Balancing your books in pounds, shilling and pence

How is your mental maths? When doing your household budgeting, can you quickly and easily add together pounds and pence (or dollars and cents)? In this modern day and age, the task is relatively easy – especially when using calculators or spreadsheets.

But what if you had to balance your books using pounds, shillings and pence without modern technology? As every-good English Tudor scribe knew, there was
– 240 pennies in every pound
– 12 pennies in every shilling
– 20 shillings in every pound

Then, of course, there’s also half-pennies, half-groats, groat, half angels and angels.

Look at the image above. Would you be able to quickly run down this page mentally summing it up correctly to get the total at the bottom?

Our invisible but ever present Tudor scribe within Great Dunmow couldn’t either! Every few pages within Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts there are very faint seemingly unintelligible scratchings on the page. These are our Tudor scribe’s ‘workings-out’ of his sums – rough calculations before he wrote down his totals.

You may have to zoom in at a high percentage to see the markings – but they are there and they are definitely accountancy ‘workings-out’!

Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts: folio 7r, 1527-1529

Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts: folio 7r, 1527-1529

Great Dunmow’s churchwardens’ accounts: folio 19v, 1532-1533

Henry VIII Testoon (shilling) from 1544-1547

Notes
Great Dunmow’s original churchwarden accounts (1526-1621) are in Essex Record Office (E.R.O.), Chelmsford, Essex, D/P 11/5/1.  All digital images of the accounts within this blog appear by courtesy of Essex Record Office and may not be reproduced.  Examining these records from this Essex parish gives the modern reader a remarkable view  into the lives and times of some of Henry VIII’s subjects and provides an interpretation into the local history of Tudor Great Dunmow.

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6 Responses to Balancing your books in pounds, shilling and pence

1. Yep, I sure remember Pounds, Shillings and Pence and have to confess that they’re like a comfortable old pair of slippers that I’d like to slip into again… but way past their used by date :-)
Fascinating information… and yes I can see the Tudor scribe’s “workings out”! Thankyou so much.

2. Pauleen says:

Being a pre-decimal currency kind of girl I can cope down to the halfpennies but groats etc….not a hope. I’ve never have worked out the significance of those workings…I might have concluded he was doodling :-) Well worth knowing in case I find earlier records as some of mine were parish clerks or served in parish roles. Thanks Kate.

• The Narrator says:

He definitely was doodling on some of the other pages, but these do seem to be ‘workings-out’. The first image is strange – it looks almost 3D / dice-like. Maybe each face of his ‘dice’ was used for adding up pounds, shilling and pence?

3. It’s amazing to see these ‘dot and carry one’ jottings. I can remember £SD (although I wasn’t yet seven when we went decimal); when I started work in the bank a decade later there were still ledgers in use for some of the older types of accounts where there were entries, in green biro, showing the conversion to the new money.
So much of this additional information is lost from present day records. Not only are the ‘workings-out’ not shown, they’re completely hidden from view. The Tudor scribe was also a computer of his day – the original use of the word was to describe one who computes. Here we’re seeing something of what was in his equivalent of RAM, that which today disappears when the PC is switched off – or crashes. It makes you wonder what other insights into life future generations will be denied because of modern technology.

4. The Narrator says:

A very good point Andrew. What will future generations think of our pristine computer-generated accounts and documents without a single bit of scratchings out or jottings down! I learnt to type on a manual typewriter and my bottle of Tipex was my trusty companion. You could always scratch off the Tipex to expose the horrors of a badly typed document that lay beneath!