20 May 2011

Our tuppence worth

The small town in which I grew up had its annual penny throwing session yesterday.

Penny throwing, do I hear you ask? Correct. Every year after the annual town council meeting, the main thoroughfare through the town is closed to traffic and the Mayor and other councillors chuck a load of 1p and 2p coins on to it for the local primary school kids to pick up.

I don't remember ever partaking when I was a kid, but I always remember it going on. Every household gets a leaflet through the door informing parents of when it's happening, and then it's up to them whether to take their kids along.

It dates back centuries as a town tradition. When the town was proclaimed a "rotten borough" - which, as we know from Blackadder, is a constituency in which the owner(s) of the land corruptly control the voters and elected representatives - there was a stage when candidates had to bribe people to acquire votes, and then pay them after being elected. This, as times matured and generations passed, turned into an annual penny throwing day for the local youngsters. My dad remembers gathering outside the town hall in the 1940s to grab whatever coinage he could. A photograph of this year's event on Facebook has prompted loads of my generation of kids to reminisce about the tuppences they scavenged off the street in the 1970s and 1980s from the town's leaders.

I expect there are other towns that do similar things, but it is nice to have some kind of quirky tradition still ongoing, even within a much more cynical age that regards history and ritual as less and less relevant.

And you can probably imagine some of the comments you'd get today about the act of chucking pennies into the road for kids to gather up while people watched and took photographs. There'd be health and safety barbs, semi-serious whines about chucking money away during spending cuts, and questions over whether people should be permitted to photograph schoolchildren in the street.

Fortunately, the town I grew up in is a mature and close-knit one, and this annual bit of civic tomfoolery remains gloriously unspoiled.

1 comment:

Kolley Kibber said...

One of my friends went out with a boy whose Dad was Mayor of Rye, which is quite a posh little town on the Sussex/Kent coast, and is one of the Cinq Ports. They had an old ritual on Maundy Thursday when the Mayor and his family would graciously toss groats or florins from the ramparts of the castle to the sweaty hoardes beneath. Apparently the lovely son of the Mayor would always warm his up with his Zippo lighter first. Noblesse oblige, and all that.