Today was the opening ceremony of the annual Trial of the Pyx, held at Goldsmiths’ Hall. The trial lasts until May and about a hundred members of the public are allowed to spectate on the opening day. I managed to secure a small stash of tickets for London Historians, my thanks to the Company of Goldsmiths for that.
The Trial of the Pyx is an ancient ceremony dating from the 1240s in which the integrity of the coins of the realm is examined and tested for size, weight, quality and composition. The number of jurors varies, but is usually between twelve and fifteen. So too does the number of coins examined, but in recent years around 188,000.
The ceremony is opened and closed by the Queen’s Remembrancer, the oldest judicial position in the land. He wears typical judge attire, except that on top of his wig is perched a small black tricorn hat. This can be disconcerting, because at first glance it appears not unlike when the death sentence is passed. But it is always satisfying to see ancient ritual and regalia being observed. Take note, Mr Speaker!
Once the Remembrancer arrives, each member of the jury stands up and announces his or her name. The entire jury then holds a copy of the Gospels and are sworn in to the affect that they promise to do a good job. The Remembrancer then gives his opening address. This year it was on the topic of the historical problem of the clipping of coins in an age when they still comprised precious metal; and how the authorities tried and failed to eliminate the practice. Very interesting it was too.
The Rembrancer then departed to leave the jury and officials of the Goldsmiths’ Company to get on with the job of sifting and examining coins. It’s an arcane and complicated process, which I’ll leave for another time.