Henry Gutch and Glastonbury Thorn

Issue 23, October 1985

In the seventeenth century, low denomination officially minted coinage – small change – was in such short supply that the housewife with a penny in her pocket who wished to buy cabbages for three-farthings had needs be ready to accept other vegetables as her ‘change’. Thus the use of ‘token’ coins became widespread, issued in farthing and halfpenny values by the chief officer of a town or borough and by independent traders.

This token was issued by Henry Gutch of Glastonbury in 1653 – Henry Gutch. Mercer/ In Glastonbury 1653 H.A.G. The device on the token is no doubt intended for the Glastonbury Thorn. The Traditional story that St Joseph of Arimathea stuck his walking-staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill, that it took root and ever after budded and bloomed on Christmas Day, is still cherished in the neighbourhood. A local ballad says:

‘The staff het budded and het grew And at Christmas bloom’d the whole da droo; And still het blooms at Christmas bright, But best tha say at dork midnight.’

The original Glastonbury Thorn had two trunks, one of which was cut down in the time of Elizabeth I by a Puritan, and the other remained until the Civil War, when some fanatic destroyed it. In Dugdale’s ‘Monasticon’ is a view of Glastonbury, taken from Compton Hill, showing a tree growing on Wearyall Hill, marked as ‘Sacra spina’. An offshoot grew in the grounds of the Abbey, and the Thorn has of late years been freely propogated.

In all probability Henry Gutch witnessed the destruction of the Sacred Thron, as it appears to have been cut down not many years before the date on his token; and he very naturally adopted it as his sign. The blossoms was a favourite sign for inns, referring, it appears, to the blossoms of the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury.

From Traders’ Tokens of the 17th Century.