Wednesday, 3 June 2015

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE VANISHING HA'PENNY...



When we lived in a neighbourhood called WESTWOOD in
the 1960s, the bridge over the main road across from our house had a
1939 ha'penny (pronounced 'hayp'nie' - in my neck of the woods anyway)
embedded in the concrete of the far-side ramp.  Whenever we crossed the
bridge en route to the bus stop, I would gaze at that ha'penny and wonder
who'd 'planted' it.  One of the workies who built the bridge, perhaps, or
some kid who'd managed to set foot on the ramp before the concrete
bed from which the railings protruded was completely set?

Later, when crossing the bridge on my way to secondary school on
the other side of the road, I couldn't pass that ha'penny without looking
at it and sometimes even touching it for luck.  Believe it or not, that coin
was a well-known local icon for 30-plus years, and I don't think there's
anyone I know from the area at that time who wasn't aware of it.  Even
today, I hear folk reminiscing about "the ha'penny on the bridge".

Then, around 17 years ago, the ha'penny suddenly vanished from
its accustomed spot.  The indentation where it had once been remained
visible for years afterwards until fairly recently, when a cosmetic repair
job was done on the bridge due to having fallen into a state of disrepair
over time.  In fact, I'm not entirely sure that the circular impression
isn't still visible - I'll have to check the next time I'm in the area.

I should add, in case I've given you the wrong idea, that the bridge
wasn't anywhere near as old as the coin.  (It had either been completed
just shortly before we moved to the area in '65, or was erected not long
after.)  Old currency was still in circulation up until Decimalisation in
1971, and even then, a few coins were in use alongside their decimal
equivalents for many years afterwards.

So what happened to that 1939 ha'penny?  (Just think - SUPERMAN
had not long made his debut when the coin was minted, and BATMAN
was just about to take his first bow.)  Well, as it happens, I'm in a position
to tell you.  Here, for the first time anywhere, is the scoop on the fate of
that renowned coin, whose disappearance has puzzled and disappointed
old-time local worthies in equal measure for close to two decades.

NOW IT CAN BE TOLD!


Exposure to the elements for over 30 years had left the coin - and
the concrete setting which housed it - in a sorry state.  I knew at some
stage the bridge would have to be patched up in places, and it occurred to
me that the coin would then probably disappear under a new concrete skin,
never to be seen again.  And there was also the risk that, with the ongoing
erosion of its concrete surround, it may well become detached from its
moorings and cast into oblivion by the winds and rain.

So, on June 5th, 1996 (for the historians amongst you), at half-past
midnight, I was driven to the bridge, whereupon I liberated the captive
ha'penny by careful application of hammer and chisel - with a single
blow - and took it home with me, where it yet resides to this day.

So, there you have it!  Any long-term locals reading this who may
have wondered what had happened to that iconic ha'penny need wonder
no more.  It's safe and sound in a secret hideaway, where I can take it out
every now and again and remember it in its heyday as a neighbourhood
landmark - whose presence everybody and their granny acknowledged
whenever they passed it in its home on the Westwood bridge.

However, in the spirit of unselfish generosity for which I'm justly
famous, I herewith share some pictures of it with you now.  Not just the
side which countless locals observed in their daily perambulations across
the bridge, but also the face which kissed concrete for more than three
decades before I rescued it from an impending and inglorious fate.

Don't you just love a happy ending?
    

18 comments:

  1. About 20 years ago my father was in his shed and he found a penny dated 1797 - it was very badly worn and in poor condition but you still see George III on one side and Britannia on the other. We were baffled how such a coin ended up in his garden shed !! About 3 years later I was in a market and I saw a coin on display (at a Butcher's stall of all places) and it was the same coin - a penny from 1797 only this one was in excellent condition. I've got a ha'penny dated 1967 with a sailing ship on it - I believe that was the final year before the decimal ha'penny came in ( I know decimalisation was 1971 but they started introducing the new decimal coins in 1968).

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    1. There was a later ha'penny as well, CJ (1970 I think, but I'd have to check), but it was never in circulation, being available only in a Royal Mint sealed set. I'll maybe show my coin and note collection on the blog one day.

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  2. There's a story well told (of course you had to be the one to tell it)!

    I often see pennies stuck in the gravel and concrete of many places but never could ever get them out for not having the right tools on me, they're just going to be stuck there for years to come.

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    1. Thanks, Chris. I made it a mission to rescue that ha'penny before it disappeared forever. (That's why I had the right tools on me.) It's part of my childhood and I couldn't let it vanish into oblivion.

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    2. Wished I had thought of that for all the memories I wanted to save.

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    3. At least they still survive in your head, Chris. Nurture them.

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    4. There's that, or I managed to get a picture taken of it in time. For the past 15 years that's what I've been doing with digital cameras of any sort (nowadays a cell phone cam). That way I have photographic evidence to back up whatever I say on the matter.

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    5. Good thinking, Chris. I've lost count of the times I've seen something (like an old building or a tree, or something) that I wanted to record for posterity, and by the time I got back along with my camera a few days later, it was gone.

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    6. For me its the little things like skeleton keyholes! I know a junior high near me with a few left.

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    7. With me, it's trees, lampposts and buildings - and anything else that was around in my youth.

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  3. Kid, if that ha'penny was a local landmark don't you feel a bit guilty about taking it ? As Christopher suggests, you could just have taken a photo.

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    Replies
    1. Let's look at the pertinent facts which I related in some detail, shall we? Bridge was in need of repair and ha'penny was in danger of either becoming detached from its position or being covered over when bridge was cosmetically patched up (as it now has been). So I rescue local landmark and preserve it for posterity and show photos (you did see the photos I presume) on my blog. Do I feel guilty for taking it and thereby saving it from certain oblivion? The answer to that would have to be a 'no', CJ.

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    2. I don't think you were a thief here. That ha'penny belonged to nobody for the past three decades.

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    3. Exactly, Chris. Although, to be fair to CJ, I don't think he was suggesting I was a thief, but that the ha'penny, in not belonging to anybody, sort of belonged to everybody, so did I feel guilty for denying them being able to see it. It was going to disappear anyway 'though, even without my intervention.

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  4. Kid, you are spot on in what I meant. But does the ha'penny still mean the same when it's been removed ? It just becomes a corroded coin - it was its' position on the bridge as a local landmark that made it notable, no ?

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    1. You're still missing the point, CJ. Its days were numbered anyway. The concrete surround was crumbling and the bridge was due for repair. If I hadn't 'liberated' it, it would've been lost forever. This way, it lives on - and when I tell people I know who remember it, they're glad to know it wasn't consigned to oblivion. Anyway, I'm its 'legal' guardian now, and not even the 'A' Team could wrest it from me.

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  5. I hope you washed it. Imagine all the bird sh*te and dog pish (if it was low enough) it may have withstood over the years.

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    1. A bird would've had to be a pretty good aimer to hit it where it was positioned, but I washed it anyway. (And the rainy weather in Scotland tends to keep things clean-ish to begin with.)

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