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?