In 1855 a Walter White took a topographical tour which took him on a walk to Land’s End which took him across parts of Dartmoor. In his book – A Londoner’s Walk to Land’s End he describes many of the people he meets and some of their traditions. He certainly became conversant with the bogs, brimbles, rocks and hills of the moor which in his opinion he bravely battled through. But one tradition he did come across was that of the ‘Thirty Penny Ring’, sadly he did not say where or in what context he encountered it but it’s one worth recording here.
As mentioned many times on this website, Dartmoor was at one time a remote place to live and being such the people and their access to basic services were poor. There were few doctors and even if one was fortunate to live near one the chances were that there fees were unaffordable. Therefore it is no surprise that the moor folk turned to natural cures, hedge witches and superstition to cure their numerous ailments. It is probably fair to say that any kind of sickness was greatly feared and the lengths that people would go to ensure good health were wide ranging. Any talisman that would ensure protection again all illnesses was a powerful and much sought after item. Naturally something that could protect against such a vast array of maladies did not come without a certain amount of hardship – such is the case with the ‘Thirty Penny Ring’.
To obtain such a thing it was necessary for a person to attend the local church on a Sunday and after to service to sit in the porch and recieve a penny from thirty different members of the congregation. This in itself could be a problem with the smaller churches as there were not thirty people who would attend the service. None the less, once the task of getting thirty pennies had been accomplished it was then necessary to get them exchanged for half-a-crown. Having done that the next job was to hold the half-a-crown in one hand, re-enter the church and walk clockwise around the communion table three times. Having done so the next stage was to take the coin and have it melted down and fashioned into a ring. Once this had been achieved all that was necessary for a healthy life was to constantly wear the ring which would provide protection from all known ills.