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Black Balls and a Silver Buttercup; Visit to view the Hedon Silver Collection, Tuesday, 1st June 2010

by Dorothy Smith, June 2010

Eleven members and friends met at Hedon Town Hall on Tuesday 1st June 2010, at 2.00 p.m. for a talk on the Hedon Corporation Silver Collection. We were joined by members of the Hedon Mothers’ Union and the Ladies’ Branch of the Royal British Legion and we filled the elegant Council Chamber where the civic plate was already on display under the watchful eye of the mace-bearer, Mr David Young.

We were greeted in fine style with sherry and welcomed most graciously by Hedon’s new Mayor, the 663rd, Councillor Brenda Goldspink, and her Consort, Mr.Tom Goldspink. Our speaker, Dr. Martin Craven, a very good friend of SKEALS, needed no introduction and we settled back to enjoy his talk.

The splendid array of silver items on the table before us represented a wide sweep of history going back many centuries.

Hedon, of course, first sent two Members of Parliament in 1295, and many pieces were gifts of Members who had represented the Borough, or benefactors with connections to the town, or had been acquired to commemorate the granting of a Royal Charter. All, except for one piece from Hull, had been made in London.

Dr. Craven began by giving a brief outline of Hedon’s illustrious past. Although the town is not mentioned in Domesday, its rise to prominence after the Conquest was spectacular. It is a prime example of a Norman town, founded by William le Gros, Earl of Aumale and Lord of Holderness, around 1130. Succeeding Royal Charters, following the first by Henry II in 1158, bore witness to the town’s growing prosperity and status. Incredible, given its proximity to York, it was even at one stage a royal mint-town during the troubled reign of King Stephen, 1135 – 54. ‘nineteen long winters’ of civil strife. Only one issue was made, after the Treasury of Westminster in 1153 ended the civil war, by a moneyer called Gerard. Three silver pennies from this issue survive, and one of them, purchased from Hedon resident, Mr Ted Winkler, is in this collection. The king is depicted bearded, crowned and holding a sceptre in his right hand. York had been a mint-town since Anglo-Saxon times and why a mint was set up in Hedon is unclear, but it is indicative of the growing importance of the town at this time.

From this tiny precious coin we proceeded to the maces, of which Hedon has three. According to an early inventory, there was a fourth, but somehow, over the centuries, it was lost or disposed of. The first of the two lesser silver gilt maces is attributed to the granting of an important charter by Henry V in 1415, the year of Agincourt, consolidating and extending the privileges bestowed by previous monarchs. This mace, which certainly dates from the early fifteenth century, measures 25” in length and has an iron core. It is the oldest civic mace in the country, rightly a source of much local pride. At the lower end of the shaft is an iron grip with six flanges and at the other end, rising out of a coronet of strawberry leaves encircled by a cabled ring, is a conical mace head. Maces, or cudgels by another name, were originally not items of ceremonial regalia but very real weapons used to keep the peace and enforce the law.

The second of the lesser maces may be attributed to the granting of the Charter of Elizabeth I in 1565. It is nearly 18” long and is also of silver with an iron core. The plain shaft has an iron grip with six flanges at the lower end and a conical mace-head at the other. Finally, Dr. Craven held up the great mace, hall-marked London 1669, the one in present use, which is always carried by the sergeant-at-mace on ceremonial occasions. This magnificent item is 3’8” long and was originally of silver gilt but very little of the gilding remains after centuries of enthusiastic polishing. Nowadays, to preserve delicate ornamentation, none of the silver is polished but simply wrapped in acid-free paper. It was a gift of Henry Guy, M.P. for Hedon, and presented to the Corporation probably to celebrate his first election in 1669. Guy, who was a great favourite at the royal court, was a generous benefactor to Hedon and also gave, in 1692/3, the present Town Hall building, Guy came from Tring in Hertfordshire, an outsider. In the 16th and 17th centuries most of Hedons’s M.P.s were drawn from the local gentry – the Constables or Hildyards, for example. His portrait hangs on the wall of the Council Chamber, behind where we were sitting. Dr. Craven remarked on the lingering presence of the fleur-de-lis emblem on all the maces; we were a long time giving up entirely on France.

We then moved on to the two civic seals. The older is just over an inch in diameter and depicts a small one-masted ship with spread sail and a standing man at the stern. It is encircled by the legend:


The second seal, slightly larger at one and a half inches in diameter, shows a small boat with sails set and two men, one steering, the other standing at the bow holding the anchor. Flags at the stern and masthead show the cross of St. George as in the manner of present-day footie fans. The legend reads:


Around the collar is engraved: Ex. Dono, Chri.Hyldyard Hedon 1675’.

Next to come under scrutiny was a ‘wyne bowl’, hall marked 1603/4, its conical bowl inscribed ‘I A 1640’. This was likely the gift of John Alured, elected M.P. for Hedon in 1640 – ‘I’ was the medieval representation of ‘J’.He was one of the signatories to the death warrant of Charles I. The next item, the Beer Bowl, is engraved ‘The guift of Coll.Math.Alured to the Corporation of Hedon 1658’. He was brother to John Alured and a colonel in the Parliamentary army in the Civil War. He was elected M.P. for Hedon in 1658.

We then came to the fascinating ‘peg tankard, 8” high, with a cover, and standing on three pomegranates, symbols of abundance, with two further pomegranates forming the thumb-piece of the handle. This, as the inscription records, was the gift of Matthew Appleyard, Esq., October 10th 1689. He was elected M.P. for Hedon in that year and continued the custom, by now well-established, of presenting a gift to the Corporation in commemoration of the event. This is the only piece of Hull silverware — all the rest of the collection originated in London. It is the presence of five studs or pegs on the inside of the bowl which make this a ‘peg tankard’. The tankard would be filled with wine and the challenge was to drink, in one go, down to the next peg – no more, no less – not easy to gauge. As the quantity between each peg measured one pint, it would become increasingly difficult. This gave rise to the expression still used to-day of someone getting his or her come-uppance by being taken down a peg. The degree of actual humiliation would depend on who was paying for all the wine, of course. It could have made for a cheap night out!

The next drinking vessel – inevitable termed the ‘buttercup’ – is comparatively modern. It was the gift to the Corporation of Hedon by Mr. John Farrar Butter of Thorngumbald in July, 1849 ‘as a token of his esteem for the Venerable Institution and in grateful remembrance of many acts of kindness conferred on him by individual members of that body’.

We then moved on to the set of spoons. Of these, many covetous glances had been cast in the direction of the Apostle spoons, 7” long and dating from 1640/41. Only four survive from the original thirteen (twelve plus the rare Master spoon representing Christ). Incredibly, the Master is one of the survivors, the others being identified as St. Jude, St. Philip, and St. Thomas. One wonders at the fate of the others. Hedon has done well, however, to have retained these four. It is the only town still to possess any Apostle spoons, although at one time Hull, Liverpool and Ludlow were among those places owning sets.

From spoons to punch ladles was a natural progression. Hedon possess three, hall-marked 1839/40, and three lignum vitae punchbowls, said to date from the time of Elizabeth I. Lignum vitae (‘wood of life’) is exceptionally heavy and hard and was the wood of choice for the balls in bowling. Hedon Punch, prepared to a secret recipe, was famous for its strength and taste. In the past it was always served after a Mayor-making ceremony.

The remaining items of table silver — a fine set of castors, two pairs of elegant sauce boats and five pairs of salts — are all of the Georgian period, although the plated salt spoons, each hand engraved with the Hedon crest, date from the end of the 19th century. The provenance of these items, whether gifts or purchases, is not certain.

Finally, we came to the more recent acquisitions – a silver cigarette box presented by the East Riding Cadet Force to mark the granting to them of the Freedom of the Borough in 1960, the silver epergne from Humberside County Council in 1989, a ginger ladle donated by the Manager of B.P. Chemicals on his leaving Salt End, and a wine taster to mark the Silver Jubilee of the Hedon and District Local History Society in 1996.

Dr. Craven concluded by performing a conjuring trick involving three members of the audience who were asked to cast votes (white balls in favour, black balls against) on the suitability of a fourth person (a woman of impeccable character and reputation she insisted) for election. Mysteriously, although they all said they had voted in favour, the presence of a black ball in the ballot box put paid to her chances. So elections can be manipulated, apparently, and we thought Hedon’s days as a rotten borough were all in the past.

Having expressed our enthusiastic appreciation to Dr. Craven, we were let loose on the delicious spread which had been prepared for us in the Mayor’s Parlour. Some considerable time later, we staggered out, refreshed in body, mind and spirit. They truly know the meaning of hospitality in Hedon and it is always a pleasure to visit this historic little gem of a town.

Some copies of the booklet The Hedon Silver – An Illustrated History of Hedon’s Civic Plate, on which this report very heavily relies, were available, price £5.00 at the time of writing. You will get the full story of the collection in all its details if you act quickly.