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The Barnstaple Shilling, Devon

All round the country there are survivals of ancient charitable customs, more significant now for the ceremony and the event than for the value of the donation, though some such as the Ufton Nervet Bread and Cloth Dole , and the Titchborne Dole in Hampshire are still nice little boosts for locals.
The tradition of giving a shilling to residents of almshouses in Barnstaple is of the ceremonial variety, except that the specially minted coins are of interest to collectors.
It appears the custom dates back to the end of the 18th century, when local landowner Henry Tippett bequeathed the rent from a piece of land he owned to charity, to be paid via the church in the form back then of a sixpence for each of the almshouse occupants. In 1795 when the thing started sixpence would have bought several pints of beer, so it was worthwhile.
In the 1930s the owner of the ground concerned used Edward I ’s 1279 and 1290 Statutes of Mortmain to get out of paying the rent – boo. But the council felt it right to carry the tradition on – hooray, the Mayor being the one presenting the gift. Brand new shilling coins were used, then 5p after decimalisation, the newness giving a sparkle literal and metaphorical to the offering. But supply difficulties in the mid-80s meant it proved necessary to have special commemorative coins produced, a creative solution and one with heart – if Barnstaple Council continues in this light the townsfolk are lucky indeed with their local authority.

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