Tokenhouse Yard

Was built in the reign of Charles I, on the site of a house and garden of the Earl of Arundel (removed to the Strand), by Sir William Petty, an early writer on political economy, and a lineal ancestor of the present Marquis of Lansdowne. Petty was born May 26, 1623 in Romsey, Hampshire and died on December 16, 1687 in London.

His main contribution to political economy, Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1662), examined the role of the state in the economy and touched on the labour theory of value. He had become a mariner who was abandoned in Normandy and joined a Jesuit college. Petty then studied medicine at the Universities of Leiden, Paris, and Oxford! He was successively a physician, a professor of anatomy at Oxford, a professor of music in London, inventor, surveyor and landowner in Ireland, and a Member of Parliament. He went abroad during the Civil War and returned to do well under the Commonwealth. Through Ireland he remained influential reaching a peak under the reign of James 11.

As a proponent of the empirical scientific doctrines of the newly established Royal Society, of which he was a founder, Petty was one of the originators of political arithmetic, which he defined as the art of reasoning by figures upon things relating to government. His Essays in Political Arithmetick and Political Survey or Anatomy of Ireland (1672) presented rough but ingeniously calculated estimates of population and of social income. His ideas on monetary theory and policy were developed in Verbum Sapienti (1665) and in Quantulumcunque Concerning Money, 1682 (1695).

Petty originated many of the concepts that are still used in economics today. He coined the term full employment, for example, and stated that the price of land equals the discounted present value of expected future rent on the land.

There is a plaque to Charles Brooking at the Lothbury end of the yard and he (c.1723–59) was an English painter of marine scenes.It is highly probable that Brooking’s father was a Charles Brooking who was recorded as employed by Greenwich Hospital between 1729 and 1736 as a painter and decorator as on 27th November 1732 “Master Charles Brooking” was recorded as an apprentice, one of two taken on by Brooking senior on that date An anecdote related by the marine artist Dominic Serres about Brooking is that he worked for a picture dealer in Leicester Square, who exploited him until his “discovery” by Taylor White, the Treasurer of the Foundling Hospital.

Brooking became much more widely known in 1754, when as a result of his “discovery” he was commissioned by the Foundling Hospital to paint what is now titled A Flagship Before the Wind Under Easy Sail, following which he was elected a Governor and Guardian of the institution. Brooking is said to have died of consumption on 25 March 1759, reportedly leaving his family destitute.

Brooking’s earliest known works are two pictures, one depicting a moonlit harbour scene and the other a burning ship, which he signed and inscribed with his age, 17, and thus datable to 1740. Since he was described as a “celebrated painter of sea-pieces” in 1752, he had evidently been producing work for at least 12 years before that date. He has paintings in the Greenwich Maritime Museum.

Brooking’s accuracy and exceptionally careful attention to detail manifest his intimate knowledge of maritime practice and naval architecture, as well as his remarkably close observation of the ocean conditions of wave and wind. Contemporary accounts suggest that he had been “much at sea” and he certainly owned a small yacht. In his early years he was evidently employed in some maritime capacity, possibly in a pilot boat at Gravesend. The National Maritime Museum holds 23 of his oil paintings, a complete set of 28 engravings after his works, and 4 drawings bequeathed by the U.S. President, J.F.Kennedy. The plaque to Brooking in this yard was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of the City of London in October, 2008.

Tokenhouse Yard takes its name from a house where farthing tokens were coined. These were traditionally issued by many city tradesman. Copper coinage, with very few exceptions, was unauthorised in England till 1672. Edward VI coined silver farthings, With very few exceptions copper coins were not widely circulated in England until 1672-Elizabeth 1 was particularly prejudiced against what was called black money. The silver halfpenny, though inconveniently small, continued down to the time of the Commonwealth. In the time of Elizabeth, besides the Nuremberg tokens which are often found in Elizabethan ruins, many provincial cities issued tokens for provincial circulation, which were ultimately called in. In London no less than 3,000 persons, tradesmen and others, issued tokens often made of lead, for which the issuer and his friends gave current coin on delivery. In 1594 the Government struck a small copper coin, “the pledge of a halfpenny,” about the size of a silver twopence, but Queen Elizabeth could never be prevailed upon to sanction the issue.

By 1607 it was reported that some £15,000 worth were in circulation in the City and in 1613 King James was urged to issue official farthings in order to stem the flow of what was in effect a private currency. Charles 1 followed suit, but during the Civil War a shortage of copper meant that tokens again sprang to prominence. Later Charles 11 had new halfpenny and farthings struck at the Tower using Swedish copper, declaring these to be legal tender in 1672 so that the tokens gradually fell into disuse.

Defoe, who, however, was only three years old when the Plague broke out, has laid one of the most terrible scenes in his “History of the Plague” in Tokenhouse Yard. Defoe is not the most trustworthy source however!

Token House is a stunning Grade 2 listed building. It was built in 1871by E. A. Gruning and was originally the headquarters of the merchant bank Frederick Huth & Co. In 1937 it became the headquarters of the Cazenove Group, old established investment bankers whose liveried footmen greeted visitors to the office; it is now a serviced office within the Lenta Business Centres portfolio.

Steve Welsh



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