A Shilling at Warburton Bridge

Near the village of Warburton (in what is now Greater Manchester but historic Cheshire, the latter being my preferred designation) is a toll bridge. This spans the Manchester Ship Canal connecting Warburton to Hollins Green and Warrington. There was some controversy in the autumn, as the bridge’s owners wished to raise the toll to a pound, from twelve pence (or 25 pence for a return ticket- work that one out.). Older readers will recognise this as a shilling, a great unit of traditional British coinage that was scrapped in the 1971 Coinage Act which decimalised the currency. The shilling toll rate was presumably set in the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Act 1863 when a shilling was a reasonable income. Twelve pence in 2023 would barely purchase a teabag.

I have a number of shilling coins in my modest collection, but the concept goes all the way back to Charlemagne, emperor of the Franks, who in AD796 determined that a schilling was the twentieth of a pound of silver, of which one pfennig or penny would be one twelfth. By the Tudor period, shilling coins were being minted with a value of twelve pennies. Thus, crossing the Manchester Ship Canal costs the traveller a shilling each way.

As a coin collector and admirer of that which is antiquated, I am fond of shillings, and I am delighted when I see them still requested as payment, even if the word itself is not used. There is much of Christianity which seems to be out of date, out of touch and out of fashion. The Bible is no longer our cultural moral guide while churches are viewed with indifference or suspicion rather than as communities of grounded, rounded people who put God before others, and others before themselves. Although no government is proposing the return of the shilling, and even the proprietors of Warburton Bridge wish to raise their tolls, the themes, principles, doctrines and practices of Christianity will outlive the planet.