How pennies and pounds added up in the past
PUBLISHED: 17:16 04 September 2014 | UPDATED: 17:16 04 September 2014
Penny for your thoughts? That question/offer was often heard in the earlier part of my life, although I doubt that many folk were persuaded to reveal their thoughts even though a penny would have bought much more then than it would today.
Assuming you had enough sweet rationing coupons, and the shop had some stocks, there were plenty of penny goodies to acquire: liquorice sticks, sherbet fountains (with liquorice “straw”), giant humbugs, lollipops, chewing gum “tablets” with white hard coating... I vaguely recall some comics costing only a penny.
Of course, in those days a penny was 1d (short for the Roman denarii), not 1p – and nobody referred to, for example, “two d” (it was twopence/tuppence) or “eight d”. Today it is “two p” and “five p” which grates on us older citizens.
Even though they are worth 2.4 old pence each, decimalised pennies are almost worthless nowadays, except as change for items costing 99p (we even have a 99p shop in Yarmouth, undercutting the £1 shop).
Old pennies were equally useful as change when buying goods costing, say, 5s 11d (just under six shillings), and the favourite 9s 11d and 19s 11d, nearly ten shillings or £1 but not quite. Shopkeepers knew customers thought they were getting a bargain if an item fell a penny below the next £.
I have also noticed that hardly anyone bothers to pick up dropped small change now, deeming it not worth the effort of bending down.
I have grovelled in the muck seeking a lost ha’penny many a time, and it was almost habitual for my generation of children to open each vacant red telephone box they passed to press button B in the ever-expectant hope that a few coppers would be ejected, the previous user having forgotten to retrieve his money after he tried vainly to make a call.
As for decimal coinage, one intransigent Gorleston trader stubbornly and resolutely refused to acknowledge the switch in our national currency and persisted in pricing his wares in £sd although he did have to adjust them slightly so they were convertible into decimal units.
Louis Durrant, who ran a traditional men’s outfitters shop in Englands Lane for many years, was a retail version of King Canute whom, legend claims, ordered the inexorable tide to ebb when it came close to him on a seashore, or the 19th century Luddites seeking to halt the growth of mechanisation.
Forty years ago, three years after the nation went fully decimal, I called at his premises to see if he was still figuratively stemming the tide of decimalisation. And yes, he certainly was, although he must have known inwardly that he could not shun our new coinage forever.
The 80-year-old was still displaying on his counter the defiant notice that first stood there in 1971 when the nation went decimal whether or not we liked it: “Please note: all our goods are priced for sterling.”
Passers-by or potential customers unaware of this one-man sterling champion might well have been puzzled by his time-warp window displays, for traditional men’s peaked caps were ticketed as costing 39s, trousers 97s 6d, pullovers £4 5s, leather gloves £3.10s, shirts 52s 6d, ties 17s 6d, socks 6s...
In any other retail outlet, the wares would have been price-
tagged respectively as the new-fangled £1.95, £4.87½, £4.20, £2.50, £2.62½, 87½p and 30p.
Louis Durrant maintained his long-standing clientele had used £sd all their lives and were familiar and happy with it, regardless of the decimalisation foisted on us by politicians, so he vowed to stick with it as long as possible.
Crucial in his resistance was the humble tanner – the old sixpence, nowadays a 5p silver tiddler. His prices were in sixpenny multiples.
It meant some were rounded down fractionally, another small benefit for his customers who might well have been among the many Britons who claimed that price rounding-up by business had been one of the sneaky effects of decimalisation.
After three years of legally circumventing decimalisation, Mr Durrant declared: “I’ve traded here in pounds, shillings and pence for 55 years and I am still that way inclined. I don’t intend to change over to decimals until I am absolutely forced.
“I won’t change without compulsion.
“I don’t like decimal coinage. With decimal you can fraud people so much easier. It’s easier to compare prices with the old system.
“Many of my older customers still think in £sd and don’t understand decimal anyway. I am not just being awkward – I have genuine reasons for holding out.
“In summer, holidaymakers on their way to the beach are often attracted by my windows and they come into the shop, clap their hands and tell me how nice it is to see somebody still using pounds, shillings and pence.”
Louis Durrant was a doughty defender of one of our great traditions – pounds, shillings and pence. Supporters of decimalisation probably regarded him as a crank, to be humoured or even despised, depending on the strength of their love for the new coinage.
But he was a man in the true Norfolk spirit of “du-different.” His men’s outfitting shop is today occupied by 1st Flooring.
Finally, another return to Punch Bowl 1937 and the Gorleston businessmen who frequented the White Lion Hotel before the war, a topic launched with caricatures of 33 of them.
From Mrs Eileen Fuller, of Hill Avenue, Gorleston, comes information that my White Lion columns brought back memories of her late husband’s family, including Aubrey Redgrave, brother of Oliver who ran that establishment for several years before taking over the Uplands private hotel on Marine Parade.
Mrs Fuller says that if required, she can supply more information on the family to Mrs Janet Young (nee Redgrave), now a Surrey resident, who wrote to me that her forebears – including John and Kate Keble, Kate Redgrave, Annie Fowler and Oliver Redgrave - ran the White Lion for much of the 20th century.
Apparently there were seven Redgrave brothers, plus a sister!
n Mrs Fuller also says one of my features about the White Lion regulars included a photograph not only of John Holmes, who drew the caricatures, but also of his fellow artist Arthur Barkway, both members of the Great Yarmouth and District Society of Artists. Arthur was a good amateur artist, she says, and was the society’s secretary for many years.