The Royal Mint
Coins have been made in London since the Roman period. By 1278-9 the London Mint had moved into the Tower. Power over the Royal Mint gave monarchs control not only of England’s coinage but also the standards of gold and silver. The Tower provided a secure home for the Royal Mint and protection against coin counterfeiters.
The Tower housed the Royal Mint for over 500 years. When local mints were abolished during Henry VIII’s reign the Tower became England’s only centre for coinage production. In 1662 the old-fashioned, hammered processes were replaced by introducing screw presses and horse-driven rolling mills. By the 19th century the Royal Mint had expanded to occupy a large area in the Tower’s outer ward. Short of space and unable to modernise any more, the decision was taken to leave the Tower. In 1810 it moved to new premises nearby on Little Tower Hill. In 1978 the Royal Mint transferred to Llantrisant, South Wales.
For over 500 years, from the mid 13th century until about 1810, the Royal Mint was based at the Tower of London. It was through the Royal Mint that the monarchy’s power over England’s coinage was exercised. Today the Royal Mint is a major business based in South Wales and employing approximately 850 people. As well as producing all UK coins, around 1.25 billion per year, it also strikes coins for over 60 countries, Egypt and New Zealand.
Early minting techniques were fairly basic: metal was cast into long bars in sand moulds, blanks were cut from these bars and then struck between a pair of coinage tools using a hammer. Major improvements were made in the 1660s, however, with the introduction of machinery, including screw presses and horse-driven rolling mills. A century and a half later, with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, it was the need to accommodate new steam-powered machinery that ultimately led to the building of a new mint across the road on Tower Hill.
In 1546 it is recorded that William Foxley, a maker of melting pots at the Royal Mint, fell asleep for 14 days and 15 nights. During this time he ‘could not be wakened with pricking, cramping, or otherwise, burning whatsoever’ and when he awoke it was as if he had slept only one night. Despite the best efforts of the King’s physicians, and indeed Henry VIII himself who apparently conducted a personal examination, the cause could not be determined. Apparently no permanent damage was done, either by the sleeping or by the attempts to wake him up, as Foxley woke naturally and lived for another 40 years.