Living and working on Mint Street
Life on Mint Street
In medieval times, minting didn't happen all the time, and the Mint in the Tower was only one of many mints around the country making coins. Coins were only made when they were needed, and so work at the Mint was sporadic.
Mint workers were often agricultural labourers working near their homes outside the walls of the City of London in Shoreditch, Stepney and Hackney. When coins were needed, they were required to report to the Mint immediately. But sometimes years could go by without any minting at all.
Work at the Mint happened during daylight hours, and coins were often made during the summer so that they could work throughout the long daylight hours. Summer was also preferred as the winter meant cold numb hands which were slow at Mint work or could lead to accidents.
Keep it in the family
Working at the Mint was largely a family affair. Boys in a Mint family would be apprenticed at a young age and work with generations of their families. Sometimes specialists would be brought in from Europe, and often these were men from Mint families. For example, the Roettiers clan were engravers and members of the family engraved coin dies for mints across Europe in the late seventeenth century. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, specialist financiers from famous Italian banking families were invited to run the Mint for the king.
Living in the Tower
Minting was a male occupation, and the only women recorded at the Mint were family members, wives or daughters of Mint workers who lived at the Tower. By the Tudor period in the sixteenth century, Mint officials were given lodgings on Mint Street, so they could be near their work and keep an eye on security.
Many Mint workers lived their lives at the Tower, worshipping every Sunday at the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on Tower Green, and some are even buried in the crypt there, along with their families such as Mint engraver Lewis Pingo.
However by the seventeenth century, Mint officials like Isaac Newton chose not to live at the Mint. Newton preferred the country air of Chelsea to the noisy, cramped and smelly house on Mint Street which he sub-let to a junior Mint official.
Where was the Mint?
In its earliest years at the Tower the Mint was probably based near the Byward Tower at the west end of Mint Street. Over the years, the Mint grew and expanded until it took up nearly all the space between the Inner and Outer Curtain walls of the Tower.
Making coins is an industrial process. Coins were brought in and checked carefully by the Warden or his staff before being sent to the assayer who tested how pure the metal was.
Once this was determined, coins were melted down and mixed with alloys to achieve the correct purity of metal.
The metal was poured into ingots which were then beaten or rolled to the thickness of a coin. Blank coin-shaped circles were then cut. This was a very skilled job as the blanker had to ensure each blank was the correct weight by using shears to trim it to the right size.
Finally the blanks were placed between dies and struck into coins. Striking coin was actually the least skilled job in the Mint. In the medieval period coins were struck by a hammer, and all that was required was an accurate aim and a strong blow.
From 1663, machines called screw-presses were used instead. These could exert a much greater force on the coin blank, and the resulting coins were more neat and regular in appearance, and could be made much more quickly.
Once the coins were struck, they were placed in a light acid solution which ‘blanched’ or cleaned them before they were sent back to the Mint office to be checked and handed to customers. Many of these processes still happen in the Royal Mint today.