Kestrel's Nest

Eighteenth Century Canal Tokens

This is the text of a talk given to the Oxford, Oxford University and Banbury Numismatic Societies between 1991 and 1995.

Basingstoke Canal Shilling 1789
Ketley Canal 1792
Bridgewater Canal 1793
Sleaford Navigation?
Stort Navigation 1795
Thames & Severn Canal 1795
Gloucester & Berkeley Canal 1797
Other tokens
Sources

Among the many types of eighteenth century tokens there are a few which relate to canals and navigations. For the technically minded a canal is a navigable waterway constructed entirely by the hand of man whereas a navigation is an existing waterway which has been made navigable. Mostly these tokens were issued by the canal proprietors but that is not always the case. All bar one are halfpennies. I will deal with them by date of issue.

Basingstoke Canal Shilling 1789

Obverse: BASINGSTOKE CANAL Thames Western Barge. In exergue: 1789
Reverse: IOHN PINKERTON Wheelbarrow with navvie's tools. In exergue: VALUE ONE SHILLING
Edge: engrailed

This is the sole issue that has a value other than a halfpenny and is by far the rarest of them. The issuer was John Pinkerton, the contractor employed by the canal company during the construction of the canal. The Act authorising the canal was passed in 1778 but real efforts at starting construction were not made until 1788 and it was completed in 1796. It ran 37 miles from Basingstoke to Woodham near Woking on the River Wey. It had one tunnel of 1200 yds at Greywell near the western end and 29 locks mostly at the eastern end. The canal was never a financial success and passed through a series of owners down to the present day. The canal is under active restoration at present and the Greywell Tunnel has recently become a matter of some controversy as it is planned to restore it to navigation but it is the roost of some thousands of bats which conservation groups do not want disturbed. Pinkerton was contractor of a number of canal projects including the Birmingham & Fazeley, Dudley and Erewash several of which he appears to have been sacked from. The tokens were apparently used to pay the navvies but there is some evidence that some were used as presentation pieces to shareholders. The unusual denomination must have severely limited their circulation, which explains their rarity. This may have been deliberate, as it was frequently the practice of contractors to set up their own shops to supply the workers with food and equipment. The unpopularity of such a practice probably explains why others did not follow Pinkerton's example. The diesinker was Wyon and the manufacturer Thos Mynd of Birmingham.

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Ketley Canal 1792

Obverse: IRON BRIDGE AT COALBROOK DALE. 1792 A Severn Trow sailing under the bridge at Ironbridge. In field: ERECTED ANNO 1779. SPAN 100 FEET.
Reverse: The winding gear at the top of Ketley Inclined Plane. In exergue: INCLINED PLANE AT KETLEY. 1789
Edge: PAYABLE AT COALBROOK-DALE AND KETLEY +

The Ketley Canal was an extremely small canal. It had an extremely small length of only a mile and a half. It was built for extremely small boats known as tub boats only 20ft long by 6ft 4ins beam. It had an extremely small life span, being completed in 1788 and becoming disused by 1816. Yet for all that it was remarkable in a number of ways. It was built as a private venture by William and Richard Reynolds, proprietors of the Coalbrookdale group of ironworks to supply coal and ironstone from Oakengates to their works at Ketley. The canal passed first through a 20yd tunnel and arrived at the top of the Ketley inclined plane, which is shown on the token. The boats entered a lock from which water was drained allowing the boats to settle on a cradle that then passed down the plane to the canal at the bottom. The traffic was all one way so gravity supplied the motive power, full boats going down pulling empty boats up. This was the first working canal incline in Great Britain though some had previously been constructed on the continent. On the completion of the Shropshire Canal the Ketley was linked to it by a short branch with a lock. The Ketley works were dismantled in 1816, which removed the need for the canal. The obverse of the token shows the famous bridge at Ironbridge manufactured by the company with a Severn Trow sailing below. The Severn was at this time navigable right through to Welshpool, though at times with difficulty, as the towrope grooves on the arch of the bridge clearly show. It is now navigable only as far as Ardley, just north of Bewdley. The token appears to have been used to pay workers throughout the Coalbrookdale group and is fairly common as three tons were struck. The diesinker is again Wyon and the manufacturer Peter Kempson of Birmingham.

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Bridgewater Canal 1793

Obverse: SUCCESS TO NAVIGATION Shield of the Duke of Bridgewater (Argent, a lion rampant gules, between three pheons sable) surmounted by a ducal coronet. Motto: SIC DONEC (Thus until)
Reverse: MANCHESTER HALFPENNY A porter carrying a bale of cotton. In exergue: 1793
Edge: PAYABLE AT I. FIELDINGS MANCHESTER O

The honour of the founder of canal transport must go to Francis Egerton, third Duke of Bridgewater. He had coal on his land at Worsley that he needed to fetch to Manchester in order to sell. He wanted to build a canal from there to the river Mersey but the proprietors of the Mersey & Irwell Navigation wanted such an extortionate toll to carry the coal from there to Manchester that he decided to build the canal direct to the town carrying it over the River Irwell by means of an aqueduct at Barton designed by James Brindley. This previously unheard of proposal attracted much attention, mostly critical, the engineer Smeaton saying that he had heard of castles in the air, but had never before heard of where one was to be erected. Its successful completion and later extension of the canal to Runcorn for Liverpool thoroughly demonstrated the power of the new transport system. Indeed, the Duke even extended the canals inside the mines with special very narrow boats called starvationers being used to collect coal direct from the face on two levels connected by an inclined plane. The token shows the arms of the Duke of Bridgewater on the obverse with the words SUCCESS TO NAVIGATION. The issuer was John Fielding, a Manchester grocer and tea dealer. Presumably his stock was imported at Liverpool and brought to him by the Bridgewater Canal. It is probable that the tokens were used to pay his staff and as change in his shop. He issued two other tokens with arms of the Grocers Company and East India Company symbols on them. This token is also common, four tons being struck. The diesinker was F Arnold and the manufacturer Wm. Lutwyche of Birmingham.

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Sleaford Navigation?

Obverse: IOHN OF GAUNT DUKE OF LANCASTER Bust in ducal coronet.
Reverse: SUCCESS TO NAVIGATION Shield of the Duke of Bridgewater (Argent, a lion rampant gules, between three pheons sable) surmounted by a ducal coronet. Motto: SIC DONEC (Thus until)
Edge: PAYABLE BY THOMAS BALL SEAFORD +.+.+.+.+

A curious token was constructed by Lutwyche for Thomas Ball, a grocer and ironmonger of Sleaford. He used John of Gaunt's head from Worswick's Lancaster token on one side and the Duke of Bridgewater's arms from Fielding's token on the other with a proper edge for Ball but he couldn't even get the town name right as he spelt it Seaford. Sleaford has its own navigation from the town to the River Witham but I can trace no connection with the Duke of Bridgewater so the token must be thought of as a concoction of Lutwyche's to avoid the cost of making new dies for a small issue as only three cwts were struck. The token is consequently scarce.

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Stort Navigation 1795

Obverse: STORT NAVIGATION SOURCE OF TRADE 1795 Horse towing barge along river winding through landscape.
Reverse: SIR GEORGE JACKSON BAR: SOLE PROPRIETOR Jackson Arms. Motto: MALO PATI QUAM FOEDAM (I would rather suffer than be disgraced)
Edge: PAYABLE AT BISHOPS STORTFORD

Sir George Jackson was Judge Advocate of the Fleet and MP successively of Weymouth, Melcombe Regis and Colchester. He changed his name to Duckett in 1797 under the terms of a will. He was sole proprietor of the Stort Navigation which ran from Bishops Stortford to the River Lee and which opened in 1767. He also built the short Hertford Union or Duckett's Canal, which linked the Lee to the Regents Canal. He died in 1822 at the age of 97. The magnificent token shows a perspective view of the navigation with a horse towing a barge and on the reverse Sir George's arms. The diesinker was Kuchler and the manufacturer Matthew Boulton at Soho. It is fairly common.

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Thames & Severn Canal 1795

Obverse: THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL Severn Trow. In exergue: MDCCXCV
Reverse: Eastern portal of Sapperton Tunnel.
Edge: PAYABLE AT BRIMSCOMBE PORT +

The Act for the Thames & Severn Canal was authorised in 1783 and completed by 1789, running from the Stroudwater Navigation at Wallbridge to the Thames at Inglesham by Lechlade. It was built to two different dimensions. The western end was for Severn Trows as shown on the token and the eastern for Thames Western Barges. The transhipment point and canal office from which the token emanates was at Brimscombe Port east of Stroud in Gloucestershire. The canal was never a financial success as it ran over difficult terrain from a geological point of view, suffering heavily from water loss and maintenance costs to the 3817yd tunnel at Sapperton. When built the tunnel was the longest in the country and its eastern portal is shown on the token. The canal has sadly decayed though many features still remain. There is an active restoration group though it will be many years before through navigation can again take place. The token appears to have been produced to pay staff and in its carrying concern that unusually was run by the canal company itself. The diesinker and manufacture were John G Hancock of Birmingham. Three tons were struck which makes the token common though there is a rare variety with striped sails on the Trow.

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Gloucester & Berkeley Canal 1797

Obverse: GLOCESTER & BERKELEY CANAL Square-rigger. In exergue: ACT OBTAIN'D 1793
Reverse: SUCCESS TO THE TRADE AND COMMERCE View of Gloucester. In exergue: OF GLOCESTER 1797
Edge: PAYABLE AT GLOCESTER .x.

The Gloucester & Berkeley, later known as the Gloucester Ship Canal and now the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, was built to allow ships to avoid the dangerous passage of the tidal Severn to Gloucester. It crossed the Stroudwater Navigation at Saul on a level. It was commenced in 1794 and work continued till 1799 when it stopped through lack of money with less than half the canal completed. In 1804 they attempted to raise £110,000 by lottery but the scheme was turned down by Prime Minister Pitt himself. As the result of an Act to relieve unemployment the Company were able to restart in 1818 and despite further financial problems, the canal opened in 1827 heavily in debt, it taking 20 years to pay off the Government Commissioners. The token shows a view of the City of Gloucester and a sailing ship. It appears to have been used to pay the navvies working on the first stage of canal's construction. As with the Ketley token, the diesinker is Wyon and the manufacturer, Kempson. Five cwts were struck and the token is scarce in good condition.

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Other tokens have a slight connection with waterways, particularly Wilkinson's issue with a barge on the reverse which is supposed to be the iron barge 'Trial' launched by him on the Severn at Willey wharf. There is also a token showing a Tyne keel which I know of but have not been able to trace. Otherwise these appear to be the only eighteenth century tokens with a waterway connection and they form an interesting subset of the series.

Sources:
Bell, R.C., Commercial Coins 1787-1804, Corbitt & Hunter 1963.
Edwards, L.A., The Inland Waterways of Great Britain and Ireland, Imray, Laurie, Norie & Wilson, 1962.
Hadfield, C., British Canals, Phoenix House, 1959.
Hadfield, C., The Canals of Southern England, Phoenix House, 1955.
Hadfield, C., The Canals of the West Midlands, David & Charles, 1966.
Holland, S., Collecting Canal Tokens, Waterways World, April 1990, pp. 72-74.
Household, H, The Thames & Severn Canal, David & Charles, 1969.

Original Text: © K.P. Church 1991, 1995.
Edited Text & Pictures: © Angela Grant (Kestrel) 2003, 2004.