When the landlord of the Cock in New Street began to note that his pewter pint pots were disappearing at an alarming rate he called in the police to investigate. He suspected two of his regulars, John McGuire and Henry Hughes, and constables Boardman and Hardwick of the Met’s finest headed off to search their lodgings.
In a back room on the second floor they found the missing pots and the two men hard at work, melting them down to make counterfeit coins. As the constable rushed into the room one of the pair grabbed the mould and plunged it into a nearby bucket of water.
Since the mould was made of pipe clay (plaster of paris) it was ‘of course immediately dissolved by the water’, as the press report noted. However the policemen did find a pipe bowl filled with pewter and some base shillings which were ‘well executed’ , and ‘only required the last touch before being uttered’.
This was a mini coining factory that had been exposed by the landlord’s desire to put an end to theft of his beer pots. Pewter pots were one of the commonest items stolen in 19th century London, being easily sold on or pawned.
The Marlborough Street magistrate remanded both men for a few days for more evidence. That evidence was forthcoming because he then committed for their trial at Old Bailey. When they appeared, on the 14 December 1840 the pair were convicted of coining. Both were young – Hughes 19 and McGuire 20. McGuire was recommended to mercy by the Old Bailey jury and the judge was lenient, sending him to prison for a year. Hughes was considered to be the main culprit and he was sentenced to two years trabsportation to Australia.
[from The Morning Chronicle, Wednesday, November 25, 1840]