The people of Richmond, Yorkshire, enjoy a unique Christmas gift: the Richmond Shilling.
It’s a a tradition that can be traced back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. At that time, the town paid a fee to the Queen for the privilege of running the market. But Queen Elizabeth decreed that the money should be returned to the Mayor, to be disbursed to ‘poor indigenous tradesmen and decayed housekeepers’, just before Christmas.
These ‘decayed poor’ were given a shilling, which in the time of Good Queen Bess was probably near a weeks wages.
But by the 1980s, the cash – even though it had been raised to a 50p coin – didn’t buy much. So the Town Council hatched the idea of minting their own, ceremonial coin.
Hence, the first Richmond Shilling was struck at the Birmingham Mint in 1986. On one face it depicts Richmond Castle and the River Swale. The reverse has the Richmond Coat of Arms with the words ‘Mater Omnium Richmondiarum’ (The Mother of all Richmonds).
Nowadays, people don’t have to decay to receive their Shilling: the coin is offered to all of pensionable age in Richmond.
Last year, it was the turn of Mayor Clive World to hand out the coins, in a ceremony in the Mayor’s Parlour at the Town Hall.
It’s the Mayor’s job to preside at the ceremony, and last year, it was Clive World’s turn to distribute the coins. Former Mayor Oliver Blease received a coin and said, “I believe that this is a unique ceremony which I haven’t come across in any other part of the country. I don’t know of anything similar except when the Queen gives the Maundy Money – and that’s at Easter.
Although a historic occasion, the Mayor presents the coins with suitable seasonal cheer, and it’s a good natured occasion, with coffee in the Town Hall afterwards.
It’s the way that traditions stay alive: and judging by the numbers of people keen to receive their Richmond Shillings, this one will live on for many years.
Read more about the Richmond Shilling in Dalesman Magazine, December 2015