Tradesmen’s Token: Toy Tavern in Hampton Court

In times of acute shortage of coins, English traders issued their own bona fide private coins to enable their trading activities to proceed. The Gentleman’s Magazine, a Victorian magazine, wrote a series of articles on some of these tokens and the businesses that issued them. I thought it’d be nice to share those stories with you, so let’s see what the magazine wrote about the Toy Tavern, a once very famous tavern in Hampton Court, and its token, shall we?

THE Toy Tavern at Hampton Court is one of the most ancient in England. It was a flourishing hostelry in the days of James I, and there is reason for believing it existed during the dynasty of the Tudors. It formerly stood close to the water-side, between the bridge-foot and the palace gates; but in 1840 the old building, being in a ruinous state, was taken down, and the name and business removed to its present position, opposite the Green or ancient tilting-ground, only a few hundred yards west of its former site. There has been some difficulty in ascertaining the origin of this singular designation “The Toy”.

As the house lay close to the river, bordering the towing-path, it has been suggested that the name might be traced to this circumstance. On the other hand, it has been supposed that the original sign was “The Hoy” (which would be appropriate enough for a water-side tavern) and was gradually clipped or abbreviated, in the patois of the west-country bargemen, into “T’oy”. But in Miss Strickland’s “Lives of the Queens of England” (Anne of Denmark vol vii p. 461) an explanation of the origin of this name is given, which there can be little doubt is the true one. “Fronting the royal stables (now appertaining to the Toy Hotel) is a small triangular plain. This plain in the era of the Tudors and Stuarts was the tilting-place, and indeed the playground of the adjoining palace. Here used to be set up moveable fences, made of net-work, called toils or tois, used in those games in which barriers were needed, from whence the name of the stately hostel on the green is derived.”

This is borne out by a passage in the Rev. D. Lysons’s “Middlesex Parishes”. “In the survey in 1653 (preserved in the Augmentation Office) mention is made of a piece of pasture-ground near the river, called the Toying Place; the site probably of a well known-inn near the bridge, now called ‘The Toy'”. This tavern stands directly facing the ancient Tilting or Toying Place, now commonly called Hampton Court Green, one side of which is bordered by “Frog-walk”*. The stables attached to it formerly belonged to the palace, and their dull and gloomy architecture contrasts strangely with the stately and handsome facade of the tavern. In these stables we may suppose the horses were housed, and the Tois kept prepared for the tilts and equestrian games which were held opposite; so that the present position and property of “The Toy” are in singular harmony with the origin of its name.

William III, who lived much at Hampton Court, patronized the Toy, and was in the habit of giving periodical rump-steak dinners to his Dutoh courtiers at the tavern, terminating no doubt with a glorious consumption of tobacco. It is well known that the king and his Dutch friends had an ardent passion for smoking, which was probably forbidden to be indulged within the palace walls. John Drewry, who issued this token, adopted the heart-shape; it is undated, but must have been struck between 1648 and 1672, the period to which this species of currency was limited. We have delineated, among our former examples, specimens of the square and the octagon. These were all departures from the ordinary circular form, and were probably devised to attract notice.

* This is noticed in the “Lives of the Queens of England,” vol xi p 49. “The queen (Mary II) took up her residence at Hampton Court permanently for the summer in July 1689. She took a great deal of exercise, and used to promenade, at a great pace, up and down the long straight walk, under the wall of Hampton Court, nearly opposite the Toy. As her Majesty was attended by her Dutch maids of honour, or English ladies naturalized in Holland, the common people who gazed on their foreign garb and mien named this promenade “Frow walk”: it is now deeply shadowed with enormous elms and chestnuts, the frogs from the neighbouring Thames, to which it slants, occasionally choosing to recreate themselves there; and the name of Frow-walk is now lost in that of Frog-walk.”

Further reading:
The Gentleman’s Magazine

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