny panphlet’ written by Bernard de Mandeville – no relation to Keinton and Hardington, they were sired by Geoffrey de Mandeville who arrived with William the Conqueror and rubber stamped his name all over the place. You paid 24 farthings for Bernard’s ‘immoral publick mischief’, however, only if you were some sort of dandy who spent his time in posh coffee houses or chatting up an earl’s daughter in a wheeled farthingale.
Jack the Lad of the lower orders who frequented inns of ill repute and knew his way ‘about the streets’ could pick up a copy of the pamphlet from a cheapskate printer-man for a halfpenny. Two Farthings to you, mate, a copy of The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turned Honest.
A wheeled farthingtale. Not a coffee house or ale-house, but a full gathered skirt which was stretched out over a large hoop around the hips’* with which all the bonniest beauts around bedecked themselves with when they showed out at the Crispin Hall and danced to the music of Ambrose and his Orchestra while Keinton and Hardington, DA haircut, drapes and crepe soles both, lounged around the edge of the floor. Have you ever tried dancing with a beaut in a farthingtale? Impossible. Best slide off for a pint in the bar, cost about a thousand farthings.
Not that Geoffrey de Mandeville was bothered about a farthing, him being a chum of the king and a landed gent to boot (which event will take place shortly). If he had gone out dancing one night, though, down the Johnson Hall in Yeoville maybe – and who is to say he didnt’t? – and lost his leather pouch and its wherewithal of 100 gold peices, and bumped into this earl’s daughter who came from Gillingham way and was the bonniest beaut you ever saw (although she was really a chorus girl and not an earl’s daughter at all but who’d let on to a foreigner?), he might have wanted to but her a posy, cost one farthing. So down to the old moneylender in Grope Street would Geoffrey have gone and here’s a funny thing, this being 1066 and all that and the farthing was not invented until 1279, and him not being sure the earl’s daughter would wait 213 years for her posy, do you know what they used to do? They sued to take a penny and cut it into four peices and one piece was a farthing.
Well, then Geoffrey de Mandeville would have rushed off to the flower-seller who plied her pretty trade by the farthing-pant in Middle Street where dusty travellers bought a skeelful of water for a farthing, and there spent his cut farthing on a posy of farthing-rot, marsh pennywort by another name, picked less than an hour earlier on a farthing of land. That’s thirty acres or a quarter-acre, depending on how well – or how badly – your solicitor draws up a contract, and this particular farthing-rot-rich farthing of marshland was owned by Sir Stoker de Coker of Stoford.
And on this New Year’s Eve of 1066, Geoffrey might have returned to the Johnson Hall where Ambrose and his Orchestra were playing ‘the shrimp boats are a-coming’ and got a kick (which event was foretold) out of giving that posy to the earl’s daughter (she was really a chorus girl, remeber) for she was always aloof, was that one. But what beaut can resist a posy of farthing-rot? Surely she relented a little, gave Geoffrey de Mandeville just a brass farthing of encouragement? They might have kissed at midnight, with difficulty because the farthingale, and ended up having a breakfast of farthings, mushy peas is the northern term, and eventually married in a far-from-farthing wedding ( a poor, simple affair) and lived happily ever after with her two sons by name Keinton and Hardinton.
1067 was better, so will be 1986. May your farthing-bag, or cow’s stomach as some call it, never be short of grass.
*From ‘A History of Every Day Things in England’ by Marjorie & C. H. B. Quennell, Batsford.